Symposium Highlights Female Synthetic Chemists’ Contributions to Environmental Research

A symposium celebrating the accomplishments of female synthetic chemists working to solve energy and environmental challenges occurred at the 255th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition in New Orleans. The symposium, “Synthetic Chemistry Addressing Challenges in Energy & the Environment” was held in conjunction with the publishing of a Virtual Issue of the same title highlighting female synthetic chemists.

The idea of a combined Symposium and Virtual Issue arose from conversations within the Women Chemists Committee on strategies to highlight the research accomplishments of female scientists. This idea met with the support of Professor Bill Tolman, Editor-in-Chief of Inorganic Chemistry, and ACS’ Division of Inorganic Chemistry. Professors Ana de Bettencourt-Dias, Amy Prieto, and Louise Berben identified 22 female colleagues performing research related to synthetic chemistry, addressing challenges in energy and the environment, and who recently published their research in Inorganic Chemistry and the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The Virtual Issue highlighted this research.

Simultaneously, the three co-editors for the Virtual Issue organized a symposium at the 255th ACS National Meeting & Exposition. The symposium featured several principal investigators from the Virtual Issue and female scientists at primarily undergraduate institutions. The result was an amazingly vibrant all-day symposium, featuring 18 speakers. The audience watched excellent presentations on a variety of approaches towards solving problems related to our environment and society.

Several presenters shared their progress on new materials for solar energy conversion, including Susan Kauzlarich from the University of California, Davis, Jillian Dempsey of University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Katherine Plass from Franklin and Marshall College, Natalia Shustova from the University of South Carolina, Luisa Loela Whittaker of the University of Utah, and Gordana Dukovic from the University of Colorado Boulder. These new materials, such as metal clusters, nanoparticles, and metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) were more efficient in light harvesting and electrical energy production than current methods. Each speaker included thorough mechanistic details of the new materials to advance the next generation of solar energy devices.

The promise of increased energy efficiency prompted investigator Hemamala Karunadasa of Stanford University to synthesize perovskite materials that emit a broad spectrum of white light at half the energy consumption of conventional electrical components.

The need to decrease levels of carbon dioxide and pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and perchloroethylene in our environment inspired investigators Amanda Morris from Virginia Tech, Amy Balija from Radford University, Amelia Fuller from Santa Clara University, Linda H. Doerrer from Boston University, and Katherine M. Van Heuvelen from Harvey Mudd College. Synthetic approaches included the development of new materials, including biorenewable polymers and peptoids, for the removal and detection of pollutants.  Additionally, new catalysts were studied which convert pollutants into less harmful, potentially useful products.

Hydrogen is attractive as a clean fuel source. Technological advances are required for hydrogen to be efficiently produced and broadly used, however. This challenge is being pursued by Codrina V. Popescu from the University of St. Thomas, Alison Parkin from the University of York, Claudia Turro from Ohio State University, Jillian Dempsey of UNC-Chapel Hill, Jenny Y. Yang from the University of California, Irvine, and Joan Blanchette Broderick, from Montana State University. One approach they are exploring involves the synthesis of catalysts that mimic hydrogenases, metalloenzymes that convert protons into hydrogen. Another approach focuses on new materials for harnessing solar energy in the production of hydrogen fuel, and the mechanisms that can couple photochemical processes with electrochemical processes.

The symposium was an excellent addition to the “Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water” theme of the ACS National Meeting. The event was well attended and its presentations prompted thoughtful discussion. Hopefully, those discussions lead to even more research progress toward addressing urgent energy and environmental issues.

Ana de Bettencourt-Dias is the Associate Vice President for Research and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nevada, Reno. She was one of the 3 co-organizers of the symposium.

Amy M. Balija is an Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry at Radford University. She was one of the speakers at the symposium.

Read the Virtual Issue “Synthetic Chemistry Addressing Challenges in Energy & the Environment”

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