Campus / News / Student Research / February 23, 2011

Helgren: chemistry with copper

Senior Travis Helgren is spending his last year at Knox contributing to the field of inorganic chemistry. Helgren is conducting an Honors research project that, in conjunction with the work of Associate Professor of Chemistry Thomas Clayton’s lab, will potentially contribute new ideas to the field of copper synthesis.

The Knox Student (TKS): What is your project?

Travis Helgren (TH): We’ve found a new method to synthesize a copper compound. All the other methods to synthesize this compound involve taking the reactants and putting them in what is essentially a pressure cooker. We’ve found a way that is a really simple, non-energy- using way to synthesize this individual copper molecule. What we’ve been doing is trying to show that this individual copper molecule can be used as a starting material for super molecular frameworks.

If you think about the scientific process, most people identify a problem and look for a solution. We have the solution, and we’re kind of hoping this can be the solution to someone else’s problem.

TKS: Why did you become interested in this topic?

TH: I took [inorganic chemistry] with Professor Clayton. The lab to that class is very free-form. He says, here is a sample, go make it. I found that process very thought-provoking, so I decided I wanted to work in his lab and continue making copper things.

TKS: What are the challenges of this project?

TH: Keeping to a rigorous lab schedule is very difficult. I go to lab and I do my work, but keeping to the schedule that I originally set out for myself is really difficult.

TKS: What has been the best part of this project?

TH: I really, honestly, do enjoy being in lab and being around chemicals that can blow you up—that’s always cool. But when you get results that corroborate your hypothesis, it’s pretty satisfactory.

TKS: How do you balance Honors with other classes and extracurricular activities?

TH: Lack of sleep. I think most people say that, but sometimes it’s choosing to sleep or to work on my classes or my project. I guess if I stick to the rigorous schedule that I set for myself I can find time to get my project done, get my classes done and still have time for myself and my fraternity.

TKS: Will you use any of this research in your future career?

TH: I’ve applied to five graduate schools … all Ph.D. programs in inorganic chemistry. A major part of graduate school is doing lab work so having a good foundation in lab work … is really important. This has helped me greatly in that aspect.

Katy Sutcliffe

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