The Knox Student (TKS): Explain what your Honors project is about.
Chelsea Coley (CC): Basically, we are taking lesquerella oil and then splitting it up into its esters. So it starts out as a triglyceride [because] it has three branches, and then we split those three branches into the corresponding esters. Then use those esters in an organic synthesis process to eventually make a bisphosphonate. This phosphate has an affinity for calcium, so it will latch onto it and it will hold calcium to the bones.
TKS: What is so important about lesquerella oil?
CC: Well, castor oil is poisonous. It has ricin in it, and it is bad for manufacturing. We want to use lesquerella instead, so we are seeing if this works. We hope to end up with a bisphosphonic acid … It’s got huge economic benefits too. We actually import a lot of [Castor oil] so if we are able to use lesquerella, we can grow it in the Southwest.
TKS: Why did you decide to do this project?
CC: Well, I really enjoy organic chemistry and I knew I wanted to do a project in organic chemistry. After talking to my lead professor [Professor of Chemistry Diana Cermak], she said, “You should think about doing an Honors project.” And so I did.
TKS: What are the practical purposes for this project?
CC: Well one is switching away from castor, which is really important. So we are really showing that lesquerella oil can be used in this organic synthesis application. Though we are not doing any clinical studies, were collaborating with the FDA. Hopefully when we make this thing it can go through the clinical process to become a potential drug candidate.
TKS: Has this project helped you with any post Knox plans?
CC: I realize that I do want to work in industry for awhile and use the skills I have gained through college in an industrial setting instead of continuing in academia for the next five to ten years.
TKS: How has your Knox education helped with this project?
CC: Through Knox, you really learn critical thinking skills, which I think is really important and it’s not just in the science field. A lot of other classes I’ve taken have really challenged the way I critically think about problems. So in a lab application, it has helped a lot.