American Chemical Society Awards Valparaiso University Funding for Chemistry Research in the Petroleum Field

School secures a $70,000 grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund

Valparaiso University

Valparaiso University obtained one of only 45 estimated annual awards for undergraduate institutions. This funding, awarded over a 3-year span, will be used to further the goals of the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund—to support fundamental research in the petroleum field and to develop the next generation of engineers and scientists through support of advanced scientific education. Specifically, it is required that 40 percent of the grant goes toward the support of research students.

“This grant is a valuable opportunity for students to immerse themselves in research critical to the development of novel materials that are important for basic science and for applications,” said Mark L. Biermann, PhD, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “In collaboration with faculty, these students will make meaningful contributions and gain valuable experience that will provide unique preparation for graduate school and their careers.”

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Jennifer Holt, PhD, assistant professor of chemistry, is the principal investigator for the grant. “The chemistry department believes undergraduate research is key to developing students’ skills so that they can go on to graduate school or industrial positions in chemistry,” Holt said, “and this funding will provide that opportunity for several of our students.”

Holt anticipates the money will enable the creation of eight funded research positions for Valpo students throughout the next three summers. She hopes to engage students at the sophomore or even freshman level to give them the experience necessary for entry into additional research programs after their junior year.

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The focus of the research is on host-guest chemistry, where one molecule is entered into a host structure. Dye molecules will be used as the guest, and their behavior will be examined within a variety of zeolites, porous crystalline materials used in petroleum refining. Projects will include generating the zeolites of interest, inserting the dye molecule into the zeolite, and using several spectroscopic methods to study the host-guest material created as a result of the combination. The research objective is to create and optimize new optical materials.