Wayne State University

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Wayne State University researchers receive National Science Foundation funding to find ways to make advanced aqueous catalysts from MRI contrast agents

April 28, 2010

DETROIT—A team of Wayne State University researchers recently received a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop new ways to study chemical reactions in water and to design and study catalysts for these reactions that yield very specific products that ultimately could be better for the environment. The researchers will focus on testing the influence of anion dissociation and water coordination on catalysis and the formation of a new series of precatalysts modeled after lanthanide-based contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

According to the study’s principal investigator, Matthew Allen, Ph.D. of Plymouth, Mich., assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, lanthanide-catalyzed reactions are poorly understood in water, and this lack of understanding has impeded synthesis of water-tolerant lanthanide-based precatalysts. Because of this, Allen says that new methods for studying reaction mechanisms in aqueous systems are greatly needed. “It takes a lot of energy to make solvents anhydrous (without water), and so the ability to run reactions in water is ultimately better for the environment because it takes less energy,” said Allen. “In addition, less harmful solvent waste is produced when water is used as a solvent, which is ultimately much better for our environment.”

The project will also provide high school students from diverse educational and socioeconomic backgrounds research experiences. This is expected to have a great impact on the propensity of students to pursue careers in science. A communication skills component for formal university and high school science courses will also be integrated into the project that will provide mentoring and formal science courses at the university and high school levels.

“Dr. Allen and his research team may one day offer a more environmentally friendly way of making important molecules like pharmaceuticals,” said Gloria Heppner, associate vice president for research at WSU. “Dr. Allen’s commitment to inspiring young minds with the excitement of science is also seen in the many activities he is involved in on campus and beyond. The programs to be offered through this grant will greatly enhance science education, particularly in Detroit, and hopefully will excite more students to aspire to careers in chemistry and other science related fields.”

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu