By Dr. Jayaraman Sivaguru, Ramya Raghunathan and Ravichandranath Singathi
Dr. Jayaraman Sivaguru and his Center for Sustainable Materials Science (CSMS) team hosted NATURE Summer Camp students during the Summer of 2016 and provided them with hands-on experience in scientific research. The NATURE (Nurturing American Tribal Undergraduate Research and Education) program, funded by ND-EPSCoR, was initiated to promote and encourage Native American students to step into a STEM career.
This summer, two high school students, Heather One Horn and Sasha Azure from Solen High School, ND, chose to work with graduate students Ravichandranath Singathi from Dr. Sivaguru’s CSMS research group and Ramya Raghunathan from Dr. Sivaguru’s and Dr. Mukund Sibi’s CSMS research groups, to get in depth knowledge about biomass derived polymers and their degradation using light. Heather and Sasha are two of eight high school students who traveled to the NATURE camp from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation with Dr. Mafany Mongoh, NATURE coordinator from Sitting Bull College.
During their time in the lab, Heather and Sasha researched the breaking down of polymers by using one of the abundant and greener reagents “Light”. This research has the potential to be developed into materials that can be degraded in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way. The materials they chose to work with are hydroxy acetophenone, a phototrigger, and methacrylic acid, a monomer. A phototrigger is a light sensitive unit, which is incorporated during the polymerization process with the monomer. Light can then break the polymer down to give the monomer back, making the material recyclable.
Apart from synthesizing the polymer and degrading it, Heather and Sasha also learned the theory behind techniques such as thin layer chromatography (TLC), using a Rayonet reactor, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), and rotatory evaporator, all of which they used to analyze their experimental results.
By the end of their 4-day research experience, the students had learned new techniques and gained scientific insights, which they shared with other NATURE camp students in a PowerPoint presentation at the NATURE camp’s closing ceremony.