Science Training in Advanced Interdisciplinary Research in Sustainable Chemistry (STAIRS @ Sivagroup) at North Dakota State University

By Dr. Jayaraman Sivaguru, Ramya Raghunathan and Ravichandranath Singathi

In June 2016, Dr. Jayaraman Sivaguru’s Center for Sustainable Materials Science (CSMS) research group, through a research collaborative partnership with Dr. Mafany Mongoh at Sitting Bull College (SBC), Fort Yates, ND, welcomed Mr. Saul Bobtail Bear and Mr. Josh Silk to Dr. Sivaguru’s lab at NDSU. Saul and Josh are environmental science students at Sitting Bull College participating in CSMS research under Dr. Mafany Mongoh.  As part of the ND EPSCoR program, the Center for Sustainable Materials Science (CSMS) plays an important role for research collaborative projects among different research expertises in science and engineering. CSMS helps in providing research and STEM education opportunities for students across the state, including students at the Tribal Colleges (TCs). CSMS research groups across the state teach and explain the importance of using agricultural materials to develop sustainable materials as alternative energy resources for fossil fuel materials.

Dr. Sivaguru’s CSMS group provided research training for Saul and Josh using his interdisciplinary training program STAIRS @ Sivagroup.  The STAIRS @ Sivagroup training program helps students meet the challenges of the 21st century through integration of science, technology and research with outreach and collaboration.  Saul and Josh worked on the synthesis of photodegradable polymers derived from biomass (fructose-derived products) by incorporating phototriggers as a light sensitive unit in the polymer backbone. CSMS students Ramya Raghunathan and Ravichandranath Singathi interacted closely and worked in collaboration with Saul and Josh.

Apart from the synthesis, they did controlled degradation of the biobased polymer and the model systems by employing light as the energy source for the recovery of the monomer. The techniques they learned included experiment/reaction setup, isolation of compounds by extractions and purification, photoreactions in a Rayonet Photoreactor/chamber, and analysis of the products formed by TLC and NMR characterizations.

At the end of the training, Josh mentioned that “it’s a nice platform and a good start for undergraduate students from different fields like engineering, microbiology, environmental sciences to get familiarize about the importance of sustainable materials in day to day life and understanding about the impact of fossil fuels derived products and their depletion from the environment”. The STAIRS @ Sivagroup interdisciplinary learning program motivates students from diverse backgrounds and helps students working in CSMS research teams to understand, and help others understand, the true meaning of sustainability, renewability, and reproducibility.