Works and Days


"organic chemistry"

Green Molecules and Green Chemistry Labs, Part III

Picture of two people in a lab.

Johnny and Cindy.

It’s been two weeks since my last day at the lab. The time I’ve spent away has given me a different perspective on how I spent my summer.

The things I learned have made me fall in love with chemistry all over again. Solid-state synthesis, gas-phase-synthesis, ionic liquids, phase-transfer catalysis, macrocycle synthesis, these terms have gained new meaning since I had first read about them in a textbook in May (it seems so long ago).

The Aldol condensation is already a green organic chemistry reaction: it has high atom-efficiency and produces water as a byproduct.

Green Molecules and Green Chemistry Labs: Johnny Mendoza, PSF Summer Experience

The last time I had been in this chemistry lab was 2 years ago. Back then, I was just getting my feet wet in the field of organic chemistry with the aid and guidance of my professor, Julia Robinson-Surry (’06). Now, I’m working with Julia and the lab teaching assistant, Cindy Liu, to dive deep into the field of green chemistry. With their help, I plan on revamping the current organic chemistry lab curriculum at Bard High School Early College Queens, my old high-school, in an attempt to make it more environmentally-friendly. In addition, I hope to learn about the role and synthesis of green catalysts in organic chemistry, specifically Julia’s work with Fe-TAMLs, a group of oxidation catalysts that has proven useful in environmental cleanup efforts.

Bard Queens is a small school. With 600 students on two floors, it didn’t always feel that way, but the average class size is 20 students. It is also a new school, at only 6 years of age. This comes with some inherent difficulties. For example, the chemistry lab at Bard is not as well endowed as Reed’s. For one thing, there are only two fume hoods, one of which is not working. The only way these chemistry students can characterize their product is through infrared spectroscopy (IR) or physical analysis (i.e. matter state, melting point, boiling point, chemical assays, etc.). In most organic chemistry labs, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) and gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) are standard analytical methods. Our project must keep these limitations in mind, and design labs that can be preformed mostly on the bench-tops, while avoiding volatile/strong-smelling chemicals and synthesizing products that can be differentiated readily from any reagents used.

Bard Queens also employs a relatively unique curriculum, where the first two years of school are dedicated to fulfilling high-school requirements and the last two years dedicated to taking college courses with the goal of graduating with an associate’s degree. The students taking organic chemistry here are generally 2 years younger than those at other colleges. The lab periods are also shorter (2 hours, 40 mins vs. 4 hours at Reed). One of our goals will be to make these labs accessible yet rigorous, worthwhile yet not time-consuming, and above all, interesting.