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Chemistry prof wins grant to work on heavy metal

By Randall S. Barton on July 10, 2015 11:38 AM

Prof. LaLonde will investigate the potential of bismuth as a catalyst.

Prof. Rebecca LaLonde ’01 [chemistry 2013-] has won a $40,000 grant from the Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement to investigate the element bismuth.

One of the most urgent challenges facing organic chemists today is the need to synthesize enantioenriched bioactive molecules to treat diseases such as malaria, HIV, and cancer. Unfortunately, these chemical reactions typically require the use of rare, expensive, and potentially toxic heavy metals as catalysts.

But one heavy metal is cheap, readily available, recyclable, and non-toxic—yes, we’re talking about bismuth, the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol.

Prof. LaLonde believes that bismuth complexes could be used to create versatile, environmentally-friendly catalysts. The grant will fund supplies and summer salaries for student research assistants for two years.