University of Michigan Math and Science Scholars
Catalysis, Solar Energy and Green Chemical Synthesis
“The chemist who designs and completes an original and esthetically pleasing multistep synthesis is like the composer, artist or poet who, with great individuality, fashions new forms of beauty from the interplay of mind and spirit.” -E.J. Corey, Nobel Laureate Prior to Friedrich Wöhler’s 1828 synthesis of urea, organic (carbon-containing) matter from living organisms was believed to contain a vital force that distinguished it from inorganic material. The discovery that organic molecules can be manipulated at the hands of scientists is considered by many the birth of organic chemistry: the study of the structure, properties, and reactions of carbon-containing matter. Organic matter is the foundation of life as we know it, and therefore a fundamental understanding of reactivity at a molecular level is essential to all life sciences. In this class we will survey monumental discoveries in this field over the past two centuries and the technological developments that have enabled them. Catalysis, Solar Energy, and Green Chemical Synthesis will provide a fun and intellectually stimulating hands-on experience that instills a historical appreciation for the giants whose trials and tribulations have enabled our modern understanding of chemistry and biology. Students will learn modern laboratory techniques including how to set up, monitor, and purify chemical reactions, and most importantly, how to determine what they made! Experiments include the synthesis of biomolecules using some of the most transformative reactions of the 20th century and exposure to modern synthetic techniques, such as the use of metal complexes that absorb visible light to catalyze chemical reactions, an important development in the Green Science movement. Finally, industrial applications of chemistry such as polymer synthesis and construction of photovoltaic devices will be performed. Daily experiments will be supplemented with exciting demonstrations by the graduate student instructors.