Reynolds' Breakthrough Leads to Best Poster Award

Lyndsey Reynolds testing a flow-through method of pushing reactants through the palladium-soaked membrane,Lyndsey Reynolds testing a flow-through method of pushing reactants through the palladium-soaked membrane.Albion College chemistry students working in Professor Kevin Metz’s lab have learned that patience is important through Lyndsey Reynolds’ breakthrough, which led to her winning a best poster award at the Midwestern Undergraduate Symposium on Research in Chemistry at Michigan State University.

A biochemistry and biology major from Waterford, Reynolds worked in the lab on Wednesday and Friday in fall 2010. The break in the schedule allowed enough time for small particles of palladium to soak into a plastic membrane, a feat previous students failed to accomplish when waiting a day for the palladium to adhere to the plastic.

According to Wikipedia, “A large number of carbon-carbon bond-forming reactions in organic chemistry are formed by catalysis with palladium compounds.” In the pharmaceutical and agrichemical industries, where materials are catalyzed by palladium in large vessels, the palladium will adhere to the walls.

Successfully plating palladium on a plastic membrane allowed Reynolds to move on to an organic chemistry study with Metz and Professor Cliff Harris in which they sought to make cleaner reactions with palladium. Funded by the College’s Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity (FURSCA), Reynolds returned to campus in July and August of this year to begin testing a flow-through method of pushing reactants through the palladium-soaked membrane at faster and slower rates and at different temperatures.

“The flow-through method is a design that could be applied to industry, and it could help save time and money because you don’t want palladium in your end result,” Reynolds said. “The palladium would be a contaminant if you had it in your product.

“Finding that the palladium solution had to sit for two days in order for it to plate the nanoparticles on the membrane was the luck of my schedule,” she added. “That’s how science is most of the time in that you get lucky, and if not then you have to redo things.”

Reynolds’ data so far indicate there is a difference in the amount of product produced based on the temperature of the reaction and the rate the liquids are pushed through the palladium-coated membrane. She has continued the study on campus this fall, and her results will become the subject of the thesis she will begin writing during the break between semesters.
The next step in the research is to push the reactants through the palladium-soaked membranes more than once. Metz said he is hoping Reynolds can assist in the design of that experiment while she is writing her thesis.

“The characterization of this process requires Lyndsey to be detail-oriented and well prepared,” Metz said. “She laid out a systematic plan of how she was going to explore these variables – and she has four different variables – and when we started we didn’t know the relationship of those variables to each other.

“The amount of progress we have accomplished in one year with Lyndsey I would anticipate it would take two or maybe three years with multiple students,” Metz added. “Lyndsey has picked up things quickly and she has taken ownership. There were 50-plus posters at the conference and she walked away with one of three awards. It's a nice poster that she can thoroughly and confidently explain.”

In addition to working in the lab, Reynolds, who served as president of the Kappa Delta sorority, is in the process of applying to medical schools. She is considering practicing medicine as a cardiologist.

“Students interested in moving on to medical school come to us and we give them a specific, narrow project that requires deep thinking, but they don’t get exposed to many processes,” Metz said. “Lyndsey’s project forces her to understand electrochemistry and inorganic chemistry to make these particles,” Metz said. “She has to understand how different microscopracies work so we can look at these particles on the membranes. She has to understand organic synthesis and how her membranes catalyze different organic syntheses, and she has to work up and characterize those reactions.

“It shows she can learn a wide variety of interrelated multidisciplinary tasks quickly and she can tie them all together to answer a specific question she’s interested in,” Metz added.