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DU Chemistry Professor Lands Prestigious Science Foundation Grant

Dr. Tomislav Pintauer, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Duquesne University, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of more than $550,000 to make certain chemical reactions “greener.”

Pintauer has received a prestigious $553,863 grant from the National Science Foundation to further examine his method of reducing the amount of metal catalyst for certain reactions to an environmentally friendly, inexpensive total of less than 15 parts per million. Previously, the amount of catalyst required to carry out such organic transformations was nearly 10,000 times higher.

“It’s a green way to make chemicals for pharmaceuticals and, potentially, industrial uses,” said Pintauer, who heads the five-year study funded by an NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program grant. The grant is award to young faculty who have not yet received tenure and is based upon their scholarship, the impact of their work and the research exposure they offer to graduate and undergraduate students. These extremely competitive grants are intended to lay the foundation for a lifetime of research and education by professors who are expected to become academic leaders of the 21st century.

“Dr. Pintauer competed with young researchers from top chemistry programs across the country for this award, and receiving it underscores his innovative methods as well as a high level of undergraduate and graduate student involvement,” said Dean David W. Seybert of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences. “He has become the second young faculty member in the Bayer School to win this award within the last three years, emphasizing the high quality of science faculty here at Duquesne, as well as our strong commitment to the teacher-scholar model that is so highly valued by the National Science Foundation.”

Pintauer is working with graduate and undergraduate students in using reducing agents to shrink the amount of metal used as a catalyst and set up a chain reaction that allows the copper catalyst to revert to its initial form and be used over again.

“Normally, these reactions would require a huge amount of metal,” Pintauer explained. “This is problematic because it’s so hard to get rid of that metal later. We are utilizing environmentally benign reducing agents, such as ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, to help reshuffle the metal catalysts. We don’t need to pull the reagent out of the compound, so there is no need to do any kind of metal removal.”

Others have used ruthenium as a catalyst, which costs $1,000 a gram as opposed to $10 a gram for the copper catalyst that Pintauer uses.

Through the grant, Pintauer’s group will research the structure of the catalysts and their use in organic syntheses as well as the organometallic systems Pintauer has been studying. Besides offering this multidisciplinary training across the chemistry fields, the grant provides training for graduate students from Duquesne and other institutions to learn to use sophisticated single crystal X-ray crystallography instruments and allows Pintauer to continue educational outreach with women, minorities and economically disadvantaged students in chemistry.

The NSF grant process weighs whether students are exposed to an intensive research experience and thus, are better equipped for future jobs in government, academics, pharmaceutical and chemical laboratory careers.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.