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Chemistry major takes on Mother Fair based internship

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Posted on Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Westminster College chemistry major Seth Schrader and chemistry professor Dr. Peter Smith spent part of the summer synthesizing solid-state cobalt, iron and europium-substituted aluminum phosphate catalysts with different molecular frameworks as part of their Summer Research Fellowship.

Schrader, a senior from Fredonia, N.Y., and Smith, professor of chemistry and chair of Westminster’s chemistry and biochemistry department, collaborated on the project “Synthesis and Characterization of Europium-Substituted Aluminum Phosphate Catalysts for the Oxidation of Cyclohexane.”

The pair looked at finding a solid-state, reusable catalyst since they are a potential environmentally friendly alternative.  Schrader specifically looked at the oxidation of cyclohexane to cyclohexanone, cyclohexanol, which is an important step in the production of nylon. The current reaction is catalyzed by one-use cobalt and manganese catalysts, liquids that are toxic and produce heavy metal waste.

Schrader’s approach involved mixing and heating water, phosphoric acid, an alkylamine, aluminum oxide, and a source of cobalt, iron, or europium in a stainless steel bomb at autogenous pressure. He then filtered, washed and dried them overnight before he calcined them under an oxygen atmosphere.

“This experience helped me gain confidence in independent lab work, as well as get a jump start on my Honors Research project,” said Schrader.

He is currently working on characterizing the catalysts using X-ray powder diffraction at Duquesne University, and testing their ability to oxidize cyclohexane.

“I would like to point out my appreciation for Dr. Smith and all his guidance through this project,” says Schrader.

After graduation Schrader will pursue his MBA at Westminster. Following his master’s, he plans to apply to medical school.

Ten student-faculty pairs were selected as the 2021 Summer Research Fellows by the Drinko Center for Undergraduate Research.

For more information about Westminster’s chemistry department, click here.

~ Mackenzie Basalla '19