Chemistry professor earns undergraduate research grant

by University Communications,

Through an undergraduate research grant from the American Chemical Society-Petroleum Research Fund, chemistry professor Chuck Williamson will get to do what he loves most — mentor students in basic scientific research.

“In laboratory research, failure is not just an option — it is an expectation,” he says. “I enjoy helping students expand their abilities to solve problems as they grapple with research challenges that often are very practical in nature.”

Through his $70,000 award, Williamson will work with a team of six students to investigate the fundamental processes of mixing two liquids — such as methanol and cyclohexane. The project will span four summers and will include opportunities for Williamson and his students to attend regional and national conferences to present their work.

Williamson says he’s interested in seeing what happens when a pair of chemicals that mix at one temperature are cooled to a temperature where they spontaneously separate into two liquid layers.

“Recent work in my research lab has yielded data that show the occurrence of a stage in the phase separation process that has never been reported before,” he says. “We have evidence that this new stage is the rule rather than the norm, and the ACS-PRF grant gives my students and me the opportunity to figure out what is happening.”

Liquid-liquid mixtures are important in analytical and industrial chemical separation technologies, Williamson says. To this end, he and team will spend part of their time testing new “green” liquid-liquid solvent systems that involve low-vapor-pressure iconic liquids.

In the past five years, Williamson has received several awards to support research opportunities for undergraduates and the acquisition of state-of-the-art analytical equipment for teaching and research.

The most recent awards include a Jean Dreyfus Boissevain Lectureship for Undergraduate Institutions from The Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation in 2012 and a Pittsburgh Conference Memorial National College Grant from The Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy in 2010.