Minh-Thu Phan Studying Alternative Forms of Fuel
Clayton State University’s Dr. Jonathan Lyon is spending part of his summer working with a student research project in the University’s Laboratory Annex Building (The LAB); a not unusual assignment for an assistant professor of chemistry. However, the student Lyon is working with is anything but ordinary.
Minh-Thu Phan is a rising senior at Morrow High School, and her summer project, studying the interactions between metal atoms and fuel alcohols, is funded by a SEED internship through the American Chemical Society. With her $2500 stipend, Phan has been in The LAB since the beginning of the month, working with Lyon and 2012 Clayton State chemistry graduate Patrick Drew. She expects to complete her research by Aug. 3, after which she will resume her high school studies, including, not surprisingly, AP Chemistry.
Lyon describes Phan’s project as follows;
The motivation for the project comes from several aspects related to alternative forms of fuel. As an example, some of the lightest parts of petroleum (e.g., methane) exist as a gas in nature. Collecting these gasses in the field and transporting them to a chemical plant is extremely expensive. If an onsite technique was available to convert these gasses into a useable liquid fuel such as methanol, then that could be more easily transported to the plant via existing pipelines. Our research project is designed to provide information on whether transition metal catalysts can promote the conversion of these gasses to more manageable liquid fuels.
Lyon also notes that the current plan is for Phan to present a poster on her research project at the Natural Sciences Research presentations that happen at the end of each semester.
Phan’s opportunity to work with Lyon and Clayton State came about starting in November 2011, when Lyon received an invitation to apply for a project SEED internship through the American Chemical Society, an invitation emailed to individuals who has been awarded a grant from the Petroleum Research Fund through the American Chemical Society – something Lyon earned last year. According to Lyon, the project is designed to give the students meaningful interaction with a science employee for approximately 40 hours a week.
“I contacted Malakia Wright, coordinator for K/12 Science Education for Clayton County, to see if she thought students would be interested,” recalls Lyon. “I also thought this may be a good way to try to recruit some of the brightest students to Clayton State. She emailed the science teachers throughout the county, and I heard from several students that they were interested in the project.
“After applying for the funding, I had the students complete an application and send them to me. From the applications, I selected Minh-Thu.”
Phan’s application and subsequent work in The LAB are indicative of both the quality of students in Clayton County, and the type of students that Clayton State seeks to attract. The following is part of the application submitted to Project SEED;
Describe the specific chemistry, techniques, and other scientific activities that the students will be doing:
The student will work on two different, but related, projects. In the first, the student will aid Dr. Lyon and an undergraduate student to construct an experimental chamber capable of performing matrix isolation experiments. This will allow the student to learn about matrix isolation, vacuum techniques, and the use of lasers. Second, the student will learn about computational chemistry techniques to theoretically model these reactions between metal atoms and fuel alcohols.