Laina Geary: Electrocatalytic oxidation of molecules
Electrocatalytic oxidation of organic molecules
Laina Geary, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry. She was a first generation college student and completed her education and training at the University of Manitoba (Canada) and the University of Texas at Austin. She began her independent career at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2014 as an assistant professor, and was promoted to associate professor in 2020. Since that time, she has mentored three high school students (two under the ACS Project SEED Program for economically disadvantaged students), over 20 undergraduate students (including one NSF GRFP Scholar, two McNair Scholars, three NSF EPSCoR awardees, and several students have been awarded UROP fellowships and two PREP students), six graduate students, and one postdoctoral trainee. Undergraduate students have started in the lab as early as their freshman year. Her lab has a strong history of training and supporting first generation college students and those from underrepresented groups.
The selective oxidation of C-H bonds in organic molecules is a significant challenge due to the ubiquity of C-H bonds. Currently used oxidants are peroxides and other highly reactive materials which can be very unselective and dangerous to handle on large scales. Our lab is interested in utilizing nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, as an oxidant of small organic molecules in a highly selective manner. We are approaching this in both traditional synthetic chemistry, as well as developing photocatalytic and electrochemical methods. This project will lay the ground work for our foray into electrochemical oxidations of molecules with nitrous oxide.
All chemical bonds are comprised of electrons, and thus all bonds are made or broken via moving electrons around. Typical redox chemistries are enabled by the use of large molecular weight oxidants or reductants, which generate a lot of waste. Fundamentally, the movement of electrons also describes a current. This project will determine the redox potentials of various organic molecules using the ElectraSyn electrochemical apparatus to acquire the cyclic voltammogram (CV) to measure their redox potential(s). Those data will lay the ground work for the electrochemical oxidation of aromatic compounds to phenols using laughing gas, nitrous oxide. The student will gain experience in using an ElectraSyn, interpreting CVs of small organic molecules, and designing and performing organic transformations.