Knowing that a student thought of how a reaction might occur, executed it and watched the reaction performed exactly as planned is pretty powerful. It’s not just mixing a recipe. We are controlling matter on an atomic level.

Michael Krout

The television hit Breaking Bad provided a perfect opportunity for Professor Michael Krout, chemistry, to discuss chemical synthesis with his students. The series centered on a high school chemistry teacher who turned to making methamphetamine to pay for his cancer treatment.

"The chemistry was authentic, and I could discuss the strategies needed to synthesize compounds, which is what my class is focused on," Krout says. "Everyone was watching the show, and it was a chance to teach responsibility with science. We cannot be afraid of knowledge, but we have to respect it."

Krout is leading a research program focused on the development of chemical reaction methods and strategies to make molecules typically found in nature. "I have a background in biology, my undergraduate degree is in biochemistry, and I have an affinity for nature. An organic chemist can imagine an infinite number of molecules that you could make," he says. "Some of them are anticancer compounds, some are antimalarial and some may not yet have any function. Chemistry always involves challenges, and I love finding new ways to develop chemical transformations."

Students in the undergraduate research program are helping Krout research eudesmanes, a type of organic chemical structure. Discovering how to make a specific molecule could lead to collaborations with biologists or biochemists. "Many fields, including engineering, pharmaceuticals and agriculture, depend upon our ability to synthesize new compounds," he says.

Krout's students use advanced instrumentation in Bucknell's chemistry labs to study reactivity patterns and use them to successfully complete a chemical reaction.  "The capabilities here are phenomenal," he says. "Knowing that a student thought of how a reaction might occur, executed it with his or her hands, and watched the reaction performed exactly as planned is pretty powerful. It's not just mixing a recipe. We are controlling matter on an atomic level. I am teaching my students to be informed scientists."

Posted Sept. 29, 2014

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