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100k Klub recognizes chemistry professor’s work

Associate Professor Daron Janzen with St. Kate's single-crystal X-ray diffractometer.
Associate Professor Daron Janzen with St. Kate's single-crystal X-ray diffractometer.
Photo by Pauline Oo.

Only a dozen primarily undergraduate universities or colleges in the United States have one, estimates Associate Professor of Chemistry Daron Janzen. The single-crystal X-ray diffraction instrument is the most precise way to determine the structure of molecules in solid-state matter. In December, St. Catherine University became the only, primarily undergraduate institution in Minnesota to own one.

The instrument basically captures X-ray diffraction images of molecules arranged in a crystal. The crystals must be very small (think 0.8 millimeters, for example, or something small enough to sit on a pinhead). Images are processed using some knowledge of the kinds of atoms present in the molecules, and the three-dimensional chemical structure is revealed thanks to powerful software.

Detailed, accurate information about molecular structure is provided that no other technique can capture. In 1953, it was single-crystal X-ray diffraction was used to elucidate the  double-helix structure of DNA.

“This instrument brings molecules to life,” says Janzen at the recent $100k Klub luncheon held in his honor.

Colleen Hegranes, St. Kate’s senior vice president, and Alan Silva, assistant vice president and dean of School of Humanities, Arts and Sciences, and the College for Women attended the luncheon with Mary Clem, director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, and John Dwyer, chemistry department chair.

“Most things in the world are solids, such as cell phones, medical devices and sensors, and properties of solids are tricky to understand,” Janzen explains. “Other chemical techniques are used to study molecules in solution. X-ray diffraction is used to study molecules as they are in pure solids. Understanding the relationship between structure and property in solids is important to pharmaceutical companies, for example, because the interactions, within or between, molecules can affect drug delivery or the way medication interacts with our body.”

 St. Kate’s established the $100k Klub in 2008­–09 to recognize faculty and staff for successful government grant applications that result in an award in excess of $100,000. Janzen received a $201,787 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund the project, “MRI Consortium: Acquisition of a Single Crystal X-ray Diffractometer for a Regional PUI Molecular Structure Facility.”

Collaborative research

In addition to purchasing the diffractometer and housing it at St. Kate's, the grant allows Janzen to establish a single-crystal X-ray diffraction
consortium of chemistry researchers at An X-ray crystal structure
primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) in

He will lead the consortium as principal
investigator. James Wollack, assistant professor
of chemistry at St. Kate’s, is a co-investigator, as are three other professors; Steven Drew at Carleton College, Alicia Peterson at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University, and Ted Pappenfus at the University
of Minnesota–Morris.     

          Image: X-ray crystal structure of a copper sensor material using the new   
          diffractometer (molecule prepared
and crystallized by chemistry major
          Mary Walters '12, as a part
of her honors project).

St. Kate’s X-ray diffraction instrument, which was installed in Mendel Hall at the end of December, will support the research activities of these faculty members and collaborative research projects with undergraduate students. These studies run the gamut, and include benzene sensor materials, solid-state organic materials for use in solar cells, metal catalyst complexes for dechlorination of environmental pollutants, non-natural substrates for bioorthogonal conjugation strategies, and organometallic materials for use in solid-state photoluminescent devices.

The instrument will also be valuable in classes and labs. Janzen plans to introduce it to students in his inorganic chemistry course this winter, and a special topics course on single-crystal X-ray diffraction is also being planned. The consortium members will also bring their students to St. Catherine University to learn more about X-ray diffraction and acquire data for student class and research projects.

“My colleagues in the consortium will be able to use the instrument themselves to collect data, after I train them,” Janzen says. “Or I can acquire data for them using this instrument.  In the future, I will train our students to help with samples from users outside SCU.”

St. Kate’s chemistry department is noted for providing undergraduate students with opportunities to work directly with instrumentation common in industrial and academic research. The department has a half-million dollars worth of instrumentation, including the new X-ray diffraction instrument.

For updates on the consortium or Janzen’s research activities with X-ray diffraction, visit his web page.

Jan. 12, 2012 by Pauline Oo

See also: Faculty, Liberal Arts, STEM, Students