Grant Winning Professor Discusses Latest Project

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Frantz Folmer-Andersen has received a $17,500 grant from Trixogenesis, LLC, for his project titled, “Investigations of Active Components of Drimia Maritima.” In addition to the project grant, Folmer-Andersen is currently working on other chemistry-based academic projects.

Folmer-Andersen’s current project is focused on molecular recognition, which involves the synthesis of new “host” molecules that are complimentary in shape to other “guest” molecules. Due to their molecular shapes, the host molecules are capable of binding to guest molecules in preference to other molecules that may be present in a sample and this property can be useful in the creation of new sensors or catalysts that have practical applications.

According to Folmer-Andersen, these applications include improving the efficiency of the production of pharmaceuticals and the detection of environmental pollutants.

“A large amount of the effort that goes into synthesizing many drugs is not actually in connecting the atoms, but rather in obtaining the drug molecule in the absence of its own mirror image; because the two mirror image forms can have identical physical properties but very different biological properties,” Folmer-Andersen said. “One isomer could be therapeutic, the other could be toxic.”

The project is something of an extension of Folmer-Andersen’s Ph.D. studies. Folmer-Andersen said the project used sensors that would change color visually in the pretense of a left-handed or right-handed molecule. In this project, Folmer-Andersen was using very straightforward, simple substances to begin focus on getting larger color changes. According to Folmer-Andersen, his current efforts are more involved in terms of the synthesis of the molecule and trying to find molecules that have a high tendency to bond to the mirror image form of the other.

“A good analogy would be a hand that fits well into the right hand glove and fits poorly into the left hand glove,” Folmer-Andersen said. “We’re really trying to maximize that difference.”

According to Folmer-Andersen, many undergraduate students are involved in the research and trained throughout the process. After having taken a semester of organic chemistry, usually one or two students a year begin working in Folmer-Andersen’s lab and for the most part, work on the synthesis of the molecules through classical synthetic techniques.

“A student’s experience doing independent research is typically very different from that of the standard laboratory coursework,” Folmer-Andersen said. “In the lab courses, student do experiments that are designed to work and help students hone their skills but the actual process of doing research is often something of an emotional roller coaster. Many research experiments fail the first time they are attempted, and students are then confronted with what to do next; they get an opportunity to look into the literature independently to find ways to solve their problems.”

Folmer-Andersen said that he and his students have created several new host molecules in recent years and have published their work in several international chemistry journals. His students also regularly present their work at American Chemical Society conferences, including a national meeting in San Diego in 2012.