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Baruch College Professor Wins $250,000 National Science Foundation Grant to Support Organic Chemistry-Related Research

Edyta Greer, PhD, professor of computational chemistry at Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences.Edyta Greer, PhD, professor of computational chemistry, at Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences

Edyta Greer, PhD, professor of computational chemistry, was awarded a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support her research on thermally activated heavy-atom tunneling in organic chemical reactions. Professor Greer teaches Organic Chemistry I and II, and Medicinal Chemistry in the College’s Department of Natural Sciences at the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences.  

The NSF grant, for Research in an Undergraduate Institution (RUI), will enable Greer to support students in her research group involved in theoretical calculations in organic and medicinal chemistry. The grant will also cover cost for the students to participate in local and national research conferences.

Exploring heavy-atom tunneling

Greer’s research focuses on a topic known as heavy-atom tunneling in organic chemistry. “Heavy-atom tunneling is a process in which an atom such as carbon can tunnel through a reaction barrier and speed up chemical reactions,” Greer explained. “Its prevalence in organic reactions may be key and this is what we are exploring.” She hopes this will help chemists improve their understanding of reaction mechanisms in organic chemistry.

Research Stimulates Students’ Critical Thinking Skills

Greer believes the research project offers students a new opportunity to use computational techniques to study organic and medicinal reactions, including elimination and pericyclic reactions.

“The NSF grant supports a new avenue in an ongoing project seeking to decode mechanistic chemical puzzles in terms of contributions of tunneling to reaction rates and prediction of structure,” Greer said. “It will encourage students to think critically by combining organic chemistry, quantum phenomena, and computational chemistry.”

Real-World Applications

Greer said her research “is fundamental in nature with ‘real world’ connections to the synthesis and reactions of chemicals such as pharmaceuticals, medicinal agents, drugs, and food preservatives.”

The NSF grant will enable her to employ undergraduate students as research assistants during the academic year and over the summer. The research will be conducted with computer resources and does not require a “wet experimental laboratory”. In addition to her Baruch computer lab, students in her research group use a supercomputer located at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

Greer’s research is also being incorporated into Weissman’s undergraduate organic curriculum at Baruch College. She also does outreach educational talks at local elementary schools with chemical demonstrations and experiments to convey the importance of fundamental science to the youngest generations of students.

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(Story published on 6/1/20)

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