This award provides funding to support planning visits to the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The PI and his Malaysian collaborator, Dr. Sim, are chemists who share an interest in computational chemistry, applied particularly to organometallic structures. The trips will allow Prof. Pratt to plan collaborative work on copper alkylates and to lay the groundwork for a continuing collaboration between Fisk University and the University of Malaya, including perhaps a future IRES program for U.S. students. The specific focus of the initial collaboration will be copper alkylates with Dr. Sim undertaking experimental work and Dr. Pratt implementing computer simulations of molecular structure and transitions states in reaction mechanisms.
This planning visit aims to establish an international collaboration in both research and education in topics related to organometallic chemistry. The results of the work on lithium cuprates should advance knowledge of mechanisms of conjugate addition to unsaturated carbonyl compounds. These materials are of practical as well as theoretical interest because of their use as semiconductors, light-emitting diodes, and catalysts. Coming from a Historically Black university, and working with a female professor in Malaysia, the PI is establishing programs that have a significant impact on human-resource development in science. This project will contribute significantly to the scientific engagement of NSF grantees in Malaysia.
This project consisted of a series of planning visits with the aim of developing a long term research collaboration with Prof. Sim Yoke Leng. That goal has been achieved, although circumstances forced some modifications in the details of the planned research. In addition, the close proximity of several institutions in Malaysia and Singapore enabled the collaboration to expand beyond what was originally proposed, and the P. I. now has collaborations with University Malaya, Universiti Tunku Abdel Rahman, Universiti Putra Malaysia, and the National University of Singapore. During the grant period, both Dr. Pratt and Dr. Sim moved to new institutions with better long term research potential. The original proposed project was to study some synthetic reactions catalyzed by copper salts, and it was to rely heavily on computer assisted calculations of molecular properties. First, Dr. Sim had to be trained in computational methods by Dr. Pratt. Starting with projects of interest to Dr. Sim, we completed two computational projects in which she learned to do these calculations. Both projects involved reactions of model compounds in biological systems. One has been published in the journal Tetrahedron, and the other has been submitted for publication, with the manuscript pending review. We then turned to the original copper project, which has now been completed, and the manuscript is in preparation. As a result of that research, we now better understand the role of metal-solvent interactions in the copper complexes that promote the reaction between two organic molecules. During the three years of the collaboration, Drs. Pratt and Sim developed a mutual interest in renewable energy projects, which we did in addition to the originally proposed computational chemistry projects. When Dr. Sim moved from University of Malaya to Universiti Tunku Abdel Rahman (UTAR), she lost access to some facilities that would have helped with the copper project, but gained access to other researchers with renewable energy interests. Specifically, we seek to obtain oil for biofuel from municipal gargage. This sounds simple in principle, but doing it efficiently and economically has presented quite a challenge. Still, we have had some success and the process is currently being refined and optimized. Since then we have submitted several proposals to both the NSF and the government of Malaysia. Dr. Pratt recently presented a talk at the annual Environmental Issues Conference at Medgar Evers College, using the data collected jointly by our two research groups. We are currently working to complete that project, which we hope to publish by the end of this year. UTAR is in the town of Kampar, about a two hour train ride from the capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL). KL is the home of University of Malaya and Universiti Putra Malasia, and a few hours bus ride from National University of Singapore (NUS). This close proximity of the institutions, as well as some conferences in the area, enabled Dr. Pratt to meet other like minded researchers at those institutions. We currently have actual or proposed collaborations with Dr. Zainudin at UM, Dr. Yap at UPM, and Dr. He at NUS in different aspects of renewable biofuels. These collaborations were enabled or aided by this grant, even though they were outside the scope of the original proposed project. During the last planning visit, Dr. Pratt presented a seminar at all 4 institutions. Working with Dr. Zainudin, we seek to prevent pollution of Malaysia's rivers by intercepting waste oils and using them as fuel precursors with the technology that we are developing with Dr. Sim. Working with Dr. Yap, we plan to study gasification of the components of the waste stream that can't be otherwise used. Dr. He is examining some of our samples as part of her efforts to produce butanol, another alcohol that is a better fuel than ethanol. We currently have a collaborative grant proposal pending review, and plan to continue working together for an extended time.