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Undergraduate Researchers

Shannon Zik

Shannon Zik, Biological Science

“Design and Synthesis of Conjugated and Substituted Vinylene-Linked Chlorin Dimers”

An imperative need has arisen for a strongly florescent molecule which exhibits tunable wavelengths in the 650-900 nm region for use in medical diagnoses. Chlorins (synthetic analogues of naturally occurring chlorophylls) present themselves as an intelligent choice to study as they contain a highly conjugated, planar system which produces absorption and emission in the optical range of 650-700 nm. This project will focus on the design and synthesis of chlorin arrays possessing two chlorin subunits connected by a vinyl linker. We hypothesize that such dyads will exhibit strong absorption and emission in the near infrared spectral window (~750 nm), therefore providing an excellent platform in the development of in vivo fluorescence imaging. I will prepare the chlorin monomer comprised of an exocyclic ring and electron withdrawing groups by following well-established synthesis routines. The McMurry coupling reaction will be employed to bridge the chlorin monomers and form the target dyads. The optical properties of extended conjugated structure will be determined through absorption and emission spectroscopies.

How did you find your mentor for year research?

I took Organic Chemistry I, taught by Dr. Ptaszek, in the fall of my sophomore year. I thoroughly enjoyed the class and knew I wished to pursue a deeper understanding of the material than my biology major required. I knew that Dr. Ptaszek was involved in research, as his undergraduate assistants would periodically ask questions pertaining to their experiments while I was visiting during office hours. I wanted to be a part of his team, but did not feel qualified until after taking Orgo II. Near the end of my sophomore year and my completion of Chem352, I sent Dr. Ptaszek an email inquiring if he had any availability in his lab. Dr. Ptaszek and I met and discussed the area of research I would be pursuing: chlorin and porphyrin synthesis. That summer, Dr. Ptaszek added me to his team of undergraduate assistants.

Do you get course credit for this work? How much time do you put into it?

Yes, I receive academic credit. During the semester, in addition to my full course load and part time job, I generally dedicate 12-18 hours per week. The amount of time spent per day is depends on the experiment, or which part of the experiment I am executing, i.e., syntheses, purification, or characterization.

How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award (URA) program?

Dr. Ptaszek informed me of the URA program towards the end of my second semester of working for him. He sent me the information at the end of winter break and I began to work on the proposal at the start of following semester.

What academic background did you have before you applied for the URA?

I had just completed my first semester as a junior pursuing my B.S. in Biological Sciences.

Was the application difficult to do?

While the application was not difficult, it did require a significant amount of time, the reading of numerous research papers, many rough drafts, and considerable effort to maintain the two page constraint. Though ample time was provided to finish the proposal, I continued to make changes until the moment I submitted it.

How much did your mentor help you with the application?

After I wrote the first draft of my proposal, my mentor and I met twice to review and edit it prior to submission.

What has been the hardest part about your research?

Unexpected results! After weeks of synthesizing a compound, sometimes the final step will produce unexpected results such as insolubility, degradation of fluorescent properties, or a mix of products will supersede. Such outcomes provide opportunity to brainstorm about solutions, however it usually requires the synthesis of more starting material which could mean weeks before the proposed solution can be attempted at the final steps and a few more weeks before we find a successful solution.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?

DO IT! Research is a fantastic way to develop your knowledge and understanding your field of interest. Additionally, it provides fundamental skills for your classes as well as your future endeavors. Do not be afraid to ask your professors if they have a position open in their lab. Also, do not be worried about knowing everything before you start, most of the techniques will be different than those in your basic lab classes and you will not be expected to know all of them. Ask lots of questions, it’s the only way to learn!