For the second time in two years, Clark chemistry undergraduates have published their research in Polyhedron, a prestigious journal covering inorganic chemistry. They’re the latest students from Professor Mark Turnbull’s Chem 250 classes to see their work appear in a peer-reviewed journal since he began teaching the course in 2002.
The capstone requirement is a group lab project. Students are assigned several compounds to synthesize, and are encouraged to work with each other and review their results together. “The kicker is this — the compounds they are assigned to make are not known,” Turnbull says. “They have never been made before, and I don’t tell the students how to make them.” This not only forces students to take deep dives into the scientific literature, but also allows them to learn through trial and error.
Turnbull says the students succeed in making the intended compound about 50 percent of the time, but that doesn’t matter — they are evaluated on their process and reports. Students must write up their research in the style of an actual manuscript, and are expected to cite each other’s work as well as the published literature. The hope is that the lab group, “as a whole, will generate sufficient work, of sufficient quality, that we can try to publish it,” Turnbull says. Frequently, it takes several years of work to create a manuscript that is worth submitting, he adds.
To date, research in Chem 250 has resulted in five separate articles by 23 undergraduate authors and two graduate student teaching assistants: twice in the Journal of Coordination Chemistry (2002 and 2006), once in Inorganica Chimica Acta (2011), and now twice in Polyhedron (2019, 2020), with last summer’s article featured on the journal’s cover.
The most recent article, “Cobalt halide complexes of 2-, 3- and 4-methoxyaniline: syntheses, structures and magnetic behavior,” features four Clark undergraduate authors — Nikita Kupko ’20, Katie Meehan ’20, Faith Witkos ’19, and Henry Hutcheson ’20. Jeff Monroe, Ph.D. ’19, was the graduate student TA on the project.
Since graduating from Clark, all four students have continued in chemistry. Meehan is an analytical chemist at Entegris in Billerica, Mass.; Witkos is a scientific associate at Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Mass.; and Hutcheson is an engineering aide at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Kupko has continued his studies as part of the 3-2 Engineering Program and will earn a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering from Columbia University in 2021.