Integrating scientific research and teaching, expanding the scientific talent pool to include more minorities and economical disadvantaged students to meet prospective energy and climate challenges, and saving energy and resources in chemistry — all are goals of a new study on enhancing chemical reactions.

Dr. Eike Bauer, associate professor of chemistry, has begun work on the three-year project “The Investigation of Chiral Allenylidene Complexes for Catalytic Applications” with a $360,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. According to Bauer’s grant application, the primary objective of this project is to systematically investigate “chiral-at-metal allenylidene complexes as potential intermediates in enantioselective catalytic propargylic substitution reactions.” While this can seem complex to non-scientists, it all comes down to speeding up chemical reactions using less heat, which saves time, money and energy. Such catalysts are important in pharmaceutical discovery and other scientific research around the globe; therefore, making them more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly has the potential for significant positive return.

However, it’s not about just the science itself.

Research opportunities under this grant will be provided to high school, college and graduate students that both help with finances but also provide experience needed for the job market. Bauer says that students will become very well prepared for working in industry both because of the synthetic methods they learn and the instruments they use for the research. "That experience is what industry needs; this program prepares students for successful job applications."

Also, the scientific research conducted within this project will be “embedded into efforts to arouse curiosity in the sciences among people who are about to choose their career path,” Bauer says.

He notes that the Project SEED Program, administered by the American Chemical Society, will provide the mechanism to “encourage economically disadvantaged students and underrepresented minorities to pursue a college education in the sciences.”

Project SEED is a summer research internship program that allows economically disadvantaged high school juniors and seniors to experience what it’s like to be a chemist. According to the ACS, students “are given a rare chance to work alongside scientist-mentors on research projects in industrial, academic and federal laboratories, discovering new career paths as they approach critical turning points in their lives.” Each summer, SEED students work with professional chemists to potentially present their research projects at scientific meetings, providing exposure to those who can help motivate them to pursue careers in science.

Bauer’s NSF grant includes matching funds to mentor high school students one-on-one to encourage them to pursue a college education and to actively recruit low-income students from feeder schools to become Project SEED students. He will also attempt to recruit students from the community colleges as many UMSL students are transfers from two-year programs.

His work, however, will go beyond recruiting underrepresented populations into scientific study.

“Achieving scientific literacy among students and the population is a national challenge,” Bauer notes. “There is a big demand to increase the scientific literacy of students seeking a degree in business, as economic productivity is tightly linked to technology and its scientific foundation.”

To address this demand, Bauer will collaborate with the UMSL College of Business Administration (Mike Costello, assistant teaching professor of business) and the Department of Biology (Michael Howard, assistant teaching professor of biology and chair of the science literacy committee) to develop a scientific literacy course for business majors to encourage interest in the sciences. The course will be integrated into several majors, and, upon completion of the course, students will have the option to minor or get a certificate in science. This integration of science gives students in any discipline an advantage because it teaches problem solving via the Scientific Method and the examination of information to discern truth. The study of science also helps all students by giving them a deeper understanding of how things work.

This work will likely improve a catalytic procedure that is important for life and health sciences research around the globe. It also will help expand the pool of scientists by engaging underserved populations and increase scientific literacy across disciplines. All together, this grant has the potential to be an exciting catalyst for societal change and economic and ecological advancement. ♦

Featured Grant:
The Investigation of Chiral Allenylidene Complexes for Catalytic Applications

Eike Bauer
Dr. Eike Bauer, associate professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Eike B. Bauer, PhD, was born in Nuremberg, Germany, and received his diploma and PhD degrees from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. He held a postdoctoral position at the University of California, Riverside and a position as visiting assistant professor at Illinois Wesleyan University. In 2006, he joined the faculty at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, where he was promoted to associate professor of chemistry in 2012. His research interests are centered around organometallic chemistry with an emphasis on catalytic processes. His research was recognized in 2009 by the “Pfizer St. Louis Green Chemistry Award.”

Award Total: $360,000
Funding Source:   National Science Foundation, Chemical Catalysis Program