by Violet Wallerstein
Dr. Kimberley Choquette is a Chemistry professor here at Drew who is currently working on discovering an entirely new reaction with samarium diiodide (SmI2). This compound acts as a single-electron reduction, which forms extremely reactive radicals that can perform a wide range of reactions.
Dr. Choquette is able to perform this research based off of her previous knowledge in the field from graduate school where she studied how the known reactions of SmI2 worked and the differences in reactions with different molecules. Current knowledge on this compound is largely about how different conditions change the rate of reduction for various compounds.
SmI2 is useful to form radicals because unlike other single electron reductants, it is soluble. This makes the reaction much easier to work with as the entire reaction can occur in the liquid phase rather than facing the challenges accompanied by reactions that use multiples phases of matter.
The hope for this lab is to be able to develop a less hazardous reaction than what is currently being used. In order to synthesize vinyl alcohols, chromium is used, which is a very toxic metal that also forms hazardous products. Creating the reaction without chromium would make it much safer, and it would also be much more efficient than the multistep reactions that can also form vinyl alcohols.
Vinyl alcohols are the desired product of this lab because they occur in many natural products but are extremely difficult to synthesize. The ability to synthesize vinyl alcohols safely and effectively would allow for more work to be done to create new molecules with this group.
The largest challenge of this work is being able to perform in anaerobic conditions, meaning without air. Dr. Choquette explains, “If SmI2 is exposed to oxygen or water, it becomes inactive as a single electron reductant. We have to use very specific techniques and glassware to make sure all oxygen from the atmosphere is removed, and argon, an inert gas, is introduced.”
Dr. Choquette has been at Drew since 2016, but has been interested in organic chemistry since she was an undergraduate and has been doing research in the field since then. She enjoys her research because she “loves the idea that we can develop a new bond-forming event that has never been done before with these reagents,” and as she has done much work with SmI2 before, this gives her a chance to use her knowledge to design new reactions. Though she did also add that her real favorite part is getting the opportunity to work with students and see their personalities outside of the classroom.