The goal of my project this summer was to optimize several of the experiments that are part of the CHEM 246 curriculum. I worked mainly on two specific labs throughout the summer, and also made small improvements on two separate experiments. These labs had been particularly troublesome for students in the past, so my job was to find the source of the problems in each experiment and implement measures to improve results. My daily work consisted of running an experiment and characterizing my product by NMR, IR, percent yield, and occasionally melting point. Each time I ran an experiment for a specific lab, I changed one variable, whether it was the reaction vessel, the temperature under which the reaction was conducted, or the relative amount of reactants. I recorded my results each day, and compared the results across several trials to see which set of reaction conditions worked best. I also explored alternative pathways that demonstrated the same chemical principles as the labs currently in the curriculum.
Perhaps the biggest reward of this project for me was significant exposure to and practice of technical lab skills. There are several techniques that chemists commonly use for many different functions, such as column chromatography, TLC, and polarimetry, which I learned about as I worked on my project. In addition to these, I also firmed up my general lab skills, which will come in handy both in the remainder of my college career and beyond. The project also served as my introduction to the research world, and I learned many of the rules and practices that dictate how academic research is conducted. All in all, this project was a valuable experience for me, and will be one that will help shape my future in the field of chemistry.