Newswise — A Valparaiso University chemistry professor and his students are working to develop an improved method of synthesizing carbon rings that are essential components of thousands of organic molecules used by humans.

Dr. Kevin Jantzi, assistant professor of chemistry, has worked with eight Valparaiso undergraduates since starting the project three years ago and received a $40,000 grant from the American Chemical Society's Petroleum Research Fund last year to support the research effort. Valparaiso is a member of the Council on Undergraduate Research.

Dr. Jantzi and his students are exploring whether different starting materials can be used in a synthetic reaction that produces the 5-membered carbon rings that are key components of numerous organic molecules such as cholesterol, vitamin D and Indinavir, a compound used to treat HIV and AIDS.

"Because of the extreme significance of molecules like these, it is imperative that organic chemists develop synthetic reactions that can be used to generate ring structures," Dr. Jantzi said.

Specifically, the Valparaiso researchers are exploring the use of Trimethylenemethane intermediates in synthesizing the rings and looking to expand this use through novel starting materials that can generate more complex and highly functionalized ring-containing products than current methods. Over the past three years, Dr. Jantzi and his students have found methods to synthesize the new starting materials and are beginning to test whether these materials work in the ring-forming reaction.

"If we're successful, we can make this reaction more versatile so that more people can make use of it in creating a more diverse array of organic molecules," Dr. Jantzi said.

Among the students conducting research with Dr. Jantzi is Patrick Long, a senior chemistry major from Florissant, Mo., who began working on the project in the fall of 2006.

"I was in Dr. Jantzi's organic chemistry class and really enjoyed learning about organic synthesis, so this project was right up my alley," Long said.

Dr. Jantzi said Long and other student researchers have been alongside him in doing much of the work in the synthesis process and determining whether or not it's working.

"This type of work where students gain experience in the laboratory setting and learn to use various instruments and techniques adds a great deal of value to their education whether they're looking at graduate school, industry or medical school," Dr. Jantzi said.

Long agreed he's grown more comfortable with working within a laboratory setting through the course of the research.

"I have gained a lot more experience in advanced laboratory set ups and use of equipment such as Valpo's nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer than most chemistry students, which will be of great value when working in the industry after I graduate," Long said.

In addition to the American Chemical Society grant, Dr. Jantzi and his students have received financial support from Valparaiso's Committee on Creative Work and Research.

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