SRU chemistry major researches molecular magnetism


Palmer running an experiment

Jacob Palmer, a junior chemistry major at Slippery Rock University, tests magnetic properties of materials in the chemistry lab this summer thanks to SRU’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience grant.

June 28, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Jacob Palmer was attracted to the chemistry lab at Slippery Rock University like a magnet. And while he spends quality time there this summer, he is being tasked with creating molecules with magnetic properties.

Palmer, a junior chemistry major from Spartansburg, received a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience grant to conduct a research project titled "Depositing Metallacrowns onto Surfaces for Single-Molecule Magnet Applications."

By synthesizing circular molecules with metal ions, known as metallacrowns, Palmer is creating a single-molecule magnet that could be used for data storage in computers. The field of molecular magnetism has quickly evolved the last few decades. Molecular magnets have the potential to revolutionize data storage. Think about how we've progressed from using floppy disks, which contained thousands of magnets that stored thousands of bytes of data, to today when you can purchase trillions of bytes of storage space, or terabytes, on a device the size of your thumb. Devices built with molecular magnets could potentially hold 200 terabytes in a device the size of a coin.



"It fascinates me that we can store that much data in such a small space," Palmer said. "If this research works, we can store data in even smaller spaces. We're looking to attach these metallacrowns to a surface so we can actually use them, instead of just theorizing about it."

Last fall, Palmer attended a seminar class where Ted Boron, assistant professor of chemistry, shared his research of molecular magnetism. Palmer was intrigued and wanted to join Boron's research group, but devoting 100 hours in the lab during the summer meant missing out on a summer job. Palmer applied for the SURE grant so that he'd still be able to have a summer job: researching at SRU.

"This (being awarded a SURE grant) is a compliment to Jake's hard work," Boron said. "This gives us a lot more one-on-one time to talk through problems, find solutions and adapt and modify what we're doing. This gives him an opportunity to branch out into the research."

Rather than breaking down a magnet consisting of thousands of molecules to a smaller size, Palmer is creating a single molecule with magnetic properties. Boron compares the process to building with Legos, but the blocks attach to one another when you introduce them to elbow brackets and then form circular shapes.

"Once we put it together it has magnetic properties," Boron said. "Then we deposit it on a solid surface, so you can say, 'At grid X we know that our molecule is there,' to find where you stored that piece of information."

The tiny location on a computer storage device, in this case "grid X," is where data, such as a song or photo file, is stored,. The challenge for Palmer is creating molecules that are magnetic, stick to a surface and remain magnetic once on the surface.



Palmer is only working with a gram and a half of materials, dissolving the molecules in an organic solvent, dimethylformamide, before they assemble themselves into a metallacrown.

"We're taking the materials and letting nature do what it wants to do," Boron said. "We're trying to be more logical about it, so if we pick our metal and our organic frame we can predict what the structure is going to look like."

Depending on what Palmer finds in his research, he could present a poster or submit a paper for regional or national conferences next year. Regardless, the research experience is a logical step that will look good on Palmer's resume.

"It's important for me to get research experience and used to the lab environment," said Palmer, an aspiring pharmacologist. "I want to take what I learn here into other types of research and these synthesis strategies that I'm learning can apply to other fields."

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