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Chemistry Students Research Leads to Publication

Dr. Elmer LedesmaWhile most students were enjoying their summer vacation, Jennifer Hoang, Valeria Hernandez and Mitchell Nguyen, under the supervision of Dr. Elmer Ledesma, assistant professor of chemistry, were hard at work studying the pyrolysis, combustion and gasification for biomass compound Eugenol, in the University of St. Thomas chemistry labs.

Months later their work and perseverance was rewarded as their research was recently accepted for publication in a major journal, Energy and Fuels.

“Most people outside of the school don’t realize we do scientific research,” Ledesma said. “A good way to get that known is through publication. The students are publishing graduate-level research as undergraduates. It is a major achievement for the school Jennifer Hoangand the students.”

The research focused on the development of a mechanism for the vapor-phase cracking of the biomass product, Eugenol. Made from agriculture and industrial waste, biomass offers an alternative to modern day energy production. The big picture behind the research lies in the data that can be derived. Both thermodynamic and kinetic data gathered could be used in the development of industrial scale combustors powered by biomass that can change the face of energy production.

Hoang, a sophomore bio-chemistry major and pre-dental student, is still in disbelief about the publication. With intentions of going into dentistry, this research offered little in the way of practical application in the dental field, but allowed her to exercise the Valeria Hernandezapplication of the scientific method.

“It is unusual for a sophomore or someone so early in their university education to get published,” Hoang said. “Usually it is a junior or senior, someone more advanced and taking upper division courses. Dr. Ledesma reached out to me while I was a freshman, and over the summer, I really worked on the research.”

Hoang said the research process was a lesson in patience and perseverance; there were lulls in the research while waiting for results to process. Perhaps the most important tool in battling the lulls was her tie-dyed lab coat. When the hours ran together and the work seemed slow, her lab coat made everything seem Mitchell Nguyenmore colorful. In the end, the results were worth the commitment.

Hoang and the rest of the research team plan on continuing their research; this time instead of using Eugenol, they will study a similar model fuel compound, 2-methoxy-4-vinylphenol.

“We are doing the same process in developing a mechanism,” Hoang said. “That is the next stage.”

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The University of St. Thomas, dedicated to educating leaders of faith and character, is a private institution committed to the liberal arts and to the religious, ethical and intellectual tradition of Catholic higher education. St. Thomas is Houston’s only Catholic University and was founded by the Basilian Fathers in 1947.


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