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Chemistry Professor Receives Grant for Collaborative Research

RELEASED: June 22, 2005

Dr. Alan GengenbachEAU CLAIRE — Dr. Alan Gengenbach, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, was recently awarded a $34,876 grant from Research Corporation through the Cottrell College Science Awards program.

Gengenbach, who joined the UW-Eau Claire faculty in 2002, received the award for his project "Metalloporphyrin Catalyzed Oxidation of Azo Dyes."

The CCSA program aims to challenge faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions to explore new areas of science, make new discoveries that contribute to their disciplines, and initiate new research programs that can be sustained through extramural as well as institutional support. Key elements of the program include the meaningful involvement of undergraduate students in the research and the expectation that the research also will impact the recipient's teaching, raising the quality of undergraduate education.

Gengenbach said this grant will fund specific experiments in his lab that are part of a larger collaborative project between faculty in UW-Eau Claire's chemistry and biology departments. The project was started about a year ago, when Gengenbach, along with assistant professor of chemistry Dr. Marcia Miller-Rodeberg and assistant professor of biology Dr. Sasha Showsh, received funding from the Merck/AAAS Undergraduate Science Research Program to start the project and support students for three years.

The various projects concern the degradation of azo dyes, a group of highly colored molecules widely used for dyeing textiles. According to Gengenbach, significant amounts of these dyes end up in the environment, and the naturally occurring processes responsible for degradation of these chemicals are slow and usually produce toxic materials. The collaborative project involves studying catalytic oxidations of these dyes using various substances. Gengenbach and his students are studying azo dye oxidation catalyzed by synthetic molecules call metalloporphyrins.

"We want to understand how these molecules react with metalloporphyrins and how the specific chemical structure of the dyes affects their reactivity," said Gengenbach, noting that Miller-Rodeberg and Showsh and their students are studying reactions catalyzed by enzymes and microorganisms, respectively.

"Ultimately, such fundamental knowledge could lead to new bioremediation techniques or suggest which dyes are most likely to be easily degraded and therefore least harmful to the environment," Gengenbach said.

Two UW-Eau Claire students worked with Gengenbach on preliminary aspects of his project and two more are now working full-time on it with him.

Research Corporation, America's first foundation for the advancement of science, awarded $3.6 million this year in grants to scientists in chemistry, physics and astronomy. The CCSA program will award $2.25 million to sixty-two scientists from around the nation. The average grant is $36,000.

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