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Western’s Greg O’Neil Publishes New Paper Focused on Greening the Chemical Industry

by John Thompson
Office of Communications and Marketing

With an eye towards a greener, more environmentally friendly chemical industry, Western Washington University Associate Professor of Chemistry Greg O’Neil, along with a team of students at Western and peers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, have just published a new paper in The Journal of Organic Chemistry that points to a new faster and greener way of investigating the chemical reactions common in oil spill cleanup.

For many years, oil spill scientists have used comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography (GC×GC) to separate the thousands of compounds present in spilled oils. Simply put, through the use of GC×GC O’Neil and his team have made the scoping – akin to chemical “road testing”– of a reaction 10x easier; what is normally accomplished with 10 different flasks and 10 different analyses, the group did it with one.

The result is a much faster and greener process that could change the way people approach these studies and greatly impact the field. Additionally, because the manner by which they are investigating these reactions is novel, they hope to be able to learn something new that would otherwise not be possible from traditional one-molecule-at-a-time approaches.

One current Western graduate student, Alicia Wright (Everett), assisted O’Neil in his research and was named in the study. This research was conducted both at Western and with scientists at Woods Hole (WHOI). O’Neil recently spent a sabbatical at WHOI in Falmouth, Massachusetts, working in the lab of Chris Reddy, a senior scientist in the institution’s Department of Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry. It was this time spent at WHOI that was the inspiration for this work.

The project was supported by O’Neil’s $430,000 Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation and a more recent $60,000 Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award ($60,000) awarded to O’Neil in 2014.

For more information on this research, go to http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/feature/reactions or contact Greg O’Neil at (360) 778-6283 or gregory.o’neil@wwu.edu. 

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