Welch Foundation Awards $330,000 to UTSA chemistry researchers

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(Sept. 27, 2010)--Chemistry professors Cong-Gui Zhao, Banglin Chen and Doug E. Frantz in the UTSA College of Sciences will together receive $330,000 from the Welch Foundation over the next two years to develop more effective chemical reactions to assemble important compounds and materials.

Associate Professor Cong-Gui Zhao will receive $130,000 to improve the way chemists make organocatalysts, carbon-based molecules used to speed up chemical reactions. Traditionally, chemists make organocatalysts from scratch, a time-consuming and laborious process. Zhao, however, will design and produce pre-catalyst modules, which will self-assemble when mixed. By developing a series of chemical building blocks, Zhao will create a chemical assembly line, reducing the time and labor it takes to develop a series of effective catalysts for a given chemical reaction.

Through $100,000 in support from the Welch Foundation, Associate Professor Banglin Chen will carry out research on the self-assembly of new metal-organic porous materials for gas storage, gas separation and other chemical processes. Chen's research team already has developed and patented porous materials for commercial acetylene storage, separation and removal. Acetylene is used in plastic production, welding and metal cutting. Over the next two years, the researchers will focus on how the metal ions in porous materials recognize and interact with various types of gases and develop functional porous materials for gas storage and separation.

The remaining Welch Foundation funding will support Assistant Professor Doug Frantz's research on allene synthesis. Allenes are an important class of molecules that serve as the building blocks for various compounds including new drugs and biologically active natural products. Using hydrogen-transfer processes, Frantz's research team will provide chemists with a practical and powerful tool to synthesize allenes for academic and commercial use.

Based in Houston, the Welch Foundation is one of the nation's largest and oldest private funding sources for chemistry research. The foundation primarily supports researchers at Texas institutions of higher education.