A student is working in front of a glass box. Rubber gloves, that are built into the box, extend up to his elbows as he reaches into the chamber.

Student, professor create a little something in chemistry lab

Kelan Fogarty and Dr. Michael Hay have been hard at work in the lab this summer after creating a new polymer.
By: Kristen Doerschner

It may be summer break, but if you wander over to Penn state Beaver’s Michael Baker Building and stick your head in the chemistry lab, you’re likely to see Kelan Fogarty and Dr. Michael Hay working on a little something.

Make that a really little something, as in creating a new polymer.

Fogarty, who will begin his junior year at University Park in the fall, began working with Hay during his freshman year at Penn State Beaver. He said his grandfather was a metallurgist, and he’s always been fascinated by chemistry, so he jumped at the opportunity to work in the lab with Hay.

Together, Hay and Fogarty created a polymer. A polymer is a chemical compound comprised of a long string of repeating molecules.

“I was excited when we got it on the mass spectrometer, and it showed it had polymerized,” Fogarty said.

In theory, the polymer Fogarty and Hay created could be used for things that would benefit many of us. Hay said the polymer is a solid electrolyte similar to those found in mobile phone batteries. Hay said the polymer could help extend the life of a mobile phone battery by preventing it from leaching lithium as the lithium transfers from one side of the battery to the other.

Fogarty presented their work this spring at the American Chemical Society’s National Meeting and Expo in Florida.

At the conference Fogarty not only presented their research, he also took the opportunity to network and bring people together, something Hay said he’s never seen another student do.

“Kelan just went around, and he networked and got everyone talking together,” Hay said. Fogarty found students working on similar projects and introduced them to one another so they could share their knowledge with one another.

“I’m not one to sit,” Fogarty said.

Creating the polymer was only the beginning. Now the pair have to purify the solid polymeric material. That’s what Fogarty and Hay have been doing this summer.

“We made the big thing first. … We believe (the molecule) has a certain structure,” Hay said. “You can’t just say, ‘I have a powder. It’s this.’ You have to have evidence to prove it.”

Work to prove it entails various experiments as well as modeling. Through their research they have discovered some impurities and adjusted the formula with the goal to create a pure element.

They’re also getting some help from professors at the University of Spilt in Croatia. Hay said while professors from Split were visiting Penn State Beaver as part of the EDGE program, they saw a poster Fogarty had made for the expo in Florida. The Croatian professors have been doing similar research and offered to analyze the compound to determine its purity.

EDGE, which stands for Experiential Digital Global Engagement, connects Penn State Beaver classes and faculty with their counterparts in universities around the world using technology and visits to the participating universities.

Fogarty’s work this summer was made possible because he was awarded a grant. He was the recipient of the Rodney A. Erickson Discovery Grant Program, which is given to undergraduate students. Hay said he thinks Fogarty was awarded the research grant because of his participation in the conference in Florida and his presentation last year in the Undergraduate Expo help on campus each year.

Fogarty plans to study immunology, something he said ties in well with biochemistry. He said he would love to go to medical school after he finishes his undergraduate degree.