Dr. Mohan's Research Interests


"Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing."

Wernher von Braun 


If you would like to join our research team, please contact me a semester before you wish to start. You must have at least two free afternoons a week in order to be considered for research. Priority is given to chemistry majors bound for graduate school, but other biology and chemistry majors routinely participate in research in my group.


Research in my lab focuses on three main areas:

(1) Environmentally-Friendly (Green Chemistry) Organic Chemistry Using Bismuth Compounds
(2) Use of Ionic Liquids as solvents for organic synthesis
(3) Development of Discovery-Oriented Organic Chemistry Lab Experiments

(1) Green Chemistry Using Bismuth Compunds

Synthetic organic chemistry is one of the most important branches of organic chemistry and provides access to literally thousands of useful molecules differing widely in their structural complexity. The impact of the field of synthetic organic chemistry on society has been far reaching: Molecules obtained through chemical synthesis have found applications in nearly every facet of our life. In spite of remarkable strides in organic synthesis, work continues to be done to develop new reagents, catalysts, and reactions which are then used in the assembly of complex target molecules. However, most of these efforts have focused on achieving the synthetic processes in an efficient manner and not enough consideration has been given to the effects that the reagents used in chemical syntheses have on human health and the environment. In 1990 Congress passed the Pollution Prevention Act which introduced the concept of pollution prevention through proper waste disposal, waste treatment, source reduction and source prevention. In the past few years, chemists have re-considered their approach to synthetic organic chemistry with pollution prevention and "green chemistry" in mind. Increasing effort is being directed to the development of environment friendly processes which minimize the use of hazardous material, minimize waste and yet carry out the desired process with the efficiency of the chemicals being replaced. Pollution prevention at the source is an important concept with particular relevance to synthetic organic chemistry. Ideally, all synthetic processes would be carried out with relatively non-toxic or low-toxic reagents in non-toxic or solvent free conditions. However, a significant number of reagents used in synthetic organic chemistry continue to be toxic, corrosive and pose significant disposal problems. It is imperative that newer reagents that are "environment friendly" be developed. At the same time, these new reagents must meet the important criteria of efficacy and low cost.

In this regard, bismuth compounds are particularly attractive candidates for use as reagents in synthetic organic chemistry for several reasons:

  • The biochemistry toxicology, and environmental effects of bismuth compounds have been well documented. The majority of bismuth compounds are remarkably c non-toxic. For e.g most bismuth compounds are even less toxic than NaCl.
  • Bismuth and several of its compounds are commercially available and are relatively inexpensive.
  • Several bismuth compounds are compatible with water thus eliminating the need to carry out reactions under anhydrous conditions.

Due to these characteristics many bismuth products are already used as catalysts in the industry (in manufacture of acrolein). The low toxicity of bismuth compounds has made them fairly common in pharmaceutical products such as antacids (bismuth carbonate), diarrheal treatments (e.g. bismuth subsalicyclate — PEPTO-BISMOL®) and in dressings for wounds (e.g. BIPP®, bismuth subnitrate-iodoform-parrafin paste). Even though bismuth as a metal has been known since the middle ages and the first organobismuth compound (triethylbismuthine) was reported in 1850, the potential of bismuth compounds as reagents in organic synthesis has been recognized only in the past decade.

(2) Ionic Liquids

Research in this area focuses on the use of ionic liquids as alternative solvents to Volatile Organic Compounds for use in organic synthesis. The “green” nature of ionic liquids (lack of significant vapor pressure and lack of flammability) makes them safer to use than volatile organic compounds. While ionic liquids are becoming increasingly popular as solvents, there are not enough examples in the literature that demonstrate that the reaction pathways change as a switch is made from a traditional molecular organic solvent to an ionic liquid. An important focus of this research will be to see how reaction pathways change in ionic liquids. A survey of the ionic liquids literature shows that the majority of the manuscripts focus on using them merely as a replacement for an organic solvent and therefore known reactions are repeated in ionic liquids. We hope to show that new pathways can emerge when a switch is made from traditional organic solvents to ionic liquids.

(3) Development of Discovery-oriented Laboratories :

I am also interested in developing discovery-oriented organic chemistry labs. These labs are intended to be more open ended than cook book labs and are designed with the idea of increasing student interest in labs. Development of the labs requires basic research. Working in this area is often a good way to get started in my research group. 


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