W&J Students, Professor Publish Article in National Chemistry Journal

April 16, 2014

WASHINGTON, PA (April 4, 2014) – A W&J senior, an alumnus, and a Chemistry professor are helping others learn an aspect of their field that they have studied and tested for years.

An article by Julia Pacilio ’14, John Tokarski ‘13 and Dr. Robbie Iuliucci, associate professor of Chemistry, was accepted for publication in the Journal of Chemical Education, a periodical dedicated to education, rather than research, in the field of chemistry. The article will be published later this year.

Iuliucci said the motivation for the publication was twofold.

“I wanted a written material to help undergraduates get better trained to do research with me,” he said. “Most materials are pitched at the graduate level. Second, I realized a lack of information on my subject of interest. Thus, proposing an undergraduate laboratory experience would help solve both issues.”

In his research, Iuliucci uses a type of spectroscopy called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to study the molecular structure of molecules in the solid state. He said magnetic resonance is used often in chemistry, physics, structural biology, biochemistry and materials science because of its success in “structure determination.”

“I am interested in ways to improve the use of NMR to solve structure,” he said. “I need to train students to operate a NMR spectrometer and to acquire NMR data. In particular, they must master the high resolution techniques of magic-angle spinning and cross-polarization. These techniques are needed to study molecules in a solid state.”

It is complicated research, Pacilio said, but it’s a necessary thing for students to learn at the undergraduate level.

“For undergrads, regardless of your area of chemistry, at some point you’ll have to test your molecule,” she said. “We needed a better way to show students that this is what you do and how you do it.”

Iuliucci said the primary research step for the paper was to design a laboratory experiment where students learn those high resolution techniques relative to the topic of polymorphism, the rule that many molecules exist with multiple structures in the solid state. NMR is commonly used to study polymorphism, particularly by pharmaceutical companies.

“Polymorphism is a problem for drug companies because the same molecule can have different chemical properties depending on what polymorphic form it is in,” Iuliucci said.

The group tested cimetidine, the active ingredient in Tagamet.

Pacilio acquired some of the initial NMR data and compiled background information on cimetidine, and later assisted with editorial work for the paper. Tokarski, with guidance from Iuliucci, wrote a tutorial on how to set up the experiment and run the spectrometer.

Iuliucci said the work resulted in two major outcomes. The first is that Tokarski’s skills at running a spectrometer led to an independent study in the laboratory of Arno Kentgens at Radboud University, and he continues to study NMR at the University of Florida.

The second is that the documents created for the journal can be used to train future students to conduct the type of research in which I specializes.

The article is the first that Pacilio has published, and she said she hopes to continue this type of educational writing in the future. For now, she hopes the articles will help other undergraduate students with their work.

“I wish this had been available to me as an undergrad,” she said. “Every time I read it I’m impressed with what we were able to do. It’s a great idea and I hope it helps other students.”