Contributed by Lisa Miller, SUNY Oneonta Office of Communications
Dr. Jacqueline Bennett has invented a new chemical process that’s safer, greener and more efficient than traditional methods used to make imines, a class of chemical compounds that has household and industrial applications.
Chemical processes used to create essential materials often consume large quantities of relatively toxic compounds that are later disposed of as hazardous waste. Bennett’s research focuses on finding more environmentally friendly ways to make imines, which are found in a wide range of products, from automotive rust inhibitors to antibiotics.
Because traditional imine synthesis uses solvents that pose inhalation hazards, Bennett experimented with a benign alternative solvent called ethyl lactate, a naturally occurring, FDA-approved food additive that breaks down quickly and harmlessly in the environment. Unlike the established method, Dr. Bennett’s process does not require heat, agitation, recrystallization or purification. Yet it forms imines more quickly, producing higher yields.
Specific aryl aldimines that may be formed through Bennett’s inventive methods include salicylideneanilines, which are active against tuberculosis; cinnamylidene imines, which are useful as intermediates in preparation of beta-lactam antibacterial compounds and which accelerate photodegradation of polyethylene; and p-hydroxybenzylideeanilines, which are useful as intermediates in preparation of cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as Zetia. More details on Bennett's process are available at http://bit.ly/JBPatent
Bennett, who spoke about her discovery in a 2011 Academic Minute segment on the Albany NPR Affiliate, WAMC, received a United States Patent for it on July 1. “Green Synthesis of Aryl Aldimines Using Ethyl Lactate” is the result of years of research, including projects undertaken in collaboration with SUNY Oneonta undergraduate students in Bennett’s research group, the BLONDES: Building a Legacy of Outstanding New Developments and Excellence in Science.
An associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at SUNY Oneonta since 2006, Bennett received the American Chemical Society's Committee on Environmental Improvement 2011 Award for Incorporating Sustainability into Chemistry Education in recognition of her work on imine synthesis. She holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Riverside.
Bennett’s research interests include green chemistry, inquiry-based learning and the use of technology to enhance student learning. Her most important interest, however, is mentoring future scientists in her research group. One of her research students, Michelle Linder, won an international green chemistry award in 2011 for research she did under Bennett's supervision. Linder was the first undergraduate ever to win the award.
In addition to inspiring the next generation of chemists, Bennett’s discovery has the potential to validate the effectiveness of green chemistry as a strategy for protecting our health and planet, once imines can be mass-produced economically using her method.
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