Student Spotlight: PN Ligands and Parks at Penn

By: Juan D. Cisneros (EC ’17)

I had the pleasure of spending this past summer at the University of Pennsylvania in the lab of Professor Daniel J. Mindiola as a visiting scholar. My time in the lab was insightful and inspiring; I worked with some brilliant minds on some fascinating chemistry and left with a new knowledge of lab techniques and fond memories.

Having visited Philly briefly just once before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the city. I was pleasantly surprised at how vibrant and friendly West Philadelphia welcomed me. City streets were trafficked by commuters and delicious food trucks. In order to keep my close relationship to the food trucks healthy, I began to run every evening.

Boathouse Row on my evening run. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.
Boathouse Row on my evening run. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.

Fairmount Park and the Philadelphia Park system is the largest landscaped urban park in the world and I explored a good bit of it during my stay. I also ran with the West Philly chapter of BoMF (Back on My Feet) on Monday mornings and participated in the Papa Gary 10k that finished at the historic Rocky Steps!

Finish Line at the Rocky Steps – 2016 Papa Gary Father’s Day Run. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros
Finish Line at the Rocky Steps – 2016 Papa Gary Father’s Day Run. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.

When I wasn’t running off the calories to keep a Kfoodtruck, I was adapting to the new layer of neoprene hugging my hands and arms. I worked with Group IV metals with the goal of creating nitride complexes supported by a varying PN ligand. Working with highly pyrophoric compounds taught me valuable safety protocol and also some new techniques (Electron Paramagnetic Resonance, Variable Temperature NMR, et al.).  The bulk of my synthetic trials involved scaling up varying PN ligands and the constructing the complexes supported by these ligands. I began with Titanium and the Mesitylene substituted PN ligand and later worked with the 1,3,5-triisopropylbenzene substituted PN Ligand in hopes of obtaining better crystals further down the synthesis. I also experimented my trials with Hafnium and Zirconium, below are some x-rays of aforementioned complexes.

Ti-nitride (left) and ZrNH (right)
Ti-nitride (left) and ZrNH (right). Click here to view Juan’s research poster.

The workload in the Mindiola Lab was intense, but the people were friendly and supportive. Through our countless hours in lab, we developed a covalent level of friendship and I am looking forward to the point where our careers cross paths again.

Glove box in the Mindiola Lab. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.
Glove box in the Mindiola Lab. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.

My last day at Penn, a few of us drove to the MetLife Stadium in the boss’s Passat and watched the sold-out FC Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid match with 82,000 other soccer enthusiasts. It was the perfect outing to celebrate a summer of hard work and breakthrough (Real unsurprisingly won).

Metlife Stadium. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.
Metlife Stadium. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.

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metlife-stadiumJuan D. Cisneros (pictured far left) is a chemistry and Spanish double major at Emory from Coconut Creek, Florida. Previously, he wrote for The Lab Report about his experiences studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain. Juan is also an IMSD undergraduate scholar and edits the IMSD blog.