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Biochemistry Senior Honored for Renewable Energy Research

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News, Student Projects

Kelly Hunter ’17, Biochemistry major.

For the past two years, Kelly Hunter has been in her element at Loyola Marymount University investigating the water oxidation mechanism to try to find a source of clean, renewable energy using mononuclear metal catalysts.

Working with Emily Jarvis, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and Green Chemistry Committee Chair, the biochemistry senior studied two metals as catalysts.

“We had studied ruthenium, which was a really successful catalyst,” says Hunter. “Right now we’re looking at iron, which is really promising.”

The idea is to capture energy from sunlight and simulate photosynthesis – the way plants create energy – ultimately to produce clean and renewable carbon-free fuel. Hunter works in computational chemistry with the goal of developing theories that can be tested later through experimentation. She estimates that this work might be five to 10 years away from real-world implementation.

In April, Hunter presented her work in a special Computational/Theoretical Chemistry section of the 253rd American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition in San Francisco – a huge event attended by some 18,000 scientists. Her poster was honored with an award for undergraduate work. Hunter received a certificate and a $100 check, and as one of the top-three winners, she also won a $150 gift certificate from Wiley books. She used it to purchase Introduction to Computational Chemistry.

Kelly Hunter (right), Emily Jarvis, Ph.D. (center) and Grace Johnson (left)

Hunter enjoyed the interaction at the poster section, where she presented a brief overview of her work and answered questions. “I found it very interesting that so many people came up – undergraduates, grad students, and faculty – and that they found it such an interesting and relevant topic.”

Hunter knew chemistry was for her after reveling in its difficult challenges at Chaminade College Preparatory School. At LMU, exposure to research helped shape her passion for computational chemistry and the ways in which it can help to preserve the environment.

“LMU has been a fantastic experience,” Hunter says. “There are so many ways to get involved with professors doing research, so you’re able to find what you’re passionate about. The many different aspects of LMU and the different types of people you get to meet has been truly a blessing.

“I just love learning science,” says Hunter, who will begin a doctoral program in chemistry at UC San Diego this fall. “Research in science will never be finished, so there is always more to learn.”