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UAlbany Chemist Explores Volatile World of Fluorochemical Research

The research lab of Professor of Chemistry John Welch has provided undergraduate and graduate students alike the opportunity to explore the critical field of flourine chemistry. (Photos Mark Schmidt)

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 6, 2015) -- University at Albany Professor of Chemistry John Welch and his research team are embarking on the study of a new type of fluorinated molecule, aliphatic fluorinated hypervalent sulfur compounds. These molecules may find wide applications in pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals as well as in materials science.

The research is supported by a $390,000 National Science Foundation grant.

Advances in fluorochemical research are dependent upon the safe handling of fluorochemicals. Chemicals such as bromine trifluoride, chlorine fluoride or fluorine are highly dangerous if not handled properly yet without these substances the central role played by fluorine in new product development, including those used in life sciences and materials applications would be impossible to explore.

Welch’s funding will enable the training of UAlbany students in this crucial area of chemical technology. The Welch team currently has six patent or provisional patent applications filed to enable the translation of their research to commercial applications.

UAlbany John Welch Professor of Chemistry
Professor Welch’s funding will enable the training of UAlbany students in this crucial area of chemical technology.

Welch is training students to handle extraordinarily reactive reagents to prepare novel fluorinated reactants. With as few as a half-dozen laboratories in the U.S. devoted to the training of students in the handling of extraordinarily reactive reagents remaining, Welch is helping sustain the vital, if volatile area of chemical research.

Welch's lab offers undergraduates, graduates and postdoctoral researchers opportunities to explore a field of chemistry that has been critical to the development of compounds found in products used all over the world every day. His students come from as far as South Korea to engage in learning opportunities that would not otherwise be available.

"Coming to UAlbany and working in Dr. Welch's lab has offered me the opportunity to meet diverse people from many countries, and to develop a global learning perspective," said undergraduate researcher Joohyon Lee from South Korea.

At the doctoral level, Corning, N.Y., native Jason Seeley has been able to apply what he has learned studying under Welch to eventually pursue a career in biomedical and materials sciences. "I would like to apply my education to and training to provide solutions/products to complicated problems," said Seeley.

Welch operates and makes available to the scientific community a dedicated laboratory equipped with the necessary infrastructure for the preparation, purification and characterization of both liquid and gaseous reactive fluorinated intermediates and synthons.

"Of particular note is the potential of the chemically and physically robust fluorinated hypervalent sulfur compounds to decompose in an environmentally benign manner," said Welch.

Welch has also made a point of working with students from historically underrepresented groups, providing a gateway for graduates to work in a host of industries requiring a background in chemical analysis and research. His students have gone on to receive doctorates of their own while continuing the work of dealing with highly volatile, yet highly reactive agents.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.