Creating three-dimensional models of molecules and developing an affordable hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine are the subjects of two divergent research projects being conducted by a University of Arkansas at Monticello scientist.
Dr. Jeffrey Taylor, an associate professor of chemistry, recently received funding from the Arkansas IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) to conduct the research. Taylor, who holds a master’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Texas, a Ph.D. in biophysics from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is conducting the research with the help of students.
The first project, which involves building three-dimensional bio-molecular models on a computer, is what Taylor calls “pure research. We’re looking at structure, function and relationships. If you want to know how a molecule functions, you have to know what it looks like.”
With the help of LaTarnesha Jacobs, a junior pre-medicine and chemistry major from Monticello, Taylor has already begun creating computer models. The $11,500 grant received from Arkansas INBRE will fund new hardware and software technology to make 3-D modeling easier to complete. Other funding to pay the student researchers will be provided by the Arkansas-Lewis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.
A second project, the creation of an affordable hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine, has far-reaching practical applications, says Taylor. Hydrogen powered engines have been around for a while, Taylor adds, but current models use expensive fuel cells. Taylor hopes to create an engine from scratch using inexpensive, non-exotic technology. “We want to create an ICE (internal combustion engine) that is affordable,” he says.
The first step in the hydrogen project is the actual creation of hydrogen, which Taylor and his student assistant, Esgar Jiminez, a junior biochemistry major from Boydell, are already doing in a UAM chemistry lab. Taylor and Jiminez are using a process called electrolysis to separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water. Hydrogen is highly volatile, so Taylor and Jiminez limit their electrolysis sessions to Friday afternoons when the lab is empty.
“Hydrogen is not something you fool around with,” says Taylor. “You had better treat it with respect.”
Taylor hopes to be able to create hydrogen cheaply. Current methods of hydrogen production are inefficient and often use fossil fuels as the source of hydrogen. “Hydrogen can be used as a source of energy to power our vehicles and even our homes,” Taylor says. “The combustion of hydrogen produces energy and the byproduct is H2O (water), which isn’t harmful to our atmosphere like fossil fuel byproducts. We’re hoping that windmills and solar panels can be used as a source of energy to produce hydrogen since they convert wind and solar energy into usable electricity. That electricity could then be used as a source of energy for the water electrolysis to occur.”