Doctoral student wins green chemistry award

Jennifer S. Haghpanah, a first-year doctoral student in Assistant Prof. Jin Kim Montclare’s laboratory, received the 2007 Kenneth G. Hancock Memorial “Promising Young Investigator” Award during the 11th Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in Washington on June 28.

Haghpanah was selected for her proposal, “Investigating Cutinases for the Deacetylation of Polyvinyl Acetate.” The proposal is based on the work done by another doctoral student, Asa Ronkvist, under the advisement of Montclare and Prof. Richard Gross.

Cutinases are hydrolytic enzymes produced by pathogenic fungi. Deacetylation can be used to remove adhesives from textiles and paper, forming water-soluble copolymers that are biodegradable. The aim of Haghpanah’s proposed research is to understand the structure-activity relationship of cutinases for new applications in polymer technology.

“Degrading polymers create a whole slew of waste,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to make these materials more environmentally friendly.”

"This award recognizes excellence in green chemistry by undergraduate and graduate students," said Madeleine Jacobs, executive director and CEO of the American Chemical Society, which co-sponsors the Hancock Award with the National Institute of Standards & Technology. "Green chemistry education is critical to the adoption of cleaner products and processes, and faculty members and research advisers play a central role by instilling an environmental ethic in their students."

The Award honors the late Kenneth G. Hancock, former director of the National Science Foundation’s Chemistry Division and a green chemistry pioneer.

A week after the Conference in Washington, Haghpanah received the news that the SPE Foundation, an affiliate of the Society of Plastics Engineers, awarded her a $3,000 Neward scholarship and the $1,000 Thermoplastic Materials and Foams scholarship.