A UT Arlington junior who found a way to blend a passion for chemistry with ideals of environmental sustainability is getting help from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to further his education and his research.
John Gurak is one of less than 40 scholars nationwide to be awarded the EPA National Center for Environmental Research’s two-year fellowship for undergraduate study this year. It provides $50,000 over two years to cover costs of tuition, books, lab supplies, travel to conferences and other expenses.
Gurak said he’s thankful for the fellowship, which recognizes his work in UT Arlington assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry Frank Foss’ lab. He will also do an internship at an EPA lab in summer 2014.
“John Gurak is one of our brightest undergraduates and his involvement in Dr. Foss’ laboratory is a great example of the early, hands-on research experiences that create great scientists,” said Rasika Dias, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and chair of the department. “We are proud to have him.”
Gurak is working with Foss to adapt riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, for use as a metal-free catalyst in oxidative reactions that create heterocyclic compounds, or heterocycles. Heterocycles have wide-ranging uses and are important to the future of pharmaceutical development and manufacturing of materials such as light-emitting diodes.
Right now, these chemical processes are energy demanding and use catalysts that are often costly, rare and not environmentally friendly. Catalysts designed in the Foss laboratory operate at room temperature and use the abundant molecular oxygen that we breath as a fuel. Designing chemical processes that eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances is an emerging area known as “green chemistry.”
“I have always thought that if you do something you should do it the best that you can,” Gurak said. “If we can do chemistry and make it more sustainable, we should.”
Gurak, a graduate of Denison High School in Denison, is a recipient of several scholarships at UT Arlington, including the President’s Charter Scholarship. He also serves as a residential assistant at the Welch Summer Scholar Program, a five-week residential summer camp for high school students interested in scientific research. Earlier this year, he was a co-author on a peer-reviewed paper that appeared in the American Chemical Society journal Langmuir.
Gurak is an example of the outstanding students at UT Arlington, a comprehensive research institution of more than 33,000 students and more than 2,200 faculty members in the heart of North Texas. It is the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more.