Kraft ’17 Lays Groundwork for New Field in Chemistry

CAROLINE JUANG

Kraft’s discovery could contribute towards important potential uses in hydrogen storage or gas purification, where their three-dimensional molecular structure can aid in porosity.

Caroline Juang, Featured ImagesResearch is a part of many Harvard undergraduates’ experiences while in college, but a select few arrive on campus already with a history of lab work. Peter Kraft ‘17 is one of those students. The rising freshman from northwestern Indiana was a Intel Science Talent Search 5th place national winner and has been interested in science for as long as he can remember.

His first research experience was with the High School Honors Science Program, a competitive summer program at Michigan State University, where he assisted with science research under a mentor on the Michigan State campus.

For seven weeks, Peter worked in Dr. Robert LaDuca’s lab alongside Michigan State undergraduates studying coordination polymers. These are specific polymer structures with diverse properties. Kraft’s research was focused on discovering new types of coordination polymers created from 4-pyridiylnicotinamide (4-pna) and 3-pyridylnicotinamide (3-pna), two artificially synthesized polymers.

Previous studies have shown that the amide moiety—a chemical group linking the two pyridine rings of each chemical together—found in both of these chemicals showed useful properties in catalysis, or speeding up chemical reactions. Kraft’s task was to help discover new coordination polymers with the chemical compounds 3-pna and 4-pna and their amide moieties.

“They’re similar enough to compounds that have worked in the past that they’ll probably create something interesting, and they have enough interesting features like that amide moiety that they probably won’t be redundant with previous discoveries,” Kraft said. “We’re helping to lay the groundwork in what’s still a very young field.”

When Kraft first began working in the lab, it was a challenge to find out whether crystals of coordination could be extracted from the polymers. Yet, after performing tests such as x-ray diffraction and fluorescence spectroscopy to look at the molecular structure and luminescent properties of the chemical compounds, respectively, Kraft and his lab discovered that 3-pna and 4-pna are indeed viable for creating coordination polymers. Over seven weeks in Dr. LaDuca’s lab, he created a broad spectrum of coordination polymers with diverse characteristics.

Some coordination polymers possessed characteristics similar to previous compounds, suggesting abundant future applications for 3-pna and 4-pna. Meanwhile, other compounds contrasted greatly with previous studies, showing potential for future discoveries involving 3-pna and 4-pna.

Kraft’s discovery could contribute towards important potential uses in hydrogen storage or gas purification, where their three-dimensional molecular structure can aid in porosity. A highly porous polymer, characterized by many nano-sized holes, is well-suited for confining and arranging gaseous molecules. Other characteristics of coordination polymers in general suit potential applications of catalysis, magnetism, optics, and sensors and biosensing, aiding medical diagnostics, energy storage and the development of batteries, and even data storage. As this field continues to grow exponentially, the future potential for coordination polymers will continue to expand.

Kraft has definite plans to continue research in chemistry during his time at Harvard. While he says that his experience at Michigan State influenced his interest in chemistry, he is open to exploring other fields. “Maybe biochemistry?” he says. “Won’t know until I get there.”

Caroline Juang is a Brevia staff writer. She can be reached at cjuang@college.harvard.edu.