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NMSU professor's research published in Science Magazine

After devoting three years to research, experimentation and writing, the groundbreaking work of New Mexico State University chemistry and biochemistry professor Jeremy M. Smith and graduate student Jeremiah J. Scepaniak, conducted in collaboration with a German research group, has been published in the February 25 issue of Science magazine.

NMSU chemistry student Hsiu-jung Lin works in the laboratory where chemistry professor Jeremy Smith and his research team are able to isolate and crystallize iron compounds to better understand and study them. (NMSU photo by Donyelle Kesler)

The group's lab manuscript, in which they describe the first authentic example of an iron(V) compound to be isolated, will help chemists understand the properties of high oxidation state iron-containing molecules. First submitted to the magazine in September 2010, the manuscript is the first of Smith's to be accepted by the publication.

"It's very difficult for chemists to get published in Science Magazine so it was a pretty big deal," Smith said.

In many enzyme catalytic cycles, iron shifts between different oxidation states, and high oxidation state intermediates in particular have been exceedingly hard to isolate and study. Through their research, Smith's team's ability to crystallize this compound will make it easier to understand the properties of this rare oxidation state.

"We were able to make a molecule that has the features of a species in state which has never been observed directly," Smith said. "We can actually crystallize and get a 3-dimensional representation of the compound; that's pretty important because there's been no direct structural evidence until now that this state could exist."

Understanding these properties may lead to less expensive, but more efficient and environmentally friendly industrial catalysts.
"We're trying to mimic nature," Scepaniak said. "Humans are responsible for creating a full third of the ammonia in the biosphere, which is responsible for the fertility in plants. Making ammonia in a synthetic environment requires a lot of energy. It is done at 300 degrees Celsius and about 200 times the atmospheric pressure we're under, whereas nature is doing it at room temperature and under this pressure so we can save a lot of money by mimicking nature."

Smith and Scepaniak work daily in the lab with other graduate and undergraduate students. Throughout the project, they have kept in constant contact by e-mail with the researchers in Germany, sharing between them their findings and calculations.

The Department of Energy and the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation fund Smith's research. To view the published manuscript titled "Synthesis, Structure and Reactivity of an Iron(V) Nitride" visit http://www.sciencemag.org/content/331/6020/1049.full?sid=d2ec9d3d-6fed-4db8-b469-a8f51153bd19.

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