In any scientific research there may be great leaps forward, but perhaps more often there are setbacks, a slow crawl of progression, and unexpected discoveries that send research into entirely new directions. Whether the project involves interstellar travel, identification of a new substance, or the synthesis of new molecules, one must be prepared for surprising results.
While attempting to create various size- and orientation-controlled cyanine dye dimers, promising substances were initially obtained. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that the black powders, red and yellow crystals, and even lustrous purple liquids obtained through different reactions were, in fact, all essentially the same substance. This mysterious product displayed the unusual chemical properties of solvatochromicity (changing color in different solvents) and pH sensitivity (changing colors at different pH levels). The focus of our research changed from synthesizing the dyes to determining what was not there (the desired product), what was there (the mystery product), and where this product came from. Eventually these findings will lead to adjustments in our procedure that will allow future researchers to maximize their chances of obtaining the desired product.
This process illustrates that real science is rarely straightforward. Instead of simply carrying out carefully designed experiments, scientists must investigate unexpected results and observations through a variety of indirect chemical and physical methods.
Carissa Nelson, ’02 Faribault, MN
Majors: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and
Paul Searing, ’02 Paulding, OH
Majors: Chemistry and Physics
Sponsor: Charles Liberko