Undergrad Wins ‘Outstanding Poster’ Award At Materials Conference

Undergrad Wins ‘Outstanding Poster’ Award At Materials Conference

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico Tech chemical engineering senior Thalia Quinn won the award for "Outstanding Poster" at the Rio Grande Symposium on Advanced Materials on Monday, Oct. 3, in Albuquerque.

Quinn won for her poster "Catalytic Analysis of Copper Porphyrine in the Conversion of Methane to Methanol through Computer Simulations." Along with her advisor Dr. Pabitra Choudhury of the ChemicalEngineering Department, Quinn has been modeling how oxygen-centered copper porphyrine can convert methane (CH4) into methanol (CH3OH).

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NMT student Thalia Quinn with conference chairs Bryan Kaehr (left) and Mehran Tehrani.


Copper porphyrene is a catalyst, used to reduce the activation energy and make the reaction go faster and at a lower temperature,” Quinn said. “That’s the whole point of the research – to make the conversion complete at lower energy, which in-turn makes the process less expensive and lowers the temperature.”

Copper porphyrine first reacts with either NO2 or O3, grabbing one oxygen molecule and becoming the catalyst. Methane then reacts with the copper porphyrine, which donates the spare oxygen molecule to create methanol.

“Our simulations have shown that the energy barriers are very low,” Quinn said. “We’re looking at transition states and charge density differences and it’s looking good so far.”

Methanol is commonly used in antifreeze, solvent, fuel and in biodiesel.

“Demand is high and that’s the driving force for this research,” Quinn said. “Current production of methanol takes a lot of energy, which can be both expensive and dangerous. We think this method can reduce the energy required for the process.”

Dr. Choudhury said he’s pleased that Quinn won the award, particularly because she did the research on a volunteer basis. He said Quinn’s work paves the way for experimental work in the future.

She said she was surprised to receive the Outstanding Poster award, considering that so many other presentations were in the laboratory phase and her work was still in simulation phase.

“It was exciting,” she said. “I didn’t expect it because it was a materials-based conference and my project is more chemical-related. Plus, there were some other great projects.”

A native of Aztec, N.M., Quinn is set to graduate with her bachelor’s in May 2017. She said she hopes to go to graduate school and is considering staying at New Mexico Tech to continue this sort of work.

– NMT –