Nelson has focused on five primary topics of research generally categorized in two areas, Scientific Research and America's Scientific Readiness. The former includes: (1) mechanistic patterns in alkene addition reactions and (2) Single-Walled Carbon Nanotube (SWCNT) functionalization and analysis. America's Scientific Readiness focuses on (3) science education, which includes classroom innovations and correcting organic chemistry textbook inaccuracies, (4) ethnic and gender diversity among highly ranked science departments of research universities, and (5) improving the presentation of science and images of scientists to the public, such as serving as a science advisor to the AMC television show Breaking Bad.
Organic Chemistry of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes
Our labs and collaborations create and probe SWCNT-biomolecule materials and SWCNT-polymer systems in order to design and study applications, characteristics, and theories of SWCNTs and graphene. Example concepts are (1) electronic nanosensors and molecular recognition, (2) plant self-repair, and (3) energy-generating thermopower waves. Their commonality is organic analytes, from small molecule to polymer, adsorbing irreversibly to single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) surfaces. Because the mechanism is not understood, we probe both SWCNT complexes and analytes by a variety of organic chemistry techniques, including NMR.
At right: (1) A SWCNT-tamoxifen pharmaceutical synthesized in PI’s lab. (2) A polymer adsorbed into a specific conformation can create a selective analyte binding site; determining the strongest polymer adsorption sites facilitates understanding analyte binding determinants. (3) Select nitrogen-rich organics, complexed to SWCNTs and ignited, create a thermal energy wave traveling down the SWCNT; characterizing the SWCNT complex improves understanding the phenomenon and enables optimizing organic compound selection.
Organic chemistry techniques, including NMR, determine the strongest points of association between complexed organic molecules and SWCNTs, which are those closest to the protons with greatest chemical shift change. This enables predicting and determining strongest complexing molecules, cites, and functionalities, along with some geometrical characteristics. These projects promise heretofore unrealized opportunities for new materials and systems.
Research keywords: organic mechanisms and education; science policy; organic chemistry of single walled carbon nanotubes