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Ward Thompson receives new NSF grant

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Thompson research groupThis summer the National Science Foundation awarded $450,000 to Ward Thompson, professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas. The three-year grant supports research to develop methods for predicting how molecular movement depends on temperature.

A common way to control chemistry in a lab or industrial setting is by tweaking the temperature. This is because molecules tend to mellow out in chilly settings, but turn wild when it gets hot. Scorching heat makes them dance like Beyoncé at the Super Bowl, throwing down spins, sidesteps, flips and twirls.

But unlike Beyoncé’s choreographed routines, molecules move chaotically, and it's tricky to predict their acrobatic antics.  Yet, knowing how molecules move at different temperatures will help scientists find better ways to control chemistry and cut out wasteful byproducts.

To make such predictions, Thompson’s research group will develop computer-based methods that allow chemists to directly calculate how molecular movement depends on temperature using simulations at a single temperature. “Currently, no other method can provide such information,” said Thompson.

Thompson hopes that his new methods will also reveal how this temperature dependence is affected by other factors, such as which molecules are present, the interactions between those molecules, and the amount of pressure. The new methods are expected to be applicable to any chemical system, not just the liquid system used for this research.

As part of this grant, Thompson will also create a new informal education program for a local elementary school. Children will learn about what it is like to be a scientist through a variety of activities and interactions with KU graduate students and faculty.

(Photo shows Dr. Thompson (center left) with his research group, including Pubudu Wimalasiri, Camina Mendis, Zeke Piskulich, Ankita Katiyar, and Dr. Yanyun Sun in front of KU's new Integrated Science Building).

--Story by Claudia Bode

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