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A Glowing Recommendation: Matthew Williams '20 manipulates phosphoric material for summer research project

Matthew Williams '20 (left) and chemistry professor Bill Bare experiment on phosphoric material in the chemistry lab

Matthew Williams ’20 (left) and chemistry professor Bill Bare experiment on phosphoric material

Despite the Periodic Table, the laws, and the chemical equations, sometimes it’s the simple things that chemists enjoy most. For chemistry professor Bill Bare, the vivid, sometimes glowing colors produced in inorganic compounds is one of his greatest joys.

For Summer Research, he and Matthew Williams ’20 are manipulating the electronic structure in phosphoric material, and working to improve the synthesis process that makes it glow.

“When professor Bare told me he had a glowing stone, so I thought, ‘That sounds cool,’” Williams laughed.

A 17th century alchemist discovered that phosphor could glow, and believed he had found the legendary Philosopher’s Stone. It was nearly 400 years later when scholars discovered its true properties.

“It’s a neat material from a historical standpoint, and it’s a neat material scientifically because of the way the electrical structure can change, and it’s also fun because it glows,” Bare said.

Close-up of glowing phosphor

Close-up of glowing phosphor

Students in Bare’s inorganic chemistry classes have done variations of this project in the past, but no one has been able to synthesize a phosphor that glows throughout. By the end of Summer Research, Bare and Williams hope that they can create a reliable method that could be used in undergraduate or even high school chemistry classes.

“One of the problems is that every time you make it, it sort of crumbles into a bunch of little pieces instead of a good-sized pellet,” Williams said. “So, we’ve been trying to dry it out with sodium chloride, salt, and other things to see if that helps keep it together.”

As a chemistry major, Williams enjoys the opportunity to get hands-on experience in his field.

“I really enjoy finding weird little things you can do to trick the process and the simple solutions that really come out of nowhere. I’ve also learned new things, like how salt can be used as a binding agent, basically, which I thought was interesting.”

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