Expanding Horizons: Christopher Lee

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Chris is a biomedical engineering major who strives to become either a doctor or work in the biomedical industry.  Yet, it is the field of chemistry that has inspired him to explore and complete complex scientific research.  He describes taking organic chemistry in his early years at UConn and being very drawn to the kind of work that was happening in that class.  “I have always found chemistry interesting and I really enjoyed the labs,” he says. Chris was subsequently invited to work in the lab of his organic chemistry professor, Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater, who is now the chair of his University Scholar advisory committee.  Besides Dr. Leadbeater, the other members of Chris’ advisory committee are Dr. William Bailey of Chemistry and Dr. Donald Peterson of Biomedical Engineering.

Chris’ project involves novel methods of conducting chemical reactions in ways that are more environmentally conscious.  Specifically, he is focusing on new methods that touch upon the integral procedures chemists use to create reactions: the use of continuous-flow chemistry and the use of UV light as a way to make reactions occur. When a non-chemist thinks of performing chemical reactions, they probably think of mixing various chemicals in a beaker. This is called batch chemistry and can often be relatively dirty and energy inefficient.  Chris, on the other hand, is researching the use of continuous-flow chemistry, a method that is currently in vogue in the pharmaceutical industry, but not necessarily completely understood.  Reactants are pumped through a series of tubes, meet at junctions, and react in either heated or cooled zones.  A stream of reagents enters the reactor, and a stream of product exits. The process can be relatively easy to control, giving better yield and product purity.

Chris is also combining this method with the use of ultraviolet (UV) light to facilitate chemical reactions in flow. Some reactions can be facilitated using UV light, but when these are run using a traditional batch approach, they can be very slow and low yielding. This is often because the UV light does not penetrate very deeply into the reaction mixture. By using UV transparent tubing and a flow approach, Chris hopes to overcome these problems. The overarching goal of his work is to develop a clean and accurate method of producing chemicals, which could then be used by industry—especially pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Chris notes that he particularly enjoys the interdisciplinary nature of his Biomedical Engineering degree program. He has certainly embraced this feature, embarking on an innovative project that will certainly broaden his horizons into new and exciting territories.