Janet Foley's Homepage

Chemistry at Bennington

At Bennington we think learning science is doing science so from the very first class in chemistry we call on students to think about interesting questions and how they would answer them. Class is conducted in seminar fashion with students asking questions and discussing the topics. Students also read articles from the science literature on topics of current interest such as:
  • Photodynamic Therapy
  • The Super Iron Battery
  • Measuring the strength of a covalent bond
  • Antioxidant behavior of Vitamin E
  • Reduction of Chromium(VI) in soil
      Discussion encourages students to apply the ideas they are learning in class to these current topics. Students are assigned to explore the current literature for a topic they would like to write about in a paper and present to the class in an oral presentation. This gives the whole class an opportunity to see how society is affected by many current applications of chemistry and how much they can understand even after just taking introductory courses. Students also plan and carry out research projects as part of the lab experience. Some topics that students have chosen to investigate are:
  1. Investigating Silica content in horsetails
  2. Using Iron to treat chlorinated solvents
  3. An electrochemistry investigation of the antioxidant properties of red wine, chocolate, and green tea.
  4. Response of Diatom Populations to Different Concentrations of Silicic Acid
      We offer a broad range of courses for all students at Bennington because we believe that understanding science is essential for any liberal arts education. The connection between chemistry and the arts - photography, paints and pigments, ceramics - is a natural interdisciplinary match and we look for creative ways for introducing these ideas on campus. Some chemistry courses that have been offered:
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • The Chemistry of Drugs and Natural Remedies
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • A Research Case Study : The Chemistry and Biology of Vermont Ponds (with B. Sherman)

Research. I have two areas of research interest: 1.) the chemistry of gold phosphine complexes similar in structure to drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and 2.) the different chemical environments in two groups of Vermont ponds, and the effects of the organisms in each site.

Gold Research:Gold chemistry elicits visions of alchemists with bubbling flasks in fantastic colors. Sometimes I feel like that except that I take gold and transform it into complexes that might be green, might glow orange under ultraviolet light, or might be dull white. So I might be an anti-alchemist. Gold, besides having an interesting history as the original noble metal, the symbol of wealth and power, is very unique as an element. Its properties, resistance to oxidation, malleability, conductivity, are ultimately related to the arrangement of the electrons in the atom. But gold, being a "heavy metal" is affected also by relativity related to the speed of the electrons around the nucleus. This phenomenon has been used to explain the density of gold, as well as the electronegativity and the color. One goal is to learn more about the basic chemistry of gold and its varied and increasingly complex structures.

I have been working with a series of gold phosphine dinuclear compounds of the form, cis and trans bis-diphenylphosphinoethylene gold(I)X:

These compounds exhibit interesting photochemical behavior: they isomerize from cis to trans when they are exposed to light. We want to know how changing the "X" ligand affects the isomerization and if gold-gold interactions in these compounds is involved in this chemical phenomenon. We particularly want to know if we can prove that there are these interactions in solution and if they can be used for self assembly applications.

Some of these gold compounds have phosphine-gold-thiol structures that are similar to the gold arthritis drugs, Auranofin and Myocrisin. In addition some of the dinuclear gold compounds have shown some anticancer properties. It is not known why gold drugs are effective but the versatility of bonding around these metals might play a role. We are looking at the ligand substitution and electrochemical properties of these compounds. We are interested in exploring the chemistry of these compounds in order to better understand the next generation of heavy metal drugs as well as gain insight into the mechanism of physiological interaction. As part of our project we are looking at the antimicrobial effects of these gold compounds.