Meet Thomas Giroday, a fourth-year Bachelor of Science student majoring in Chemistry. The Newsroom asked Thomas about the ins and outs of conducting his own research project through TRU’s Undergraduate Research Experience Award Program (UREAP).
TRU: Your project is titled, “M06-2X Study of Thermodynamic Stability of PFOS”. Boil it down for us.
TG: There are compounds called perfluorooctane sulfonic acids, which are used as surfactants in the same manner as teflon. Also like teflon, they are non-biodegradable and can accumulate in organic tissue. There are 89 structural isomers of this compound, that is 89 different ways you can arrange the molecular units, but we only see 4 or 5 of the most linear isomers in biological samples.
My UREAP research last summer used the M06-2X computational chemistry method to assess the stability of these isomers in an attempt to find out whether the 4 or 5 isomers observed in nature are due to inherent thermodynamic stability or some other kinetic factor. Like one previous study observed with the B3LYP computational method, the most linear isomers are NOT the most thermodynamically stable and therefore kinetic factors must govern their presence. I am also working on a paper that addresses the partition coefficients and pKa values of these isomers.
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TRU: What attracted you to doing this research?
TG: I enjoyed my computational chemistry lab course and proved adept at using the software provided. The professor, Dr. Nelaine Mora-Diez, approached me about doing a Directed Studies project with her, which I accepted and enjoyed completing (Fall 2012 and Winter 2013). However, I felt that the project could be more complete if I had more time, and so I applied for the UREAP in the summer to continue with the research.
TRU: How has your UREAP grant helped you get into doing research?
TG: I do not have student loans, and have been paying for my tuition with co-op jobs I work in the summer. Without the money from this research grant, it is unlikely that I would have completed these papers.
“Keep an open mind and a determined outlook.” —Thomas Giroday
TRU: Will your project lead to a presentation or publishing opportunity?
TG: I presented the M06-2X study of Thermodynamic Stability of PFOS at the 2013 Molecular Quantum Mechanics Conference in Lugano, Switzerland last June. We have now submitted the Thermodynamic Stability study to two journals, and hope to publish it soon. I also hope to publish my USRA-funded project*, “Theoretical Study of Partition Coefficients and pKa of 89 PFOS Isomers”, as soon as it is ready.
TRU: What have you learned from this experience?
TG: I learned that research is sporadic at times. For me, I found that strokes of brilliance come in bursts, as data trends become noticeable after weeks of hiding, and previous research comes to light with an idea you never thought of before. You have to stay up to date on the current research, and make sure you give the research aspect the respect it deserves. The paper writing isn’t something you can complete in a week. Much like writing a story, it’s never really complete; there will always be ideas you have to leave out. Acknowledge these holes and move on. Keep an open mind and a determined outlook.
TRU: Who in your field do you admire and why?
TG: I admire my supervisor Nelaine, of course, but I also admire anyone who can teach as well as research. I believe teaching is just as valuable as research, as it opens the door to new ways of thinking and more scientific knowledge.
TRU: What impact do you hope your research will have?
TG: I hope that my research will add some much-needed theoretical insight into these compounds to the scientific community. I hope that the octanol-water partition coefficients will be used in the future to aid further research, since doing them experimentally is impossible due to PFOS chemical properties.
*This winter, Thomas won a $5,625 Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).