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Chin Hin Leung
According to Dr. Chin Hin Leung, assistant professor in Physical Sciences, collaboration and collective effort is essential to the study of chemistry in higher education. Dr. Leung received an award through the Rhode Island Idea Network for Excellence in Biomedical Research (RI-INBRE) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in partnership with the University of Rhode Island for his project, DNA-binding Platinum and Palladium Complexes with Phosphonium-containing Ligands. Dr. Leung worked with three undergraduate students to synthesize molecules that are known to bind to DNA through a process using Phosphonium salt for new desirable properties.
“It’s not curing cancer, but these efforts will contribute to our understanding of the interaction between DNA and these molecules,” said Dr. Leung. “Our research is exploring possibilities in an indirect way…that could relate to cancer research. Although we’re quite a few steps away from such research, it’s a whole cascade of things down the line that will hopefully contribute to the big picture. We hope that our little piece will be picked up by a larger research institution that may help their idea and may become something bigger.”
In addition to support through the RI-INBRE program, Dr. Leung has also received a RIC Faculty Research award for a parallel project that addresses green, sustainable reactions, which are efficient and may lead to using waste and other such materials for creating value-added molecules.
According to Dr. Leung, the unifying characteristic of both these projects is the design and construction of new metal-containing molecules in order to achieve the desired properties—be it ability to bind to certain types of DNA or catalytic activity in a reaction of renewable chemicals.
“It is always fun to make things in the lab,” said Dr. Leung, “because you never know what you’re coming across.”
Dr. Leung and the team of summer research students have had some successes in making several new molecules and are ready to move onto testing their DNA-binding abilities. They’ve learned what works, what does not, and how to make decisions for next steps. He added that students experience the satisfaction of creating something especially after a long process of errors and failures. This, in turn, builds perseverance.
“Research is an integral part of the process of learning for undergraduate education in chemistry” said Dr. Leung. “Knowledge generation is happening rapidly and it is important for students to understand the process of disseminating, analyzing, organizing, and reporting, then how to make changes or adjustments based on new data. Many things are being discovered every day and it is crucial for students to understand the scientific process, which is a form of critical thinking that is applicable to life and work.”
According to Dr. Leung, whether students end up in chemistry as a vocation or not, this and other research opportunities help to hone such skills and to cultivate an open and curious outlook that will sustain them for a lifetime.