Q & A With Chemist Charlie Sharpless

  Who: Charlie Sharpless, associate professor of chemistry At UMW since: 2004 Academic specialties: environmental photochemistry; mentoring students in research projects What is environmental photochemistry? It’s the chemistry that happens when sunlight is absorbed by compounds at the earth’s surface. These reactions happen in air and water, but since I’m a water chemist, I’m interested in what’s going on in lakes, rivers, and coastal marine systems. What my students and I focus on is the way sunlight alters the oxygen chemistry in water and the effect that can have on contaminants. Normally oxygen isn’t very reactive but some of the natural organic matter – the brown stuff in water left over from plant and algae degradation – will transfer energy from the sunlight to the oxygen, and all of a sudden you get new kinds of oxygen chemistry that weren’t there before. Can you give an example? One of the projects we’re working on is how photochemistry affects the … [Read more...]