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CSU professor, Morrow student study alternative fuels

One would think a high school student would rather be spending their summer vacation away from the books, but that’s not the case for Morrow High School rising senior Minh-Thu Phan.

Instead of enjoying some fun in the sun, Phan has been spending her summer vacation studying the interactions between metal atoms and fuel alcohols. Clayton State University Chemistry Professor Jonathan Lyon and 2012 Clayton State chemistry graduate Patrick Drew have been working with Phan on her research project in the University’s Laboratory Annex Building — better known as The LAB.

Lyon said Phan was selected for a summer internship which is funded through the American Chemical Society. According to Lyon, the project was designed to give students meaningful interaction with a science employee for approximately 40 hours a week. 

With Phan’s $2,500 stipend, she has been in “The LAB” since the beginning of the month, researching several aspects related to alternative forms of fuel. Lyon noted some of the lightest parts of petroleum — such as methane — exist as a gas in nature.

“Collecting these gases in the field and transporting them to a chemical plant is extremely expensive,” said Lyon. “If an onsite technique was available to convert these gases into a usable liquid fuel such as methanol, then that could be more easily transported to the plant via existing pipelines.”

He said Phan’s research project is designed to provide information on whether transition metal catalysts can promote the conversion of these gases to more manageable liquid fuels.

It was last November that Lyon said he applied for the project SEED internship through the American Chemical Society, an invitation e-mailed to individuals who have been awarded a grant from the Petroleum Research Fund also through the American Chemical Society – a grant Lyon earned last year.

“I contacted Malakia Wright, coordinator for K/12 Science Education for Clayton County, to see if she thought students would be interested,” said Lyon. “I also thought this may be a good way to try to recruit some of the brightest students to Clayton State. She e-mailed the science teachers throughout the county, and I heard from several students that they were interested in the project.

“After applying for the funding, I had the students complete an application and send them to me. From the applications, I selected Minh-Thu.”

Phan could not be reached for comment.

Lyon said Phan’s application and subsequent work in The LAB are “indicative of both the quality of students in Clayton County, and the type of students that Clayton State seeks to attract.”

Lyon said Phan expects to complete her research by Aug. 3, after which she will resume her high school studies, focusing on AP Chemistry.