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Vinod: 2012 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer

February 2, 2012

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MACOMB, IL – Thottumkara K. "TK" Vinod, a Western Illinois University chemistry professor, will speak about the practice of green chemistry becoming mainstream in chemical industries, highlight this new field of chemistry conducted in his WIU laboratory and other sustainable chemical topics as Western's 2012 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer.

Vinod will present, "Green Chemistry: Retooling of Chemistry and Making it More Sustainable," at 7 p.m. Monday, March 19 in the College of Fine Arts and Communication Recital Hall on the WIU-Macomb campus and at 3 p.m. Monday, April 9 at the WIU-Quad Cities 60th Street Campus, Room 102.

"Green chemistry has the ultimate goal of carrying out chemical activities, including design and manufacturing of chemical products and disposal of chemical wastes, while leaving minimal adverse impact on our environment. This is a simple view, yet the prevailing global view, of how the field of chemistry should be perceived and practiced," said Vinod.

According to Vinod, scientific discoveries and technological advances made since the beginning of the 20th century by chemists, including lifesaving antibiotics, modern medicines, fertilizers, pesticides and advanced materials, have significantly enhanced our quality of life. Still, chemistry has "the misfortune of being perceived as a 'toxic' science," Vinod said, adding that the major chemical disasters of the last few decades have not helped in improving the ill-deserved and tarnished image of the discipline.

Vinod cited a few examples for the unfortunate label of the discipline and the prevailing chemophobia, including the poisonous gas leak in densely-populated Bhopal, India, in 1984, which killed nearly 3,000 people the night of the disastrous leak and around 10,000 related deaths in the following years; the environmental disaster at Love Canal in the 1970s, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls (NY) contaminated from a chemical waste dump from decades before; and the long-term health effects of environmental pollutants such as PCB and dioxin.

"Though the disastrous accidents that occurred at many industrial sites during the last several decades are primarily and fittingly responsible for this unfortunate label, human neglect and greed are the primary culprits," Vinod added.

In his lecture, Vinod will share the basic principles of green chemistry, a relatively new sub-discipline. It was his first eco-friendly green chemistry research in 2000, aimed at teaching his then-eighth-grade son, Arun Thottumkara, "a significant amount of chemistry and laboratory techniques," as well as help Arun regain his confidence from being overlooked at a regional science fair, that became the basis of Vinod's primary research in his WIU laboratory. His first green chemistry project, "Synthesis of User-Friendly Hypervalent Iodine Reagents and Their Use as Effective Oxidizing Agents," was funded by National Science Foundation (NSF) (2004-2007, $192,000) and resulted in a U. S. patent for Vinod and Arun. His son has since graduated from Harvard and is pursuing his Ph.D. at Stanford. Vinod's research in green chemistry continues to be funded by national funding agencies and currently has a four-year NSF grant for $ 210,000 and a three-year $75,000 grant from Petroleum Research Funds administered by the American Chemical Society funding his ongoing research.

Since 1997, Vinod has secured 18 funded proposals, which include the three grants mentioned previously, and a fourth NSF grant for $188,584 for "Acquisition of a High Field NMR Spectrometer for Undergraduate Instruction at WIU," which was funded in 1998.

During summers 2009 and 2010, Vinod was also part of a five-professor WIU chemistry team, led by Professor Rose McConnell, that conducted a research project funded by a $196,833 grant from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes for Health; and a supplemental grant of $122,781 from funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), developing inhibitors to slow the activity of cathepsins, which are protease enzymes that promote metastases in tumors. This grant activity led and funded through a proposal written and submitted by McConnell was designed to provide summer research experiences for high school students and for high school science educators.

The ongoing green chemistry research has provided multiple opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to get trained in the art of chemical research in Vinod's laboratory.

"Helping these students learn the ropes of chemical research, master new techniques, present their results at meetings and eventually helping them enter reputed graduate programs or gain employment with top notch pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical companies is a rewarding experience for me," Vinod added.

Vinod has mentored nearly 30 graduate students. His first graduate student at WIU is now a faculty member at Universidad Autonoma de Querataro in Mexico; 10 are research scientists with companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Bristol Myers Squib, Pfizer, ADM and L'oreal; one is with the Illinois State Police Forensic Division; and nine are Ph.D. candidates at different stages of their tenure.

He has authored dozens of publications in peer-reviewed journals, often with students as co-authors, and he has made more than 100 presentations at professional meetings and invited lectures.

Vinod has served extensively at the departmental, college and University levels in various roles including working as a current member of the departmental graduate committee, executive committee and curriculum committee; chair of the departmental personnel committee (four times); a member of the college personnel committee (four times); and the College of Arts and Sciences curriculum committee chair.

He earned his bachelor's (1977) and master's (1979) degrees from the University of Calicut, India, and his Ph.D. (1986) from the University of Victoria, Canada. Vinod joined the WIU faculty in 1997. Previously, he was a research associate (1992-1994) and instructor (1994-1997) at the University of Oregon, a research associate at Michigan Molecular Institute (1991-1992) and a research associate at Michigan State University (1986-1990).

Western Illinois first presented an annual lecturer award in 1969 to honor an outstanding faculty member whose professional development in research or creative activity, teaching and service to the University represent the highest standards of the academic community. In 1998, the award was renamed the Distinguished Faculty Lecturer.

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