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Student Spotlight: Tanisa Rahman

Posted on Monday, November 25, 2019 by for Public Affairs.

Tanisa Rahman ’20 summed up her first day in Professor Wayne Schnatter’s organic chemistry lab at Long Island University in one word: "HOT".

"It was an incredibly hot summer day, I was sweating profusely but otherwise well-prepared to meet Professor Schnatter for the first time. I had my bright pink sneakers on and a Snapple in hand as I attempted to remember the route. I got lost a few times. Disgruntled and sweaty, I managed to arrive on time — but I wasn’t early like I expected to be — I was, however, very anxious".

Rahman’s nerves didn’t last long though, soon swelling into pulses of excitement at the prospect of the research that lay ahead of her.

"I started looking around and eventually found two Midwood seniors (now graduated) working in the lab. I was excited, and knowing that they loved the lab enough to invest their time during the summer was relieving; but far more relieving was the fact that there was AC in the NMR room!"

Tanisa Rahman working at the fume hood
Rahman working at the fume hood, Long Island University, Brooklyn, New York

While months have passed since Rahman’s first days at Schnatter’s lab, her ardor has only grown more concentrated with time. "[Schnatter] has been a wonderful mentor that has nurtured my love for organic chemistry, my respect for technology like NMR, and even simple equipment like a gas tight syringe," she says of her Professor.

Such an affinity would not be possible, however, without a genuine appreciation for the work to be done. Rahman summarizes the focus of her lab, claiming "Our research is dedicated to creating complexes called vinylketenes with an attached Fe(CO)3 group which is supposed to be opened during a cycloaddition reaction and act as a trapping agent when successful. My project consists of trapping the reaction intermediate benzyne using the vinylketene 3-phenyl-2-ethoxy".

Rahman simplifies matters with some real-world relevance, explaining how her work creates a means to more closely study benzynes, compounds with "A wide application in organic synthesis, for example, in the generation of antioxidants like aporphine, anti-cancer therapies like ellipticine, and the psychedelic drug, lysergic acid".

Tanisa Rahman's workstation
Rahman’s workstation, Long Island University, Brooklyn, New York

According to Tanisa, a typical work day goes as follows:

"I’m usually the first one in the lab. I unlock the lab doors, turn on the lights, and activate the stills for anyone who needs freshly distilled solvent for a reaction that day and get the vacuum pump going by pouring nitrogen into the trap. I get my gloves on and take out any compounds/samples from the freezer that need to be brought down to room temperature for reactions that day.

"In terms of actual experimentation, the week is usually outlined like this: Prep a reaction, purify the reaction product (via separatory funnel filtration or flash column chromatography) and get NMR data — which can take a very long time considering the age of our NMR technology".

As implied, every lab has its kinks, it’s just a matter of how you work around them. For Rahman, "The biggest struggle is that our technology is also really old. The NMR we use is from the nineties, and it’s missing autoshim, which is a setting on most new NMR machines; so it always takes a while to get the system rolling".

Be that as it may, Rahman feels incredibly fortunate to be conducting research in such an inspiring place. "I’ve just met so many awesome people here; they’re all like-minded, but very different from the people I engage with at school, so it’s a good environment to switch into," she expressed.

Perhaps most integral to Rahman’s success is the attitude adopted by her and all of her colleagues towards their work: "Rarely do we ever give up on an experiment or disregard our efforts. Schnatter’s been at this for 20+ years; I don’t see him stopping any time soon and I don’t see myself stopping this research either".

Alyssa Kattan (Class of 2020)