Chemistry Students Participate in Kaolin Research

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Mercer chemistry students, under the leadership of assistant professor Dr. Kathryn Kloepper, are investigating the role environmental conditions play in metal release from kaolin, a common mineral used in a wide variety of everyday products, including paper, cosmetics and paint.

Some of the world's purest kaolin deposits are found in the Central Georgia area, and several corporations process the mineral for export worldwide. Dr. Kloepper's students are working with KaMin LLC, which operates three plants in the Central Georgia region.

Dr. Kloepper said her students are learning more than just chemistry. "My research students gain valuable practice in presenting research at the annual on-campus BEAR Day each spring," she said. "This prepares us for presentations at regional and national research conferences, such as the national meeting of the American Chemical Society." BEAR Day, which stands for Breakthroughs in Engagement, Arts, and Research, gives students an opportunity to showcase their scholarly and creative works.

In addition to the experience they gain by presenting their research, the six kaolin research students are also gaining proficiency with Mercer's chemistry instruments, including the infrared spectrometer and the inductively-coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy system. They are also utilizing the department's most recent acquisition – the X-ray fluorimeter, which was purchased through a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation grant awarded to Dr. Jennifer Look.

Kassandra Knapper, a 2013 College of Liberal Arts graduate, was one of Dr. Kloepper's first research students. 

"When I joined the group, I didn't really have a good understanding of what scientific research really was," Knapper said. "Over the course of the four years that I was in her group, I was able to learn what 'doing research' actually meant. The kaolin project is highly collaborative with an industrial partner, which allowed me to see how industrial problems can guide scientific research and then how research can inform industrial process."

Dr. Kloepper and her students have given two oral presentations and four poster presentations specifically on their kaolin research.