University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

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Brynna Jones, Ph.D., receives 2015 Doctoral Thesis Excellence Award

Brynna Jones, Ph.D., has received the 2015 Award for Doctoral Thesis Excellence, which honors outstanding Department of Chemistry graduate students for their doctoral thesis research.

Jones' adviser at the University of Minnesota was Professor Aaron Massari. Her overall research interest focused on ultrafast infrared spectroscopy. She updated Massari's laser system to include the setup for two-dimensional infrared spectroscopy (2D-IR) and used this functionality to measure solvent dynamics.

For her thesis research, Jones focused on Vaska's complex, a simple organometallic catalyst, and its iodine and oxygen adducts. She examined the solvent dynamics around these three complexes in a variety of neat and mixed solvents. The final project compared rate data for the oxygenation reaction, which is highly solvent-sensitive, in 15 different mixtures with the solvent dynamics around the reactant and product molecules. There was an unexpected correlation between the rate constants and product-surrounding solvent dynamics, affirming a previously suggested product-like transition state.

She has received a National Resource Council post-doctoral research associateship to work with Steve Stranick at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland. Her research proposal involves developing a 2D-IR microscope and using it to examine silk fibers under mechanical strain and after water absorption. She would also like to gain expertise in the more established microscopies in the Stranick lab such as structured illumination—a super-resolution technique—and stimulated Raman spectroscopy.  

Jones said that she learned a lot at the University of Minnesota including:

  • How to fail and not take it personally;
  • The vital importance of a strong community both inside and outside of work;
  • How to align a laser—two irises, two mirrors;
  • How to delegate to others with authority and respect; and
  • How to teach myself a new field—textbook, then review article, then papers; it's tempting to read the papers first, but I always regret it.

The Award for Doctoral Thesis Excellence is designed to honor outstanding Department of Chemistry graduate students for their doctoral thesis research. A committee of faculty members evaluated all of this year's award candidates. Brynna’s thesis research stood out as the very best in the group of outstanding thesis packages. The best thesis award includes a $500 honorarium. Brynna’s name will be added to the department’s plaque recognizing annual winners of this award.