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KSC Fulbright Professor Heads to France

KEENE, N.H. 7/15/04 - After learning that he had been awarded a Fulbright Scholar Award to conduct research for a year in France, Rich Blatchly, professor of chemistry at Keene State College, was confronted with an extensive to-do list: find a house in Bordeaux, locate schools for his kids, pack for a year, and move. “It’s pretty exciting and overwhelming,” Blatchly said of the upcoming move to Bordeaux. He will be based at the European Institute for Chemistry and Biology, where he will continue his research in the synthesis and analysis of foldamers.

Blatchly’s field of study is applying the tools of organic chemistry to the understanding of biological systems. “One of the enduring chemical problems that is vital to the understanding of biological systems,” says Blatchly “is the manner in which molecules adopt a specific shape in solution, and also aggregate to form a specific assembly.”

Scientists, explains Blatchly, can learn about these natural molecular shapes and assemblies, and the forces that hold them together, by attempting to replicate - or mimic - them using different substances.

The work of producing and testing bio-mimics can be broken into three phases: design and engineering, synthesis, and analysis. “We make an educated guess about what will work a certain way, we make the molecules using standard synthetic techniques, and we decide whether it worked as we intended. This cycle feeds data into the next design phase, so that with good fortune and diligence, we achieve our goal.”

Blatchly’s research in France will, he says, be related to a project he and a team from the University of Massachusetts have worked on since the summer of 2002. Blatchly was approached by UMass polymer scientist Greg Tew to participate in the project, after UMass was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to conduct bio-mimicry experiments. Working in France, Blatchly says, will help him learn new techniques, especially in synthesis, and also build connections with French scientists.

Blatchly is already looking down the road at possible benefits for KSC of his appointment in France and his work at UMass. Keene State’s new Science Center, he says, will have the facilities to enable faculty and students to collaborate with scientists at the other institutions.

“The advantage for students coming to Keene State is that from the word go they can work with faculty on projects that would usually be reserved for graduates. We can do stuff, such as synthesis, that is normally only done at research institutions. And the possibility of working with the UMass team or the French group would be a huge opportunity for our students.”

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