Studies in Photochemistry, Hydration, and Diversity in Chemistry: Shining a Light on Sulfur Dioxide and the Effects of Gender and Sexuality on Belonging in Introductory Chemistry

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Kroll, Jay A.
atmospheric chemistry; sulfur dioxide; hydration; LGBTQ+; introductory chemistry; Other Chemistry; Science and Mathematics Education
thesis / dissertation description
In this thesis I investigate the role of sunlight as a potential driver of the formation of sulfur-containing aerosols. The reaction of electronically excited sulfur dioxide (3SO2) with water and alkanes results in the formation of aerosol. Using a combination of laboratory and computational studies I show that reaction of 3SO2 with water can proceed via two pathways, hydration to form sulfurous acid (H2SO3) or hydrogen abstraction from the water to form HOSO• and OH•. I additionally show that reaction of 3SO2 with alkanes (RH) proceeds via hydrogen abstraction to initially form HOSO and R• and is a function of the number of CH2 groups in the molecule.I also investigate the hydration of gas phase methylglyoxal and hydrogen bonding in methyl lactate. I find that upon hydration, the electronic states of the molecule are significantly affected, changing the wavelengths of ultraviolet light absorbed by the molecule. This likely has an impact on the chemical fate of methylglyoxal in the atmosphere. Using methyl lactate as a test molecule, I show that intramolecular hydrogen bonding to carbonyl oxygen atoms is stronger than that to ester oxygen atoms. This provides insight into the hydrogen bonds that may be forming in the atmosphere and better understanding of how those molecules will behave.In addition to my research in the chemical laboratory, I have performed a survey study investigating ability uncertainty and social belonging in introductory chemistry. This is the first broad survey of students in STEM to determine if LGBTQ+ students are underrepresented. I find that LGBTQ+ students are not underrepresented compared to the university general population and account for ~10% of the students enrolled in General Chemistry I. I find no statistically significant differences between any group of students based on gender or sexuality. However, the strong correlation of grade with ability uncertainty may be confounding my ability to measure differences.