Corporate donor renews chemistry department postdoctoral fellowship fund

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 20, 2006 – Following 10 years of a highly successful postdoctoral funding program, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company has renewed a successive program with Virginia Tech’s Department of Chemistry. Known as the RJRT-Harold McNair Fellowships in Analytical Chemistry, this program was established to recruit and train new researchers that demonstrate the pursuit of a productive and vigorous career in analytical chemistry.

“We are proud to be involved in fundamental research that is pushing back the frontiers of science,” said Michael Ogden, director of human studies for RJ Reynolds and a 1985 Ph.D. graduate of Virginia Tech’s chemistry program. “We are especially proud of the synergy that is created in both our research and development labs and those of a major university such as Virginia Tech. The research that comes out of collaborations such as these is always mutually beneficial. Additionally, we are very pleased to honor the distinguished analytical chemistry career of retired Virginia Tech chemistry professor Harold McNair with this named fellowship.”

The program, created by Ogden in 1994, initially funded three postdoctoral fellows for two-year terms each. Renewing the program in 2002 was Michael Borgerding, senior principal scientist for RJ Reynolds Virginia Tech alumnus. William Coleman III, senior principal scientist for RJ Reynolds and graduate of Virginia Tech’s chemistry program, is also involved in the program.

The most recent $300,000 fellowship funded three research teams; two were led by Larry Taylor, professor of chemistry, who studied nicotine fate in a burning cigarette and isolation of sucrose esters from Turkish tobacco. The third was led by Brian Hanson, professor of chemistry, whose postdoctoral fellow studied NMR techniques. All three teams involved collaborative work between researchers at Virginia Tech and RJ Reynolds scientists. The results were a total of six papers, three presentations at a recent tobacco science conference, and one patent application.

In one of his projects, Taylor and senior research scientist Mehdi Ashraf-Khorassani, in conjunction with Coleman, led a team that studied a class of flavor compounds in tobacco called sucrose esters. By utilizing a technique called supercritical fluid extraction, the team was able to extract significant quantities of the compound class for a range of potential commercial applications. A patent is pending on this new sucrose esters separation technology. In addition to fellowship funding, RJ Reynolds also provided new gas chromatography and atomic emission spectroscopic equipment for separation and quantitative analysis in the fate of nicotine research. This work has been performed in collaboration with Borgerding.

Hanson’s research team used the amino acids including histidine as building blocks for hybrid materials and subsequently prepared over 30 new compounds, several of which show promise for gas absorption, chromatographic supports, or as proton conductors.

Both Taylor and Hanson and their respective teams have presented their research at American Chemical Society meetings, and their findings have been published in journals such as Inorganic Chemistry and Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

“The mutual benefit of the postdoctoral fellowship program is that we provide real-world problems and challenges that many academicians haven’t encountered,” Ogden said. “In return, our intent is to find research fellows who have strong research skills and the ability to publish, and those are the ones we ultimately recruit. And our employment history is that we typically attract the cream of the crop. So it’s a win-win situation for both Virginia Tech and RJ Reynolds.”