Academic Program at Centre College
Karin (Kari) Young joined the faculty at Centre College in 2013 as an assistant professor of chemistry, and was awarded tenure and promotion to associate professor in 2019. She was named a Centre Scholar in 2016.
Young teaches courses in general chemistry and inorganic chemistry. She is particularly interested in developing meaningful laboratory exercises for students in inorganic chemistry. Young also teaches courses in alternative energy technology, which are inspired by her graduate work on artificial photosynthesis for solar energy applications. In CentreTerm 2015, Young teamed up with Professor Ellen Swanson to teach students about wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. The course included a visit to the Mother Ann Lee Hydroelectric Station, which generates the Renewable Energy Credits purchased by the student green fund.
She also has a special interest in how nature uses iron and manganese centers to catalyze important oxidation reactions. At Centre, Young and her students are studying a family of iron, manganese, and cobalt complexes as catalysts for the oxidation of lignin model compounds. Lignin is a complex biopolymer found in wood and is commonly seen as the “brown” in brown paper bags that is bleached (chemically degraded) to make white paper. Because lignin has an irregular structure and is difficult to oxidize, harsh chemical methods are used in the paper industry. However, the enzymes lignin peroxidase and manganese peroxidase, which are produced by the white-rot fungus and are known to degrade lignin in wood, use iron or manganese and benign oxidizing agents to complete the lignin oxidation reactions. The goal is use this inspiration from nature to study new, synthetic catalysts that might make the paper bleaching process greener by using less energy and producing fewer waste products.
Also, from a chemist’s perspective, lignin is a vastly underutilized source of carbon atoms, which could use used to make biofuels, commodity chemicals, or pharmaceuticals. The reasons for the underuse of lignin are twofold: first, lignin has a complex, irregular structure that resists the chemist’s attempt to order it into smaller units and second, the chemical bonds in lignin are strong and stable and thus difficult to rearrange into more valuable products.
Originally from Texas, Young graduated magna cum laude from the University of Tulsa with a B.A. in chemistry and English, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She subsequently earned an M.S. in chemistry and a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from Yale University, advised by Gary W. Brudvig.
File last updated: 7/15/19
EXPERT: Bioinspired Lignin Oxidation with Manganese, Iron, and Cobalt Catalysts
The use of liquid chromatography (HPLC), gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS), and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) to probe the secrets of these catalysts in order to understand how they work and how to improve them