Fundamentals of Ionic Liquids

Many chemical solvents used in industry are volatile and potential health hazards. To find an alternative, researchers have focused on ionic liquids, which have very low vapor pressures.

Ionic liquids are salts that have low enough melting points to be liquid at room temperature. Applied research has focused on exploring the practicalities of using different ionic liquids in chemical processes, but in terms of their fundamental physical chemistry, large gaps in knowledge remain. Markus Hoffmann, an associate professor of chemistry at The College at Brockport, is working to fill some of those gaps.

A few years ago Hoffmann discovered an unusual property of a particular ionic liquid when dissolved in solvents of low polarity. Using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy -- a technique used to determine the structure of organic compounds -- he observed two sets of resonances, suggesting that dissociated ions and ion pairs were existing in equilibrium.

“It’s very rare to see two resonances over the course of seconds,” Hoffmann says. “Usually, chemical exchange reactions are too fast for that."

Now Hoffmann is trying to characterize the thermodynamics and structural properties of the ionic liquid equilibrium species. The National Science Foundation is supporting his work with a 3-year $236,000 grant.

In addition to research costs, the grant is funding summer research stipends for two undergraduate students -- one of which is travelling to Germany to work with collaborator Dr. Annegret Stark at the University in Leipzig -- and new equipment, which has already been used in Brockport laboratory courses.


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