Dr. Jamie Ferguson
While LED (light emitting diode) bulbs are more efficient than incandescent bulbs, Ferguson explains that they do not use environmentally friendly elements–which makes them difficult to recycle. So, she explored the chemistry of luminescent materials used in LECs (light-emitting electrochemical cells) which are a proposed replacement to LEDs, and have fewer components, are more simply constructed, and, thus, more easily recycled.
This project required Ferguson to study elements different from her speciality area—organic chemistry–namely manganese, complexed with halides in hybrid organic/inorganic salts. ”Manganese is highly magnetic, so you can use it in electromagnetic devices,” Ferguson explains. “It is also a metal of fairly low toxicity and high earth abundance, meaning there is plenty of it.”
According to Ferguson, you can apply an electrical voltage to jolt the manganese electrons into a higher-energy state, then they can then release that energy as a photon of light. “We were excited in our research to find some red light emitters because they are more elusive than green light emitters—and we need both to make white light,” she says.
Learning about other areas of the periodic table was fun for Ferguson. “You can geek out on what you are most familiar with, but it’s humbling and fascinating to learn entirely new things about the nature of matter,” she says, noting that she “really didn’t know how many different kinds of magnetism were out there.”
While on sabbatical, Ferguson also worked with the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute to produce high-impact, easily adoptable green and sustainable educational resources for foundational courses such as General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry, taken by large numbers of students every year globally.
“Our goal was to provide easily adopted week-long education modules that faculty can drop into their courses that help us do chemistry in a safer, more sustainable way,” Ferguson says, who begins her ninth year at Emory & Henry this fall.