Monday, July 26, 2010
K-STATE CHEMISTRY PROFESSOR LENDS HAND AND LAB TO SOLDIERS FOR TRAINING EXERCISE
MANHATTAN -- What is typically a sea of T-shirts and blue jeans was replaced by green-and-brown military fatigues in the classroom of Stefan Bossmann, professor of chemistry at Kansas State University.
Bossmann recently opened K-State's organic chemistry teaching lab to 30 soldiers with the 172nd Chemical-Biological-Radiological-Nuclear Company at Fort Riley. The soldiers, from the company's 2nd and 3rd Platoons, met for a day of basic training in organic chemistry.
The soldiers, who specialize in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear detection and decontamination on the battlefield, learned the fundamental principles of organic chemistry through hands-on experiments involving recrystallization, distillation and extraction methods -- including extracting caffeine from tea.
Though basic exercises, the time in the lab with Bossmann could prove invaluable in combat, said 2nd Lt. Andrew Owens, the company's 2nd Platoon leader.
"One thing that has happened while in Afghanistan and Iraq is that we'll find clandestine labs, and we don't know whether the labs are used to manufacture explosives or drugs, or if they are just a high school chemistry setup," Owens said.
"By working with the different instruments and glassware, and doing these extraction methods in this training, these soldiers can perhaps be more familiar with how to get an appropriate sample from a setup they find, and how to go about getting a sample of a more pure product," said 2nd Lt. Keith Byers, the company's 3rd Platoon leader. From there, Byers said the sample could be given to experts at a civilian lab who could tell military personnel exactly what is being produced.
Byers and Owens both have a bachelor's degree in science. However, many of the soldiers serving in the Chemical Corps don't necessarily have a background in science, according to Owens. For many soldiers, he said, being in the K-State classroom is the first time they've used actual laboratory equipment and conducted lab work since high school chemistry.
The occasion also marked the first time military personnel had come to a K-State classroom for a training exercise.
"We don't get this level of chemical training in the Army," Owens said. "K-State has all of the experts here on campus, and they're right next door to Fort Riley. It would be a shame not to utilize them."
The training was spearheaded by Byers, who contacted Bossmann to see if it could be done.
"I was actually surprised that we didn't do this earlier; it was one of those ideas that was a really good one," Bossmann said. "K-State prides itself on working with the military, and since they contacted us, it shows that the relationship is working.
"It's a very welcome change to teach a group that actually has a real interest in chemistry and will need that knowledge in the field or when they deploy," Bossmann said.
"These soldiers may never extract caffeine again, but by just spending this time in the lab they can become more familiar with what the processes are like and can consequently become more knowledgeable in their job," he said.
Assisting Bossmann with the lab were David Villanueva, K-State senior in biology and premedicine, Baytown, Texas; Hongwang Wang, China, who is conducting postdoctoral work; and Sebastian Wendel, a visiting scientist from the University of Applied Sciences in Giessen, Germany.