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When Jacob Kronenberg enters his laboratory, the routine aspects of chemical research suddenly become alive with excitement and possibility.

This charismatic Evanston native is bringing his lively personality to the modern realm of cutting-edge chemistry research, hoping to utilize his interests to make the world a better place.

Mr. Kronenberg, a junior at Tufts University majoring in chemistry, spent the summer of 2016 doing scientific research as a part of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s, Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

This highly selective 10-week program, funded by the National Science Foundation, was composed of 11 outstanding undergraduate chemistry majors from around the country. Each student was paired with a professor who focuses on his or her own specialized field of research.

Over the course of the program, Mr. Kronenberg did full-time research in one of the University’s chemistry labs. He also attended lectures on writing, public speaking, and contemporary breakthroughs in scientific research, exposing him to the many different facets of the professional world of research.

Under the guidance of Dr. Bin Zhao and his graduate student assistants, Mr. Kronenberg researched polymer synthesis and its application in the industrial world. Polymers are large molecules comprised of many smaller parts. Many plastics, for example, are synthetically produced polymers. The specific goal of Mr. Kronenberg’s research was to create a brand-new type of industrial lubricant made out of these polymers.

Mr. Kronenberg says he is excited at the prospect and that “it’ll be interesting because it’s something that just hasn’t been done before.” In industrial processes, motor oil is typically used to lubricate machinery.

This is inefficient and causes a lot of unnecessary fuel to be used, but since there is no alternative, it is the industry standard. By developing a polymer solution that is compatible with all industrial machinery, every factory that adopts it would use far less fuel. This would reduce the cost of these processes and make a smaller environmental footprint.

In addition to his research last summer, Mr. Kronenberg has worked on water filtration systems in the past.

Most filtration systems currently being used filter out materials based on size. However, these methods use a lot of energy, making them inaccessible for residents living without access to fresh water.

Instead of the traditional method of desalination (removing salt and minerals from water), Mr. Kronenberg’s research dealt with filtering based on the electrical charge of individual molecules. Since water molecules have a different charge than minerals, the system he worked on could filter out only the water, leaving the impurities behind.

This would allow for a resourceful, accessible filtration method that uses much less energy. Mr. Kronenberg says, “If we can figure out an efficient way to do desalination, that would help a lot of people who don’t have access to fresh water.”

But one should not have the  impression that Mr. Kronenberg is a complete science nerd devoted solely to chemical research: “People are sometimes surprised that I do things outside of chemistry. One thing that I’ve always been interested in is language-learning.”

He speaks multiple languages, including French, German, and Spanish. For him, languages are the key to interacting with new people, giving him the opportunity “to see the world through other people’s perspectives.” And even though he is already knowledgeable about other languages and cultures, he shows no signs of stopping: “I would love, in the future, to be able to learn more languages and travel to just talk to more people and collect interesting stories,” he says. After he finishes his undergraduate degree, he says he would love the opportunity to go to graduate school abroad, tying his love for language learning to his passion for chemistry.

Some people view scientists as serious-minded individuals without much person-
ality. Jacob shatters this stereotype by bringing his vibrant personality to the lab.

As a dedicated chemistry researcher, a master of languages, and an enthusiastic cook – he makes a mean chicken curry – Jacob Kronenberg is an optimistic embodiment of the future of scientific research.