Machonkin Tim Machonkin

Supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, Tim Machonkin, assistant professor of chemistry, is working to understand how bacteria have evolved the ability to neutralize the effects of certain chlorinated organic molecules that are dangerous pollutants in the environment.

The three-year $259,000 grant will enable him to pursue further research designed to unlock the mystery of how certain enzymes can bind to chlorinated molecules and carry out chemical transformations.

Finding an answer could result in the future development of engineered enzymes capable of neutralizing pollutants such as PCBs, Machonkin explained.

“This National Science Foundation grant is a significant indicator of the caliber of Whitman’s science faculty as well as the research its members conduct,” said Timothy Kaufman-Osborn, provost and dean of the faculty.

He said the preliminary data that convinced NSF to fund the project was developed in part through the “heavy involvement” of Whitman students who collectively have spent “hundreds of hours” in the lab. This project also has resulted in “very high exposure” for students who have presented data at past national chemistry conferences, he said.

The NSF grant will enable Machonkin to collaborate with up to four student researchers per year.

For more about the NSF grant, Machonkin and his student researchers, see National Science Foundation awards grant to professor for chemistry research.