Student researches Flint water crisis, wins award

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 12, 2017

 Grosse Pointe North High School senior Michal Ruprecht, right, was chosen to work on a green chemistry research project with Mark Benvenuto, Ph.D., at the University of Detroit Mercy. North alumnus Ben Sosnowski, left, and junior Polly Fitzgerald, center, worked on the project, along with North alumnus Ben Sliwinski, not pictured.

Grosse Pointe North High School senior Michal Ruprecht, right, was chosen to work on a green chemistry research project with Mark Benvenuto, Ph.D., at the University of Detroit Mercy. North alumnus Ben Sosnowski, left, and junior Polly Fitzgerald, center, worked on the project, along with North alumnus Ben Sliwinski, not pictured.

Photo provided by Michal Ruprecht

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — The Flint Water Crisis grabbed the attention of people around the state and the nation. Among them was a group of Grosse Pointe North High School chemistry students who conducted research in an effort to thwart any kind of future disaster of that nature.

The research began last school year when North student Michal Ruprecht participated in a green chemistry research project at the University of Detroit Mercy alongside Mark Benvenuto, Ph.D.

During his time at the university, Ruprecht investigated ligands, which are molecules that bind to other molecules. North graduates Ben Sosnowski and Ben Sliwinski were part of Ruprecht’s research team, as was current North junior Polly Fitzgerald.

From October 2016 to April 2017, the group focused on creating a ligand that could separate metal ions from aqueous solutions. The research showed that if the ligand could pull metal ions into a nonpolar solution called monoglyme, it should be able to pull metal ions out of aqueous solutions.

Ruprecht, who is president of the Grosse Pointe North High School Chemistry Club and now a senior, said the ligand could potentially pull metals from tainted water. He said that because the research was only preliminary, the group will continue its work with Benvenuto this school year.

“We started doing research on something we were passionate about,” Ruprecht said. “It’s such a relevant topic. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue our research and put it to use. That’s something we’ll be researching this year. We know it could be of use for people one day.”

The students documented their research on a large poster and presented it to professors and undergraduate and graduate students at the ACS Chemistry Regional Conference in Dearborn.

Benvenuto, a chemistry professor, hopes to continue collaborating with Ruprecht.

“The work Michal’s team did will most likely be published next year in a refereed journal on green chemistry,” Benvenuto said via email. “He’s a sharp young man, and has been fun to work with.”

As a result of his dedication to the project, Ruprecht was awarded the 2016-17 Network of Educators in Science and Technology Student Award, “Promise of the Future.”

The budding chemist also was one of four students to receive the 2017 American Chemistry Society CIBA Travel Award for Green Chemistry Research. He is the first high school student to receive the award since its inception in 2010.

According to the ACS website, communities.acs.org, the students who receive the award show “significant abilities to incorporate creative green chemistry solutions into their research and education.”

“Green chemistry,” for the purpose of the award, was defined as “the discovery and design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances.”

Ruprecht will present the group’s findings at the ACS national meeting in Boston scheduled, for Aug. 19-23, 2018. More than 11,000 chemists, teachers, and graduate and undergraduate students are expected to attend. He said he appreciates the staff at North, who were supportive of his green chemistry research project.

“Michal is an outstanding student who engages with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) clubs outside of class. He is very interested in doing research that has the potential of improving contaminated water,” science teacher Steven Kosmas said in an email. “Michal Ruprecht is the first high school student to earn a green chemistry grant to travel  to the National American Chemistry Society conference in Boston. The goal is to present the research at this ACS conference.”

The North Chemistry Club meets once a week.

“It’s a really great way to emphasize STEM and do different activities,” he said. The club members also do outreach to encourage younger students to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math.

Visit Ruprecht’s website at mruprecht.weebly.com.