Date of Award

Summer 8-5-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Brian G. Frederick

Second Committee Member

Thomas J Schwartz

Third Committee Member

Rachel Narehood Austin

Additional Committee Members

Karen Merritt


Increasing concentrations of fluorinated aromatic compounds in surface water, groundwater, and soil pose threats to the environment. Fundamental studies that elucidate mechanisms of dehalogenation for C-X compounds (where X represents a halide) are required to develop effective remediation strategies. For halogenated benzenes, previously published research has suggested that the strength of the C-X bond is not rate-determining in the overall rate of dehalogenation. Instead, the rate-determining step has been hypothesized to be adsorption of the C-X compound onto the surface of a catalyst. Building on this hypothesis, in this work, we examine the reaction kinetics of fluorobenzene conversion to benzene, catalyzed by 5% Rh/Al2O3. The study here includes evaluation and optimization of experimental methodology, collection of initial rate data across a range of reactant concentrations and identification and numerical modeling of potential elementary reaction steps. We hypothesize that reduction of the rhodium (Rh) surface is required for the conversion of fluorobenzene to benzene and that pretreatment of the catalyst under ambient temperature and pressure with H2 improved data reproducibility more amenable to detailed theoretical treatments. Preliminary analytical work supports this hypothesis.

In addition to the analytical work that centers this Master of Science thesis in Chemistry, this thesis contains two additional components (abstracts below) with direct bearing on STEM instruction and pedagogy: (1) an evaluation of the impacts of systemic racism on undergraduate chemistry education (Babb, L. and Austin, R.N., 2022. Chemistry and Racism: A Special Topics Course for Students Taking General Chemistry at Barnard College in Fall 2020. J. Chem Ed. 99 (1): 148-153); and (2) the piloting of a new course Black Feminist Thought and Education [CMJ493/PAX498/WGS410] (Babb, L.; Herakova, L.; Roberge, K. Academic Spaces of Possibility? 2022. A Proleptic Dialogue with BlackFeminism at the Center. Feminist Pedagogy, accepted for publication) at University of Maine that invited direct inquiry into practices of how we engage in ‘educating’.

Chapter 3 of the thesis summarizes the work published in “Chemistry and Racism A Special Topics Course for Students Taking General Chemistry at Barnard College in Fall 2020”.

To explore the myriad ways in which systemic racism diminishes chemistry, and to recommend changes to our home department, a seminar-style course was created that provided a structured venue in which to collaborate with students. The course was created by the department chair, after reflecting on the Black Lives Matter message that it was time for white people to do some of the work to educate others about systemic racism. This relatively low stakes course (only one credit, pass/fail grading mode) successfully created a space for intense conversation, reflection, increased understanding of some of the aspects of racism in chemistry, as well as the impetus for institutional change. A description of the course, along with student opinions and co-facilitator reflections, are presented.

Chapter 4 of the thesis summarizes the work published in “Academic Spaces of Possibility? 2022. A Proleptic Dialogue with BlackFeminism at the Center”.

This critical commentary engages our experiences as co-educators in a “Black Feminist Thought and Expression” (BFTE) course, first-of-its-kind at our predominantly white institution in the U.S. We imagine and provoke redefinitions of “classrooms” and “students” toward the liberatory dialogic learning bell hooks continues to inspire. We reflect on the potentials and perils of BFTE as pedagogical moves toward 1) becoming learners over and over again and 2) creating multiple different learning spaces, not confined to the physical classroom or to texts-as-usual. By bringing our beings together in both this essay and in BFTE, we re-member the dialogic pedagogy of love-as-action hooks advocated for: involving the complexities of our unique positionalities, their impacts, and our shared commitments to each other and to learning rooted in both the intimate wisdom of the personal and in critical analysis of the social. As co-authors, we identify with divergent academic fields, genders, races, ages, nationalities, and institutional roles. Engaging our differences and coming together, we sought to “change our teaching practices, talk to one another, collaborate in a discussion that crosses boundaries and creates a space for intervention" (hooks,1994) to center Black Feminism as knowledge, transformation, joy, and care.