mt. lebanon chemist joins royal society

A Mt. Lebanon man has joined the Royal Society of Chemistry, an order that dates back to Queen Victoria’s reign. Partha Basu, Mohican Drive, is a chemistry and biochemistry professor at Duquesne University and is the university’s first Fellow in the society. He is one of six other Pittsburgh residents to join the group.

“Frankly, I was and am humbled,” Basu says. “I had no idea how [many] fellows are there at Duquesne, or even in Pittsburgh.”

The Royal Society of Chemistry is an amalgamation of four British academic societies, the oldest of which received Queen Victoria’s royal blessing in 1848. Today there are more than 51,000 members worldwide.

Basu, who has taught at Duquesne since 1998, has published almost 100 peer-reviewed publications and has three patents.

One of his most recent patents is for a compound that he and his students use to detect and quantify lead in water solutions. Innovations Works, a local investor company, gave Basu $25,000 to develop a spin-off of the compound for commercialization. However, Basu wasn’t studying the compounds with money on his mind. “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey make a compound, and make a company out of that compound,’” Basu says. “We were able to figure it out, and we were able to look at the bigger picture.”

Dr. Partha Basu

As Basu’s compound binds to lead, it glows. He says the reaction looks similar to glow in the dark paint. This glowing reaction allows Basu and his students to detect lead that would normally be difficult to see.

Basu and his students actually were working on a different lab project and suspected the compound would bind to metals, which proved to be true. “We screened for several of those and found that it is selective for lead,” Basu says.

Lead, a naturally occurring element that is often harmful if ingested, can contaminate water through corroded pipes and fixtures, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Basu will continue to study similar compounds and hopes to use the technology to detect other harmful substances, like mercury. He says he also wants to simplify the instruments and process of using the compound so more people can use the technology to detect harmful substances.

“Now we’re thinking we can take it to the marketplace, making a more affordable design so it can be used in the field,” Basu says. “We want make this easier to use, so non-technological people can use this product too.”