Chemistry Professor Leads Students in Kaolin Research


MACON, Ga. – Dr. Kathryn Kloepper, assistant professor of Chemistry, and six research students are currently investigating the role environmental conditions play in metal release from kaolin, a common mineral used in a wide variety of everyday products, including paper, cosmetics and paint.

Some of the world's purest kaolin deposits are found in the Central Georgia area, and several corporations process the mineral for export worldwide. Kloepper's students are working with KaMin LLC, which operates three plants in the Central Georgia region.

Kloepper began teaching at Mercer five years ago. She said her students are learning more than just chemistry. “My research students gain valuable practice in presenting research at the annual on-campus BEAR Day each spring,” she said. “This prepares us for presentations at regional and national research conferences, such as the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.” BEAR Day, which stands for Breakthroughs in Engagement, Arts, and Research, gives students an opportunity to showcase their scholarly and creative works.

In addition to experience presenting research, Kloepper's students are also gaining proficiency with Mercer's chemistry instruments, including the infrared spectrometer and the inductively-coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy system. The students are also utilizing the department's most recent acquisition: the X-ray fluorimeter, which was purchased through a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation grant awarded to Dr. Jennifer Look.

Kassandra Knapper, a 2013 CLA graduate, was one of Kloepper's first research students. She said she gained valuable experience through her work with Kloepper.

“When I joined the group, I didn't really have a good understanding of what scientific research really was,” Knapper said. “Over the course of the four years that I was in her group, I was able to learn what 'doing research' actually meant. The kaolin project is highly collaborative with an industrial partner, which allowed me to see how industrial problems can guide scientific research and then how research can inform industrial process.”

Knapper said that her experiences in the research group led her to choose a chemistry Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  

Thanks to the support of the College of Liberal Arts Deans' Office, the Office of the Provost and the Department of Chemistry, Kloepper said she and her students have given two oral presentations and four poster presentations specifically on their kaolin research.

Kloepper earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Dallas and her Ph.D. from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She currently teaches general chemistry, quantitative analysis, and instrumental analysis. In addition to her work in the chemistry department, she also teaches a Great Books class titled “Classical Cultures.”