Green Chemistry PhD Focuses on New Sustainable Protocols

Dr Sandeep VHS Bhaskaruni earned his PhD in Chemistry for his design of new eco-friendly methodologies of synthesizing molecules that could potentially play a role in medicinal chemistry as anti-cancer, antimicrobial or antioxidant agents.

‘In an era of increasing concern about the environment and hazards of chemical products and processes, green chemistry emphasises the need to eliminate or reduce the use of hazardous substances that can potentially harm humans and the environment, and examines the better use of chemicals, their reuse, and the disposal of hazardous substances,’ said Bhaskaruni.

Using Zirconia supported mixed metal oxides as heterogeneous catalysts to accelerate the synthesis of various biologically interesting heterocyclic molecules, Bhaskaruni demonstrated the reusability of these compounds up to seven times.

He synthesised close to 60 novel heterocyclic scaffolds by using prepared catalysts, developed six novel synthesis protocols, and has published eight articles on his research.

‘It was particularly interesting identifying the reaction mechanisms on the metal surface of my prepared catalysts as well as experimentally identifying each and every reaction intermediate that participated in the reactions that we were focused on,’ said Bhaskaruni.

‘The most satisfying part for me was growing the crystals for many novel compounds and identifying their structures via single crystal XRD applications,’ he added.

He believes these findings could assist organic chemists by aiding understanding of the surface chemistry and the interactions of the zirconium oxide with the different transition metals used, which would contribute to the design of better environmental protocols using green chemistry principles.

From here, Bhaskaruni plans to design new catalytic systems for the synthesis of biologically important pharmaceutical drug components under greener conditions.

A qualified chemist, he was interested in this field because of its “puzzle-like” language and the fact that it defines the world around us.

‘Understanding this language, or secret code, is the key to developing modern technology and, essentially, helping to save lives and the environment,’ he said.

Originally from India, Bhaskaruni completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees in chemistry and organic chemistry at India’s Acharya Nagarjuna University and GITAM University. After encountering the research of his PhD supervisor, Professor Sreekantha Jonnalagadda, Bhaskaruni was drawn to do his PhD at UKZN, arriving in 2016.

Bhaskaruni thanked Jonnalagadda for his constant support, encouragement and instruction, and his co-supervisor Professor Werner van Zyl for his time and contributions. He also thanked Mrs Rukmini Jonnalagadda for her support during his time in Durban.

Bhaskaruni thanked his family for their understanding and support, particularly his parents Mr Venkata Bhaskaruni and Mrs Hima Bhaskaruni, his younger brother Mr V.M. Sai Dileep Bhaskaruni, his uncle Mr Rangarao Bhaskaruni and cousins Mr Subbarao Nuthalapati and Mr Chakravarthi Nuthalapati.

He also acknowledged his lab colleagues Dr Surya Maddila, Dr Suresh Maddila, Dr Nagaraju Kerru, Ms Lalitha Gammidi, Dr Harinarayana Bandaru and Ms Maxime Pillay, saying they have become his second family.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied