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It 'sounds crazy,' but a UC professor is mixing chemicals without liquids. Here's how

James Mack.jpg
Ann Thompson
UC Chemistry Professor James Mack shows off a machine he has modified to adjust the speed and temperature for whatever he is mixing.

The formula for good chemistry is liquid — or so most people thought, until they realized the liquid, made up of volatile organic compounds, wasn’t very green for the environment when it was disposed of.

So, a University of Cincinnati chemistry professor figured out an easy way to mix up the same chemical compounds without using liquid. He knows it sounds crazy. “Think about telling someone you’re going to drink coffee and you’re not going to add any liquid to it," he says.

This emerging field of chemistry, without liquid, is called mechanochemistry.

The professor, James Mack, is now heading up a UC startup called Cinthesis.

Instead of using liquid as the catalyst, he puts vials into a machine that was originally designed to grind materials, and as it spins at a high rate of speed the ball bearing is pulverizing the molecules together.

“We had to invent and design and engineer a way to separate the components of the mixing and the thermal energy associated. No one had ever done that before,” says Mack.

Because few companies wanted to completely change the chemistry on their own, Cinthesis changed its business model to sell services and not just the technology.

“Cinthesis is designed to take processes companies have," he says. "We evaluate it. We look at the waste components and then we provide an alternative that is environmentally benign.”

Mack says the cost of doing it this way is cheaper in the end, but expensive if businesses have to switch out all their equipment. Cinthesis is getting a lot of interest in those who are adding a new product and want to go green.

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.