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Dr. Matthew Clay

Dr. Matthew Clay

Assistant Professor, Chemistry

Phone: (403) 254-3756
Email: Matthew.Clay@stmu.ca
Office: A204

PhD Chemistry, University of Ottawa BSc Chemistry and Psychology, Dalhousie University

Specialization/research interests: Synthetic organic chemistry, chemical education and science outreach

biology-bannerDr. Matthew Clay, born and raised in Nova Scotia, received his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Ottawa in 2006 before moving west to conduct post-doctoral research in biochemistry at the University of Alberta. In 2008 he accepted a position at St. Mary’s University, excited to bring his passion for teaching to the friendly and interactive environment of a St. Mary’s classroom. Teaching lectures and tutorials in introductory and organic chemistry at St. Mary’s since 2008, Dr. Clay has developed a number of strategies and teaching styles to ensure students are given the best possible chance of success and he takes great pride in helping everyone realize their potential. His interest in teaching is not confined to the undergraduate classroom either, as he has also been spotted teaching students the finer points of making ice cream with liquid nitrogen or explaining the science behind news stories to anyone who will listen. When he’s not at St. Mary’s you’ll probably find Dr. Clay exploring the Rocky Mountains, hiking, scrambling, snowshoeing, camping, and backpacking his way through increasingly remote mountainous regions. Fresh air, sunshine and exercise have been shown to increase happiness, health and longevity after all!

Research and Scholarship in Chemical Education

matt clay research pic

A student in CHEM 351 (Organic Chemistry) strips bark from a willow branch in an experiment to detect the precursor to Aspirin® (salicylic acid) in the bark. [Published in the Journal of Chemical Education, 2012, this represents an example of a multidisciplinary laboratory experiment]

The progressively greater role science plays in our everyday lives mandates that the average citizen possess, at the minimum, a rudimentary understanding of science for both their own self-interest and society as a whole. Even such basic everyday decisions as to what to eat or to buy at the grocery store are based on science, with the modern examples (scams, if you will) of “organic” food and bottled water providing ample evidence as to the importance of scientific understanding in our everyday lives. Citizens must also be scientifically informed if they are to contribute to society in a useful capacity. For example, any discussion of climate change requires an understanding of the science behind the theories, a discussion on stem-cell research requires an understanding of stem cells, and decisions on oil sands exploration necessitates a knowledge of petroleum and environmental science. Increasingly and frighteningly so, however, decisions on these and similar matters are being made by those with little understanding of the science behind them.

The question thus becomes how to equip citizens with sufficient scientific understanding so that they may make informed decisions on matters involving science. While education is the likely answer, the question as to how to educate is far more complex. The obvious approach – educating everyone in science to the same degree as scientists – is as ridiculous as it is impractical, but even far less lofty ideas, such as mandating certain minimum requirements in science through standardized testing or required courses, have failed. What is generally found is that interest in science for many people simply evaporates during their formal education, and while the reasons for this are varied, common to all is a poor understanding of what science truly is. Many believe that by correcting common misconceptions about the nature of science, citizens will acquire a greater understanding of it, and if corrected early enough, encourage them to take additional formal courses in science.

The overarching goal of my research program is therefore to educate the population about the true nature of science, illustrating what science is and how it is conducted by having them perform scientific experiments themselves. Under this broad theme, I have developed two separate projects that approach this goal from different angles. The Discovering Science program targets students in junior high school and aims to illustrate the experimental nature of science, while my development of multidisciplinary undergraduate laboratory experiments works to illustrate the broad reach and collaborative nature of modern science.

Refereed Publications

Detection of Salicylic Acid in Willow Bark: An Addition to a Classic Series of Experiments in the Introductory Organic Chemistry Laboratory. M. D. Clay and E. J. McLeod. J. Chem. Ed. 2012, 89, 1068-1070.

The open conformation of LL-DAP-AT from Chlamydia trachomatis: Implications on broad substrate specificities. N. Watanabe, M. D. Clay, M. J. van Belkum, C. Fan, J. C. Vederas and M. N. G. James. J. Mol Biol. 2011, 411, 649-660.

Exploration of Inhibitors for Diaminopimelate Aminotransferase. C. Fan, M. D. Clay, M. K. Deyholos, and J. C. Vederas. Bioorg. Med. Chem. 2010, 18, 2141-2151.

Mechanism of Substrate Recognition and PLP-induced Conformational Change in LL-Diaminopimelate Aminotransferase from Arabidopsis thaliana. N. Watanabe, M. D. Clay, M. J. van Belkum, M. M. Cherney, J. C. Vederas and M. N. G. James. J. Mol Biol., 2008, 384, 1314-1329.

Crystal Structure of ll-Diaminopimelate Aminotransferase from Arabidopsis thaliana: A Recently Discovered Enzyme in the Biosynthesis of l-Lysine by Plants and Chlamydia. N. Watanabe, M. M. Cherney, M. J. van Belkum, S. L. Marcus, M. D. Flegel, M. D. Clay, M. K. Deyholos, J. C. Vederas and M. N. G. James. J. Mol. Biol. 2007, 371, 685-702.

Acetylenic Allenophanes: An Asymmetric Synthesis of a bis-Alleno-bis-butadiynyl-meta-cyclophane. M. D. Clay and A. G. Fallis. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2005, 44, 4039-4042.

Competing Diels-Alder Intramolecular Pathways from Cross Conjugated Trienes: Fused Hydrindenones (Bicyclo[4.3.0]nonenones) versus Bridged Ring (Bicyclo[3.3.1]nonenones) Adducts from a Diene-Transmissive Precursor. M. D. Clay, D. Riber and A. G. Fallis. Can. J. Chem. 2005, 83, 559-568.

Aryl Annulation of Cyclic Ketones via a Magnesium Carbometalation-6-π Electrocyclization Protocol. P. E. Tessier, N. Nguyen, M. D. Clay and A. G. Fallis. Org. Lett. 2005, 7, 767-770.

Photochemical Generation and Absolute Reactivity of an Allene Oxide in Solution. M. D. Clay, J. Durber and N. P. Schepp. Org. Lett. 2001, 3, 3883-3886.
Conference Proceedings

Pre-service teachers’ experiences co-teaching with scientists in Discovering Science. K. Francis-Poscente, M. A. McLean, M. D. Clay, G. Grothman, and L. Braverman. Proceedings of the 2011 Annual Conference of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education.
Conference Presentations

Detection of Salicylic Acid in Willow Bark: An Experiment for Introductory Organic Chemistry. M. D. Clay and E. J. McLeod. 94th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition (2011).

Lysine Biosynthesis: Characterization of LL-DAP Aminotransferase. M. D. Clay. 7th Annual Pigeon Lake Symposium on Organic and Bioorganic Chemistry (2008).

Lysine Biosynthesis in Plants: Characterization of LL-DAP Aminotransferase from Arabidopsis thaliana. M. D. Clay. Volcano Conference in Chemical Biology (2008).

Characterization of ll-Diaminopimelate Aminotransferase. M. D. Clay, M. J. van Belkum, S. L. Marcus, N. Watanabe, M. M. Cherney, M. K. Deyholos, M. N. G. James, and J. C. Vederas. Zing Natural Products Conference (2008).

Characterization of ll-Diaminopimelate Aminotransferase. M. D. Clay, M. D. Flegel, M. J. van Belkum, S. L. Marcus, N. Watanabe, M. M. Cherney, M. K. Deyholos, M. N. G. James, and J. C. Vederas. 90th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition (2007, poster prize winner).

Characterization of ll-DAP Aminotransferase. M. D. Clay. 6th Annual Pigeon Lake Symposium on Organic and Bioorganic Chemistry (2007).

Synthetic Investigations Towards C60. M. D. Clay and A. G. Fallis. 88th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition (2005).

Synthetic Investigations Towards C60. M. D. Clay and A. G. Fallis. Ottawa-Carleton Chemistry Institute Day (2005).

The First Asymmetric Synthesis of an Acetylenic Allenophane. M. D. Clay and A. G. Fallis. 15th Quebec-Ontario Mini-Symposium in Synthetic and Bioorganic Chemistry (2004).

Progress Toward the Asymmetric Synthesis of Allenophanes. M. D. Clay and A. G. Fallis. Ottawa-Carleton Chemistry Institute Day (2004, Poster prize winner).

Studies Toward the Synthesis of Enantiopure Allenophanes. M. D. Clay and A. G. Fallis. 14th Quebec-Ontario Mini-Symposium in Synthetic and Bioorganic Chemistry (2003).

Design and Synthesis of Enantiopure Allenophanes. M. D. Clay and A. G. Fallis. 39th IUPAC Congress and 86th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition (2003).

A Tether-Controlled Intramolecular Diels-Alder Approach to Hydrindanes. M. D. Clay, D. Riber and A. G. Fallis. Ottawa-Carleton Chemistry Institute Day (2003).

A Tether-Controlled Intramolecular Diels-Alder Approach to Hydrindanes. M. D. Clay, D. Riber and A. G. Fallis. 13th Quebec-Ontario Mini-Symposium in Synthetic and Bioorganic Chemistry (2002).

Generation and Reactivity of Allene Oxides. M. D. Clay, J. Durber and N. P. Schepp. 84th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition (2001).

Chemistry Professor’s Career Started With a Bang

(February 21, 2013) — Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, St. Mary’s University Chemistry Professor Matthew Clay figured out how to make fireworks and gun powder at an early age.
It helped that his parents didn’t mind an explosion or two.

“I just loved science and I had parents who encouraged me to do experiments,” he said. “They met in physics class, so they were both scientists in their own right.”

Dr. Clay says some children aren’t so lucky.

“Research shows that kids lose interest in science by junior high school,” he said. “If it is taught as a collection of facts to be memorized, an early interest in science can be beaten down before students get to university.

“Here at St. Mary’s, I like sharing my passion for science and resurrecting that interest.”

Dr. Clay was fairly certain that his career path would involve science all through school.

At St. Mary’s, students can complete two years of full-time study before transferring directly into a biological sciences program at any university in Alberta or beyond.

“In high school, I wanted to be a high school science teacher. In university, I discovered I liked research,” he said. “In my post-doctoral years, I realized I loved teaching. So I guess I have come full circle.”

After earning his PhD in synthetic organic chemistry from the University of Ottawa, he moved to Edmonton to pursue post-doctoral work at the University of Alberta where his interest switched to biochemistry.

He joined the faculty at St. Mary’s University in 2008, where he teaches courses in general chemistry, organic chemistry and biochemistry. He says he loves the small class sizes here.

“With 30 students in a class, you can meet with them all. If they need help, you can be there for that. If they want more than they are getting in class, I am here for that, too.”

Working with Chemistry Lab Instructor Eric McLeod, Dr. Clay recently developed an organic chemistry experiment that helped students extract salicylic acid from willow tree bark. Native groups around the world recognized the benefit of this compound for pain relief and salicylic acid was the precursor for Aspirin©. The lab was published in the Journal of Chemical Education (August 2012) due to its relevance to the undergraduate science curriculum at many universities.

“This lab shows students that chemistry and biology are not separate subjects,” Dr. Clay said. “It also brings a little history and natural remedies into the picture.”

Dr. Clay may be reliving some of his boyhood adventures in science every other Wednesday evening on the St. Mary’s campus. He collaborated in 2009 with other science faculty members to launch Discovering Science, an innovative science outreach program for junior high school students.

Students work directly with university professors to conduct lab experiments in biology, chemistry, physics and engineering. The program is so popular that online enrolment was full within a record 41 minutes in Fall 2012.

Why do the kids keep coming back? Let’s just say there may have been an explosion or two!

Fall 2016

  • CHEM 201
  • CHEM 351

Winter 2017

  • CHEM 203
  • CHEM 353
  • BCEM 393

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