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Undergraduate Research with Faculty

Atmospheric Chemistry

Atmospheric chemistry research involves the use of laser spectroscopic systems in a cavity ringdown configuration to detect sub-part-per-billion levels of gas phase reactive intermediates.

Computational Chemistry and Reaction Control

The intermediates that are targeted through the atmospheric chemistry research have frequently been modeled computationally using ab initio calculations at the MP4 and MP6 levels to provide spectroscopic information. ab initio calculations and Density Functional Calculations are also used to develop intermolecular potentials for use in Molecular Dynamic and Monte Carlo calculations aimed at elucidating aqueous particle structure and dynamics. In a very new area of research, laser spectroscopy is used as a tool to aid in controlling reaction dynamics.  By excitation of selected overtone and combination bands of molecules, specific molecular motions can be amplified which may result in the enhancement of product production or the diminishing of byproduct production.

Chemical Education

There is significant interest in the role that technology plays in education both inside and outside of the classroom. We seek to identify the proper use of these technologies. 

Faculty Research

  1. Dr. Jeffrey Buth

    (Analytical Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry)

    My research applies analytical chemistry techniques to study problems of environmental concern, specifically regarding the chemical fate of water pollutants. By examining the factors that affect the chemical transformations of water pollutants in a detailed way, a more accurate assessment of their environmental impact may be determined.

    Undergraduate students contribute to the planning and performance of experiments both in the laboratory and in the field, using sophisticated laboratory instruments such as high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) in their analyses.

    Recent undergraduate research projects include:

    • “Environmental Fate of Pharmaceutical Metabolites: A Comparison of Enzymatic Hydrolysis Rates”
    • “GC-MS Method Development for the Analysis of Glucuronide Enzyme Hydrolysis Products in Wastewater.”

    More specifically, my research focuses on pharmaceutical compounds and their metabolites as aquatic pollutants. Because most drugs are excreted from the body in urine in their original pharmacologically active form or as metabolites, they enter the wastewater stream. Many drugs and metabolites persist through wastewater treatment processes and enter aquatic environments with treated wastewater discharge. These chemicals, specifically designed to elicit biological effects at low concentrations, pose a threat to aquatic organisms and humans whose drinking water derives from wastewater impacted water bodies. Thus, it is imperative to understand their chemical fate in these environments. Accordingly, one primary research aim is to assess the rate at which pharmaceuticals and their metabolites degrade during wastewater treatment processes and after discharge into surface waters via oxidation, hydrolysis, photolysis, etc. A second major aim is to assess the degradation of byproducts, as they may retain or possess enhanced levels of biological activity. By combining rigorous laboratory studies with field measurements, an accurate understanding of the chemical fate of pharmaceuticals and their metabolites may be determined.

  2. Dr. Deok-im Jean

    (Analytical Chemistry, Nanomaterial Chemistry, Surface Chemistry)

    My research centers on nanoscale materials (synthesis, assembly and application of various metal nanomaterials such Au, Pd, Pt, Au@Pd, SiO2@Au, SiO2@Pd, SiO2@Au@SiO2, etc). Additional areas of research include surface chemistry and electrocatalysis of nanoparticles.

    Fabrication of metal nanoparticles with controlled particle size and shape has been attracting a great deal of research interest due to their unique catalytic, magnetic, optical, and electronic properties, which significantly differ from those of their corresponding bulk materials. Particularly, core-shell nanoparticles are of great interest since these materials show novel properties that are different from their single-component counterparts, allowing them to be explored for a variety of applications in catalysis, information storage, biological labeling, imaging and many other areas.

    Students who are involved in such research areas obtain:

    • An invaluable opportunity to get hands-on experience in synthesizing metal nanoparticles in a laboratory setting
    • Theoretical knowledge and/or practical skills with a range of characterization methods
    • A solid understanding of the basic concepts and theory of instrumental analysis
  3. Dr. Scott Mason

    (Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry, Spectroscopic studies of inorganic and organometallic compounds, Chemical Education)
    My research involves the synthesis of novel metallic compounds, using spectroscopy to analyze these compounds and looking for new and interesting ways to teach chemistry. 

    My students use a variety of techniques in the synthetic area to handle compounds that are air-sensitive. The use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and infrared (IR) spectroscopy to analyze the compounds is something that all of my research students learn and use extensively. We have become interested in designing new ligand systems to bind metals.  Ligands are molecules or ions that will bond to metals. We have been designing ligands that have the capacity to bind metals in more than one place, thus making them thermodynamically favorable to coordinate. Potential uses for these ligands would be in environmental clean up of heavy metal contaminated waste sites. All of my researchers use both organic (ligand synthesis) and inorganic (ligand binding to metals) techniques in the laboratory.

    My interest in chemical education stems from my wanting to always better my teaching.  Students interested in this area have researched topics such as:

    • Improving the topics and methods taught in high school chemistry
    • Using distance learning as a teaching tool in general chemistry
    • The use of Facebook to build a student-to-student tutoring network
    • Looking at in–class activities to improve student learning
  4. Dr. Keith R. Miller

    (Biochemistry, Immunology, Medicinal Chemistry, Nanoparticles, Chemical Education)
    Research in my lab primarily focuses on developing cancer treatments using the body’s natural defenses in the immune system. This interdisciplinary research is a combination of biochemistry, medicinal chemistry, immunology, and nanoparticle development. 

    Undergraduates in my laboratory group develop and perform experiments creating novel nanoparticles called liposomes for effective targeting and manipulation of immune cells, specifically macrophages, against cancer cells. Our studies center on the chemical composition, liposome size, charge, and targeting groups on the liposome nanoparticle for aiding their ability to target macrophages for efficient drug delivery.

    Students gain hands-on experience with:

    • Human cancer cell lines
    • Nanoparticle production
    • Fluorescent microscopy
    • Tissue culture assays

    Some of the titles of recent undergraduate research projects include: 

    • “Potential cancer treatment:  macrophage activation using nanoparticles”
    • “The targeting and activation of 264.7 RAW macrophages via a novel tuftsinyltuftsin-grafted lecithin liposome carrier.”

    Immunotherapy is a growing field where medicinal chemists develop novel drug delivery methods to activate or deactivate immune cells for a wide variety of diseases. One of the more difficult areas of immunotherapy is selectively targeting the immune cells and eliciting the appropriate response for disease treatment. In cancer, this is challenging because the cancer cells mimic the host’s cells preventing the immune system from differentiating between the two. To address these concerns, one avenue of research is development of liposomes. Liposomes are spherical nanoparticle vesicles composed of lipid bilayers separated by aqueous compartments. They can encapsulate a wide variety of molecules, which can associate with the aqueous compartments, the lipid bilayer or the interface. Mononuclear phagocytes clear liposomes naturally as part of the mononuclear phagocytic system, which is cited as being involved in many inflammatory diseases and pathogenic infections. The chemical composition, liposome size, charge, and targeting groups on a liposome all aid or hinder its ability to target to macrophages or other cell types for efficient drug delivery. Once the liposomes are inside the macrophage, destruction of the liposome releases the inner proinflammatory cargo for macrophage activation, which elicits pro-inflammatory signals for recruitment of an immune response against the cancer cells.

    Finally, I am also heavily interested in upper level STEM education and classroom curriculum development. Specifically, I have a significant interest in the development of undergraduate grant writing curriculum to enhance the critical thinking, primary literature involvement and general enthusiasm for research by undergraduates in the STEM fields.  To elicit these interactions, several of my courses focus on grant writing projects in addition to an extra-curricular STEM seminar series that covers a wide variety of novel research and newsworthy topics for discussion by a wide interdisciplinary audience. 

  5. Dr. Robert Woodward

    (Organic Chemistry, Small Molecule Synthesis, Medicinal Chemistry)

    My research interests focus on the following two key questions:

    1. Can we make new antibiotics? 
    2. How can we better identify molecules that might be good antibiotics? 

    To answer these questions, undergraduates in my laboratory utilize techniques from synthetic organic chemistry and medicinal chemistry. Specifically, students learn how to safely perform reactions, isolate and purify small molecules (e.g., potential antibiotics), verify the identity of small molecules, and biochemically test the small molecules.

    Recent student-research projects have included:

    • “One-pot dual protection of carbohydrates: Progress towards the LpxC natural substrate”
    • “Total synthesis of a bacterial natural product.”

    The emergence of antibiotic-resistant infections has led to an increased need for the development of novel therapeutic agents. While the introduction of such antibiotics has lagged considerably over the past decades, lipopolysaccharide biosynthesis, more specifically the enzyme LpxC, has emerged as an attractive target. Unfortunately, an adequate high-throughput screen for inhibitors has not been developed due to the cost-prohibitive nature of the LpxC substrate. Through collaboration with undergraduate researchers, one of the main goals of my research is to overcome this deficiency through development of a novel total synthesis of this substrate. Once developed, this pathway will then be further exploited to characterize the substrate specificity of LpxC through synthesis of a small library of substrate analogs that vary in the identity of the lipid moiety. In addition to this goal, we are also working towards the development of novel antibiotics, a process that works in concert with the aforementioned high-throughput screen.