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Research

Our students are encouraged to seek out summer research and internships as early as possible to catalyze their scientific career path exploration. All of our majors are required to do at least one term of independent research in an area of their interest during the last semester of their senior year. However, most of our students go above and beyond and do research over the summer months as early as their freshman year, both on and off campus. Internships have been conducted at various places, including medical hospitals, family physician clinics, pharmacies and chemical industries. Summer research opportunities have been carried out at a number of universities, such as the University of Kentucky, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Our students also find the quality of research that is ongoing in our department both fulfilling and enriching. All of our faculty carry out research over the summer months in multi-disciplinary fields, ranging from inorganic synthesis and characterization to organic natural products synthesis, and even biophysical/nanotechnology materials to chemical education. Below are brief descriptions of our faculty research. Please contact them individually for further details of their work and research opportunities for students.

 

  • Robert M. Granger, Ph.D.

Professor Granger's research focuses on the inorganic synthesis of a ligand-based, carbon dioxide reducing platinum catalyst. The ‘reduction’ term used here is to describe the process of adding an electron to a chemical species (CO2), not to be confused with the process of reducing the concentration of CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide reduction is also the first step in photosynthesis. The mechanism by which photosynthesis occurs is not well understood but is believed to involve the simultaneous reduction of two CO2 molecules, giving a net reaction of

6CO2  +  6H2O ---> C6H12O6  +  6O2.

Professor Granger and his research students developed a catalyst that is believed to be superior to the reported CO2 reduction catalysts in literature owing to its unique design, having two ligands on the same metal center, resulting in two carbon dioxide reaction centers on a single molecule.

 

  • Jill N. Granger, Ph.D.

Professor Granger's research area has two main focuses — teacher education in grades 3-8 in math and science and student learning abilities and progression in a liberal arts undergraduate education. She works closely with both teachers and students within the community and the surrounding area to better their teaching techniques and learning abilities in math and science. Visit her websites for Science and Math by Inquiry and SCHEV sites for more information.

 

  • Abraham Yousef, Ph.D.

Professor Yousef’s research interests lie in the realm of organic chemistry and the total synthesis of natural product derivatives. Specifically, he is interested in the synthesis and photochemistry of furanones, naturally occurring compounds with potential medicinal applications.

His students have synthesized and characterized furanone derivatives that have been implicated to inhibit cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes. COX enzymes are responsible for the formation of important biological mediators.  Inhibition of these enzymes can relieve symptoms of inflammation and pain. Selective inhibition of a specific enzyme in this class of cyclooxygenases has been shown to be useful for the treatment of cancer. Specifically, inhibition of COX-2 in cancer patients has been shown to reduce the occurrence of tumors and even prevent precancerous growth. Efforts in the Yousef lab have been directed toward the synthesis and photochemical study of these inhibitors.

 

  • Yen Hoang Le Nguyen, Ph.D.

Professor Nguyen’s research has two major focuses, covalently – linked, solid – state solar cell (solar paint) and synthesis and simulation of novel amphiphiles for the application in membrane protein crystallization. For a brief description, see below. 

Solar cell research:
There has been extensive research in modifying dye-sensitized TiO2 solar cells pioneered by Grätzel; however, none have been successful at increasing solar energy conversion efficiency owing to factors such as small spectral overlap, reduced hole mobility, poor electron transfer kinetics and incomplete interfacial contacts between the redox couple and the dye. In order to overcome these limitations, a novel solid state solar cell device is designed containing SAM-modified TiO2 covalently linked to CdSe nanoparticles and polythiophenes, having the potential of being a photostable, longer-lived solid state solar cell with a direct path for electron transfer. This project involves synthesis, laser spectroscopy and electrochemistry.

Amphiphile Research:
A new class of detergent, tricycle core amphiphile (TCA), is designed for applications in integral membrane protein (IMP) crystallization. TCA contains a tricycle core and tri-alkyl carbon chains that can adopt many conformations and can easily be functionalized in a way that can impact phase behavior, making it a novel and ideal detergent for membrane protein crystallization. TCA was designed to be more conformationally rigid than typical detergents, but can still retain the ability to shield the hydrophobic parts and solubilize IMPs for crystallization and increase the chances of crystal packing by pi-stacking and hydrogen bonding of the tricycle core. This project involves synthesis, simulations and characterization by various spectroscopy.