Undergraduate-Oriented Research and Seminar Topics



Dr. John E. Anthony
Professor, Organic Synthesis and Materials Chemistry

An Introduction to Organic Electronics. Replacing the silicon-based semiconducting materials used in many of today's electronic devices with carbon-based analogs yields a number of significant benefits. Along with reduced costs associated with simplified device construction, organic-based electronics can be transparent, flexible, extremely lightweight, and can be constructed on a wide array of different surfaces. This talk will introduce the concept of carbon-based semiconductors, strategies for the design and synthesis of high-performance materials, and their application to thin-film transistors for flexible displays, new solar cells that can be applied by spray painting on any surface, and light-emitting diodes.

Dr. David A. Atwood
Professor, Inorganic and Environmental Chemistry

Talk 1: A Permanent Solution to Environmental Mercury Contamination. Heavy metals such as mercury can have a devastating, and long-lasting, effect on natural ecosystems. They are introduced through many routes, most of which involve the chemical industry or energy production. A wide range of reagents and technologies have addressed this problem, but none have proven to be both permanent and cost-effective. Recently, however, we have created a new series of compounds, one of which is BDT (a), that is capable of precipitating Hg from water to below 5 parts-per-billion (Inorg. Chem. 46 (2007) 1975). BDT was designed to provide two linear covalent bonds to mercury (b), an arrangement that gives the compound the remarkable capability of remaining stable under highly acidic and basic conditions. BDT-Hg does not leach detectable Hg under these conditions for up to two months. The presentation will describe the basic chemistry of BDT and how it is used to remove mercury from gold-mining effluent and other sources of contaminated water (Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 41 (2002) 5278).

Talk 2: Covalent Deactivation of Nerve Gas Agents and Pesticides. Organophosphate esters are active components of chemical warfare nerve gas agents and pesticides. The cleavage of the P-O-C linkage in these molecules provides a means by which they may be destroyed. We have shown that chelated mononuclear aluminum halide compounds, like the one shown in (a), can effectively dealkylate organophosphate models of nerve agents and pesticides (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 128 (2006) 1147). We recently demonstrated that the deactivation of actual nerve agents (b) and pesticides with these compounds could be achieved (New J. Chem. 32 (2008) 783). The presentation will discuss the basic chemistry underlying this new dealkylation reaction and describe how the compounds can be incorporated into gas mask filters for the protection of soldiers and civilians.


Dr. Carolyn Brock
Professor, Physical Chemistry

Talk 1: Modern Crystallography. A general overview of modern structure determination by diffraction methods. The talk will start with a general description of why and how crystal structures can be determined, and will then move on to discuss problems that can be solved today that would have been considered impossible a decade ago. Crystallographic databases will also be discussed.

Talk 2: When Can Fractional Crystallization Be Expected to Fail? Fractional crystallization is the method of choice for purification of chemicals produced on a commercial scale. If the method fails, then the batch may contain disordered mixed crystals (or, solid solutions) or ordered stoichiometric compounds such as solvates. Fractional crystallization is expected to fail for enantiomers, which usually crystallize together to form ordered racemic compounds. This talk will include some discussion of phase diagrams and of searches of crystallographic databases.


Dr. D. Allan Butterfield
Alumni Professor of Biological Chemistry

Amyloid Beta-Peptide, Free Radical Oxidative Stress, and Alzheimer's Disease. The 42-amino acid peptide, amyloid Beta-peptide (ABeta), is central to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease (AD), and the AD brain is under extensive oxidative stress, including protein oxidation and lipid peroxidation. This presentation will show how our laboratory has combined these two concepts to develop a model for neurodegeneration in AD brain based on ABeta-associated free radical oxidative stress. The ABeta-induced protein oxidation and lipid peroxidation in neurons, the mechanisms and downstream sequelae involved in these processes, their inhibition by exogenous and endogenous antioxidants, and proteomics identification of specifically oxidized proteins in AD brain will be presented.

ROS production in BYbeta(A-42) in hippocampal neurons and its prevention by vitamin E.


Dr. Arthur Cammers-Goodwin
Associate Professor, Organic Chemistry

Talk 1: Measuring the Crunch of Crystallization. A unique study that evaluates the changes that occur to molecules when they go from solution to the solid state will be presented. How should the preference for hydrogen bound states change as molecules shed solvent to knit together solid state organic lattices? How should this process affect molecular conformation? Is it safe to look at many conformations in the crystalline state and extrapolate to solution state conformation? [1] Beilstein . J. Org. Chem. 2008, 4, (23).

Talk 2: Hidden States: Conformational Analysis of Dynamic Populations. Conformation of organic molecules is an important parameter to be able to assay and control in the design of drugs. However when one molecule can reversibly populate multiple conformations it is surprisingly difficult to determine how much of which conformer there is at any given time. Methods will be discussed by which this can be accomplished with NMR measurements in the context of weak intramolecular interactions such as pi-stacking and hydrogen bonding. At left is an example molecule with multiple conformers that has been well described. [2] Eur. J. Org. Chem. 2008 web access. [3] Eur. J. Org. Chem. 2005 171.


Dr. Dennis J. Clouthier
Professor, Physical Chemistry / Chemical Physics / Laser Spectroscopy

Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Studies of Nonexistent Compounds.  Powerful laser-based techniques have been developed over the last two decades for detecting transient and very reactive molecules in very low concentrations. With these methods we have been able to thoroughly characterize species which had previously been classified as "nonexistent" and unlikely to be observable. This talk will describe the technology and experimental techniques for preparing and studying such compounds including our first determination of the length of the carbon-silicon triple bond and detection of a new phosphorus carbide in the laboratory and in outer space. Practical applications in the characterization of semiconductor growth intermediates, upper atmospheric chemistry, and the chemistry of the interstellar medium will also be discussed.


Dr. Kenneth R. Graham
Assistant Professor, Analytical and Materials Chemistry

The development of less expensive photovoltaic technologies that can be rapidly fabricated would greatly benefit both the developed and developing world by providing low-cost and pollution-free power.  Conjugated organic materials and hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites are two promising emerging photovoltaic material systems. These cells are distinctly different than traditional solar cells, in that both material systems can be fabricated using solution processing of inexpensive material precursors.  Efficient organic solar cells consist of two different molecules or polymers- one of which functions as an electron donating compound while the other acts as an electron accepting compound.  Charge transfer and separation take place at a molecular interface between these electron donating and accepting compounds, thus the nature of this interface plays a critical role in the photovoltaic performance of the device.  Using multiple analytical tools combined with specifically designed polymers, we explore how molecular details at this interface impact the performance of OSCs.  Furthermore, the development of solution processed solar cells demands the development of solution processed transparent electrodes.  Here, we have modified the surfaces of silver nanowires with various thiols to alter wire-to-wire charge transport properties and improve the compatibility of silver nanowires with polymers.  Utilizing this strategy we are able to fabricate transparent conductive electrodes using a one-step solution processing method.


Dr. Robert B. Grossman
Professor, Organic Chemistry


Talk 1Biosynthesis of the Loline Alkaloids. The loline alkaloids are a group of insecticidal alkaloids produced by endophytic fungi living inside of cool-season grasses. These small secondary metabolites have very interesting structures, including a strained ether bridge in a very unusual context for a biological product. Their biological activity and interesting structural characteristics have prompted us to study how fungi synthesize these compounds. I will describe the various chemical and biological techniques that we have used to learn about the biosynthetic pathway leading to the loline alkaloids.

Talk 2: ACE Organic, a Web-based organic chemistry homework program. Many students find organic chemistry to be a difficult subject. One of the problems is that when they do their homework, students often confuse knowing the answer to a question (by looking it up in an answer key) with knowing how to answer a question. We have developed a Web-based organic chemistry homework program in which students draw structures as responses and receive response-specific feedback that guides them to the answer without giving it away. ACE can ask questions about reactions, spectroscopy, conformation, Lewis structures, and multistep mechanisms. I’ll describe ACE’s features and its effects on student learning.


Dr. Marcelo Guzman
Professor, Organic Synthesis and Materials Chemistry

Aromatic hydrocarbons emitted during combustion processes react with hydroxyl radicals undergoing oxidation to form phenols and polyphenols. The processing of polyphenols at interfaces can continue mediated by a mechanism of ozonolysis. This lecture will explain the importance of interfacial chemistry in generating reactive species upon the encounter of ozone with aqueous microdroplets containing polyphenols. Mechanisms for converting aromatic hydrocarbons pollutants into polyfunctional species widely found in atmospheric aerosols, clouds, and fogs will be discussed.


Dr. Peter Kekenes-Huskey
Assistant Professor, Computational Chemistry

We focus on the interplay between molecular-scale events, such as protein-ligand (or drug) binding, and cellular-scale signaling pathways arising from interactions between proteins, that shape human health. These signaling pathways integrate molecular events with biological function and are often optimized to maximize speed, energy efficiency or robustness, through controlling the location, binding kinetics, and molecular composition of participating enzymes and substrates. For instance, in cardiac cells, excitation-contraction (EC) coupling and metabolism are orchestrated by tightly coupled reaction networks that exploit rapid diffusion of substrates; pathological disruption of this coupling oftentimes can be traced to deviations in the protein distribution within the cell, their binding kinetics and expression. Our long term goal is thus to understand how biological signaling pathways are controlled at the cellular level, how they are perturbed in disease states, and identify patient-specific strategies to restore normal function.


Dr. Doo Young Kim
Assistant Professor, Analytical, Physical, and Materials Chemistry

We are pursuing research in the area of electrochemical energy-storage/conversion and electrochemical biosensing. We are particularly interested in utilizing carbon-based materials combined with conducting polymers and metal oxides. Various physical, electrochemical, and spectroscopic characterizations are employed to understand structure-function relationship and enhance the performance of materials. The projects which we are pushing currently include (1) efficient energy storage devices such as supercapacitor and batteries, (2) advanced electrocatalyst and catalyst support systems for polymer exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs), (3) fluorescent carbon nanodots (FCNs) for bio-imaging and catalysis, (4) doped metal oxides for photochemical water splitting


Dr. Folami Ladipo
Associate Professor, Organometallic Chemistry

Low-valent transition metal-promoted organic synthesis. Transition metal species in low oxidation states are widely used in carbon-carbon bond forming reactions. In spite of the importance of such reactions to progress in organic synthesis, current understanding of the chemistry of these species is poor and control over the C-C bond forming reactions is inadequate. This lecture covers both an introduction and a description of recent advances in the field of low-valent titanium-promoted reductive coupling reactions, including development of a highly regioselective alkyne cyclotrimeriztion.


Dr. Robert A. Lodder
Professor, Analytical Chemistry 

Talk 1: Remote sensing. Scientists have focused their remote-sensing efforts in astrobiology onto robotic probes sent to nearby planets. A hyperspectral imaging system might be able to find cyanobacteria, one of the oldest forms of life on Earth, and similar forms of life on other planets like Mars. Hyperspectral imaging from a distance is able to easily monitor the distribution and spread of a cyanobacterium, Gloeocapsa, through spatial and spectrometric resolution of the chemicals (mycosporine amino acids and scytonemin) it produces to protect itself from UV radiation. The hyperspectral imaging system is flexible and can be calibrated to study the distribution of multiple analytes and interferences. A robotic rover with such an imaging system has the ability to drive up to the site and conduct more extensive sampling and collection because hyperspectral imaging is a nondestructive process.

Talk 2: People with metabolic risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar have an increased chance of developing diabetes, cardiovascular, and neurological problems. The more metabolic risk factors a patient has, the greater the risk. Early treatment of metabolic syndrome seems to produce better outcomes. D-lyxo-hexulose (DLH) is an epimer of fructose and a novel sugar that is approved as a safe food ingredient (Generally Recognized As Safe, or GRAS). DLH is being tested in patients at the University of Kentucky. DLH blunts the glycemic response to a meal, increasing glycogen synthesis and storage and decreasing glycogen utilization. The net effect is a reduction of glycemic levels and HbA1c. Phase II and III human clinical trials have demonstrated that DLH is associated with few adverse events and is effective in doses below the GRAS level.


Dr. Mark A. Lovell
Professor, Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

Disruptions of Zinc Homeostasis in the Pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease. Increasing evidence suggests alterations in zinc (Zn) homeostasis may contribute to the neurodegeneration observed in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Current studies from our laboratory show that, in addition to alterations in Zn concentrations, there are significant alterations in proteins responsible for the transport of Zn. This talk will describe methods used to quantify brain Zn concentrations and to localize Zn transporters in specific neuron populations. Results of these studies will discussed in terms of the progression of AD from preclinical AD to late stage disease.

Sections of brain tissue from autopsy verified normal control (NC) subjects and patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and late stage AD (LAD) stained for zinc (panel 1), ZnT-1 (panel 2, green), and ZnT-6 (panel 3, red). Panel 4 is a merged image.


Dr. Bert C. Lynn
Professor, Analytical Chemistry

Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry. Mass spectrometry joined with traditional molecular biology and biochemistry in a synergistic way to produce the new area of proteomics. Proteomics involves identification, characterization, and quantification of proteins in tissues and whole cells. To accomplish these tasks, new analytical protocols and mass spectral techniques were required. This lecture will provide background on mass spectrometry developments that enabled proteomics, 2D liquid chromatographic separations, tandem mass spectrometry of peptides and describe applications of proteomics in human disease research.


Dr. Mark S. Meier
Professor, Organic Chemistry / Nanotechnology

The Chemistry of Carbon Materials. Fullerenes and carbon nanotubes are among the most important new materials discovered in the past several decades. The similar, curved carbon surfaces of these materials would be expected to give rise to similar chemistry, but there are significant differences in reactivity between fullerenes, single-walled nanotubes, and multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Each carbon morphology has its own unique reactivity, physical properties, and technological potential. This lecture will demonstate how fullerenes and carbon nanotubes are really just organic compounds and how their reactivity depends upon subtle differences in carbon morphology.


Dr. Anne-Frances Miller
Professor, Physical and Biological Chemistry

Talk 1: Controlling single electrons? - no problem, you do it every day. 

Life would not be possible were it not for protein molecules that are able to accelerate the rates of chemical reactions by factors of over a million.  Many of these enzymes catalyze oxidative or reductive reactions that underlie our ability to derive 18x more energy from glucose than fermentative organisms can.  However oxidative chemistry also causes us to have less energy as we age and undermines our health.  The difference between life and death boils down to the precision with which enzymes deliver individual electrons to the intended destination… but how?  Electrons are tiny delocalized particles, while proteins are molecular gentle giants.  Our work has produced the reigning record-holder for the largest change in reduction potential produced by a single non-ligand mutation. (The energies of electron transfers are described by reduction potentials.).  We have also demonstrated a fundamental and general mechanism by which redox enzymes can control the reactivity of their electrons.  And the answer is ….. protons! This elegant solution emerged from an exciting multifaceted research effort combining diverse spectroscopic methods, molecular biology, high-level computation and good ol’-fashioned thermodynamics.  This detective story has something for everyone and offers hope for the resilience of life in the face of daunting chemical and climactic challenges.

Talk 2: From trash to treasure

Sadly, a side product of human ingenuity and has been that we have dispersed diverse chemical pollutants throughout the environment.  Fortunately, life has a repertoire of solutions that can convert toxic molecules into valuable precursors of materials, nutrients and drugs.  These are catalysts produced by cells, called enzymes, that greatly accelerate reactions by which toxic molecules can be disarmed and even converted to valuable compounds instead.  Enzymes are non-toxic, renewable, water-soluble and active at room temperature, and they can accelerate reaction rates by factors of up to 1019.  This talk showcases an enzyme that transforms TNT (trinitrotoluene) and related high explosives, herbicides, pesticides and drugs. Although it was once believed that each substrate would require a separate enzyme for its detoxification, our research has shown that in this case the protein seems to have a flexible catalytic site that is able to accommodate a wide substrate palette, and a chemical mechanism that gives it exceptional versatility.

Dr. Susan Odom
Assistant Professor, Organic and Materials Chemistry

Robust Redox Shuttles for Overcharge Protection in Lithium-Ion Batteries. Electrochemical energy storage systems such as lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are used in portable electronic devices and electric vehicles. Especially in large-scale applications, safety is a major concern. This presentation will focus on the development of organic compounds that can be incorporated into the electrolytes of LIBs to prevent batteries from overcharging, which can occur when batteries are connected in series.  In addition to synthesis, electrochemical characterization, and battery cycling data, we have also used Density Functional Theory calculations to understand the stability and reactivity of these materials, called redox shuttles, to further improve their design and performance.


Dr. Chris Richards
Assistant Professor, Analytical, Biological, and Physical Chemistry

Single molecule determination of nicotinic receptor stoichiometry. Nicotinic receptors are pentameric structures typically composed of a combination of α and β subunits. The stoichiometry of these subunits has been shown to affect the trafficking and function of the ion channel. Nicotine has been shown to alter the assembly of some types of nicotinic receptors, and this change in assembly has been implicated in the mechanism of nicotine addiction. Our lab is developing single molecule techniques to determine the stoichiometry of these receptors in the endoplasmic reticulum, where they are assembled, and compare this to the stoichiometry on the plasma membrane. This allows us to study the roles assembly and stoichiometry-specific trafficking play in nicotine addiction.

Dr. Chad Risko
Assistant Professor, Physical and Materials Chemistry

Materials Chemistry from a Theoretical Point of View. Chemists are incredibly adept at designing and adapting molecules and nano-scale structures to have well-defined properties and function. Through refined manipulation of covalent and non-covalent interactions, the past few decades have witnessed an evolution in the ability to control the construction of supramolecular assemblies, crystals, thin films, and interfaces. However, the continued reliance on exceedingly inefficient Edisonian paradigms of materials design is a major obstacle to the breakthroughs required to develop disruptive, revolutionary technologies. Moreover, materials limitations restrain the ability to reliably scrutinize and develop theories to study the fundamental electron- and energy-transfer processes that need to be optimized to increase efficiency and capacity. Here we will explore how computational materials chemistry can provide insight into the molecular-structure / materials-property paradigm that can be used to improve the rationale for materials design. Particular emphasis will be given to materials that are of interest for new generations of electronic devices and energy harvesting and storage applications.


Dr. John P. Selegue
Professor, Inorganic and Materials Chemistry

Talk 1: Transition Metal Complexes of Cyclopentadienyl-Fused Heterocycles. Polythiophenes, especially those with aromatic rings fused to them, comprise an interesting class of low-bandgap, electrically conducting polymers. This presentation will describe the synthesis, characterization and reactivity of new heterocycles with organometallic groups fused to their edges. The synthetic methods also allow us to access a new class of organometallic acenes.

Talk 2: The Periodic Table of Comic Books. Although traditionally written for children, comic books reveal a lot about the attitudes of the general public toward science, in particular chemistry. This general-interest presentation will follow the comic-book industry from 1938 to the present, with many surprising examples of chemistry in the comics. A projector with a fast CD drive or an internet connection is required.

Talk 3: From Metallacumulenes to Carbon Nano-Onions. Transition metal complexes of all-carbon ligands are of widespread interest in chemistry. This presentation will describe our progression from studies of C1, C2 and C3 complexes to carbon nanoparticles. In particular, the chemistry of carbon nano-onions, large "nested" fullerenes, with surface functional groups will be discussed.

Talk 4: History of Organometallic Chemistry. Following an introduction to organometallic compounds, this presentation will follow organometallic chemistry from its roots to current developments. Starting from obscure arsenic compounds of the late 18th century, chemists have developed a burgeoning specialty that contributes to applications ranging from catalysis to materials to pharmaceuticals.


Dr. Stephen M. Testa
Associate Professor, Biochemistry

Nucleic Acids, Disease, and You. Genetic diseases can be caused by relatively simple ‘mutations’ in an individuals DNA. With the sequencing of the human genome, technologies for the identification and early detection of these genetic mutations are progressing relatively rapidly. Unfortunately, technologies to repair such mutations are essentially non-existent, even when the mutations are known. In this undergraduate-level seminar, I discuss how my lab is exploiting basic chemical principles for the development of novel therapeutic strategies to repair genetic mutations, including those that lead to cancer and muscular dystrophy. This research is an example of how a little creativity and chemical knowledge can be exploited for tackling real world problems.


Dr. Mark D. Watson
Associate Professor, Organic and Materials Chemistry

Designing and Building Molecules to Deliver Specific Properties. Organic small molecules and polymers can be designed to function as electronic materials:  e.g. semiconductors that can be turned on or off; light-harvesting for energy conversion, and light emission.  Through synthetic design, one must control not only the intrinsic properties of each molecule, but also the way that the molecules assemble within films, fibers, etc.  Molecules can be considered as toy building blocks or LEGO™  and produced such that they come together in a specific manner to deliver desired properties.  This presentation will provide background for these practices along with the approaches taken by our research group.


Dr. Yinan Wei
Associate Professor, Biological Chemistry

The emergence of multi-drug resistant bacteria, immune to all known antibiotics, is a severe threat to human health. These super bugs gain multi-drug resistance (MDR) mainly through up-regulating the expression of multi-drug efflux pumps. These pumps are membrane transporter proteins that recognize a broad spectrum of structurally different compounds and actively pump these compounds out of the cell. Blocking the function of these transporters using specific inhibitors has the potential to restore the effects of antibiotics that are otherwise weakened or even eliminated by efflux pumping. To design such inhibitors, a thorough understanding of the mechanism of substrate binding by these proteins is essential. Our group studies the structure and functions of the MDR pumps using a multi-technique approach.  These studies will help elucidate the mechanism of multi-substrate recognition by MDR pumps, which will set the stage for structure-based rational drug design targeting MDR pumps.


Dr. Dong-Sheng Yang
Professor, Physical Chemistry

Talk 1. Building Organometallic Structures from Bare Metal Atoms. The development of new technologies has made it possible to produce and characterize novel organometallic compounds and materials without using solvents and glassware. This lecture will introduce synthetic methods in laser-vaporization molecular beams and structural determinations with mass spectrometry, laser spectroscopy, and electric field ionization. Examples will include both main group and transition metal elements in the periodic table.

Talk 2. Metal-Promoted Bond Activation of Small Hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons are not only the major constituents of petroleum and natural gas, but also the most abundant, low-cost feedstock for most of the non-metallic commodities used in everyday life. Because of their chemical inertness, the transformation of a hydrocarbon to value-added products requires the activation of unreactive, stable carbon-hydrogen (C-H) and carbon-carbon (C-C) bonds. The activation cleaves the C-H and/or C-C bonds to allow the formation of new chemical bonds with other atoms. The most promising approach for such activation is to use metallic catalysts, either in the form of pure elements or as molecular compounds. This lecture will discuss about the identification of transient organometallic intermediates formed in and reaction mechanisms of the metal activation reactions of small hydrocarbons.


Dr. Steven W. Yates
Professor, Nuclear Chemistry

Talk 1: Nuclear Shapes: From the Mundane to the Exotic. It might come as a surprise, but very few atomic nuclei are spherical. Most are prolate spheroids (football-shaped), some are oblate (discus-shaped), and others have more exotic shapes, such as pears, bananas, onions, or sausages. The methods used to discover this information about nuclear shapes will be described.

Talk 2: Nuclear Chemistry: Definition or Contradiction? In chemistry, we deal with the electrons around the atomic nucleus, but nuclear chemists explore the properties of the nucleus. What do nuclear chemists do, and what have they learned about nuclei?

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