Seminars take place at noon in 102 Rooke Chemistry Bldg.
Wednesday, Feb. 12: Dan Fraccica, masters student
Wednesday, Feb. 9: Brae Wenrich, masters student
Wednesday, Feb. 26: Kenny Myers, masters student
Wednesday, March 5: Alex Briseño, University of Massachusetts
Wednesday, March 19: Meghan Port, Indian University
Wednesday, March 26: Nick Doyle, masters student
Wednesday, April 2: John Caldwell, Merck & Company
Wednesday, April 9: Mark Tapsak, Bloomsburg University
Wednesday, April 16: Student seminars
Wednesday, April 23: Seth Horne, University of Pittsburgh
Unraveling a debate
David Rovnyak and Tim Strein, NSF-RUI "RUI: Molecular Characterization of Aggregation and Guest-Host Solvation by Bile Acids" $159,185, 2012-2015
Strein and Rovnyak received an award to investigate the precise functionality of bile micelles — electrically charged aggregates of naturally occurring molecules. "For 50 years, scientists have struggled to understand this important class of micelles," says Rovnyak. "We think we have begun to unravel the debate." The team hopes its findings might lead to improved applications such as chemical separations and drug delivery, and improve the understanding of bile in physiology.
Technology for the 21st Century
Charlie Clapp, NSF-RUI "RUI: Substrate Binding and Regiochemical Control by Soybean Lipoxygenase-1" $50,000, 2012-2015.
Clapp and a group of undergraduate researchers are trying to determine how enzymes work so well at catalyzing reactions. The team is "tinkering with" a particular class of enzymes called lipoxygenases, which are found in soybeans. The researchers are altering the enzymes' DNA and changing the substrate — the molecule on which the enzyme acts — to identify the exact position on the molecule where the catalytic reaction takes place. "Catalysis is one of the most important technologies of the 21st century," Clapp says. "It can help us develop chemical products more efficiently and with fewer by-products."
Clay mineral swelling
Molly McGuire, NSF-RUI, "RUI: in situ investigations of clay mineral swelling using atomic force microscopy" $119,572, 2011-2014.
McGuire received funding to study how water gets incorporated into the sheet-like layers of clay minerals. Using the University's atomic force microscope, she and her team are measuring the distance between the layers on the nanoscale. "It's an experimental approach to studying clay that hasn't been used before," says McGuire. "We can take a stack of clay layers and change the chemical environment around it to see what's happening. Knowing more about the 'swelling' process is critical to our understanding of how plants get their nutrients and how contaminants move through the environment."
Cloud formation and climate change
George Shields, NSF-MRI "MRI: Acquisition of High Performance Computers for the Molecular Education and Research Consortium in Undergraduate computational chemistry (MERCURY)" $200,000, 2012-2015.
Receiving the largest of the four grants was Dean of Arts and Sciences George Shields, whose work has been widely published, including in Science, one of the world's most respected peer-reviewed journals. Shields, along with postdoctoral fellow Berhane Temelso and a group of undergraduate researchers are using high-speed computing to predict how and where water and other molecules will cluster to form clouds.
"We're looking at the beginning steps of how molecules come together by calculating accurate structure and energies of all possible clusters so that we can predict the mechanism for cluster formation," he says. The results may help scientists understand how clouds will affect the pace of climate change. "The biggest uncertainty in climate change models is what happens when clouds form," says Shields. High and white ones will reflect the sun's radiation and return it back into space, slowing warming. Low and gray clouds will absorb infrared radiation coming off the earth and accelerate warming.
Rob Stockland, ACS-Petroleum Research Fund "P-H Activation Using Alkynylmetal Complexes: New Methodology for the Preparation of Metallopolymers" $65,000, 2012-2015.
George Shields, NSF-RUI, "RUI: Thermodynamics of Secondary Aerosol Formation: The Role of Binary and Ternary Nucleation" $105,000, 2012-2015.
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