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Chemistry and Biochemistry Research Areas

  • Analytical Chemistry is the study and development of methods for determining the composition of materials and substances. Analytical chemists often use sophisticated instrumentation to measure the concentration of various components in a mixture, they explore the limits of measurement of different techniques and evaluate the reliability and reproducibility of different instruments and processes. Analytical chemistry also involves the development of new methods and instrumentation that take advantage of what are sometimes very small differences in the chemical and physical properties of analytes to allow their separation, differentiation, and quantification. Analytical chemists also work to optimize analytical systems and methods to minimize errors. Computers and robots are used extensively in analytical chemistry to aid in the analysis of large numbers of samples and to minimize the errors associated with sampling and data recording and analysis.

    Featured Faculty Research

    Chris Dockery, Ph.D.

    There is a critical and recognized need for rapid and potentially field portable forensic methodologies to alleviate casework backlogs caused by budget cuts and increased demand on forensic investigators. In that vein, my research goals to date have focused on the forensic analysis of gunshot residues (GSR) by Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS). We envision LIBS as combining the selectivity of multi-element analysis and the sensitivity of workhorse laboratory instrumentation into a presumptive field test. A commercially available LIBS spectrometer is small and potentially field portable because it can be easily mounted onto mobile investigative units. Criminal investigators may use LIBS to determine the elemental composition of a suspect sample, obtaining results within seconds. Photo of Chris Dockery's research  Therefore, LIBS could provide necessary presumptive evidence, allowing investigators to obtain a search warrant or progress a criminal investigation.

    The scope of my research is to provide investigators with a chemical fingerprint for GSR by LIBS, to determine the amount of time that detectable amounts of GSR are recovered from a shooter, and to fully characterize the rates of error for shooters, non-shooters, and suspects working in high-risk occupations. In my lab, we address numerous goals of applied research and development; specifically the examination of chemical properties of evidence of the purpose of identifying source (GSR) and study the behavior of chemical compounds of forensic interest to better understand aged and/or time sensitive evidence.

    Marina C. Koether, Ph.D.

    My current research area involves the study of the teaching and learning of good laboratory practice with respect to dissolution studies of pharmaceuticals. I am currently funded by NSF to study the teaching and learning of an Analytical Method Transfer of a Dissolution Procedure between two primarily undergraduate institutions. The goal is to create robust case studies useful in schools without a dissolution tester. Other studies include the dispersion of active pharmaceutical ingredients from ointment cells. The products that stem from this research area would be publications for the teaching and learning and/or the primary research of good laboratory practice in the analysis of dissolution.

    Huggins Msimanga, Ph.D.

    Huggins Msimanga's research graphic Dr. Msimanga’s research focuses on developing calibration matrices for analyzing complex mixtures, e.g., actives in commonly used over-the-counter medicinal drugs. Multivariate analysis techniques, including target factor analysis and partial least squares regression, are used to evaluate the calibration matrices and the results are validated with high-performance liquid chromatography.

    Dr. Msimanga also applies chemometrics to profile very similar samples based on spectral, voltammetric, and chromatographic data. Such applications are useful in qualitatively identifying counterfeit drugs from real ones. His other area of research involves studying the chemical composition of plant medicines whose chemical composition is not well known. Most of the research projects are done with undergraduate chemistry students. Huggins Msimanga's research

    Wei Zhou, Ph.D.

    Photo of Wei Zhou's research My current research interest is focused on the nanoscale platinum–graphene based catalysts using electrochemical methods and other analyzing tools such as scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDX). Graphene (atomic layers of carbon in hexagonal lattice structure) provides high surface area, excellent conductivities, and other very attractive properties, its effect in enhancing the catalytic properties of platinum based materials is under study, particularly the catalytic behavior to small molecules involved in fuel cell reactions at metal-electrolyte interfaces. We are also investigating the oxidation of carbon monoxide, a catalyst poisoning molecule in fuel cells, at the graphene supported various nanoscale materials.

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  • Biochemistry is the study of the chemical processes occurring in living systems. It uses the methods of molecular biology, immunology, chemistry, physics, and neurochemistry to study the structure of the complex molecules found in biological material and the ways that these molecules interact. We find ourselves in an era of tremendous opportunity to apply the tools and knowledge of biochemistry to problems in medicine, agriculture, forensics, environmental sciences, and many other fields. Often biochemistry is a collaborative field, requiring biochemists to work and communicate with professionals from a variety of disciplines to achieve their goals. Earning an advanced degree in biochemistry allows students to integrate and strengthen scientific knowledge, develop their professional and scientific skills, and contribute new knowledge to existing fields.

    Featured Faculty Research

    Carol Chrestensen, Ph.D.

    Photo of Carol Chrestensen My laboratory has excellent projects for students to obtain current hands-on training in techniques and the practice of scientific research. My laboratory seeks to understand the regulation of kinases, particularly MAPKAP kinase 2, RSKs and the corresponding upstream MAP kinases. My laboratory has active collaborations aimed at better understanding how MAP and MAPKAP kinases regulate other proteins, e.g. nitric oxide synthases, via phosphorylation and protein-protein interactions. Students in my laboratory will gain experience or exposure to a wide range of biomedical research techniques including tissue culture, bacteria culture, confocal microscopy, biolayer interferometry, protein purification and enzyme activity analysis.

    Glen Meades, Ph.D.

    Photo of Glen Meades Bioluminescence is the production of light by an organism through an oxidation-reduction reaction catalyzed by the enzyme generically termed luciferase utilizing a substrate generically referred to as a luciferin. Light production via chemical reactions has evolved more than forty times in Earth's history, among diverse species using different chemical mechanisms. While the substrates of the reaction vary: FMNH2 and long chain aliphatic aldehyde (bacteria), ATP and O2 (fireflies), tetrapyrrole (dinoflagellates), illudins (fungi), and imidazopyrazinones (squid and shrimp); the production of light via the decay of an electron from an excited state to ground state of the luciferin substrate remains the same. Slight changes in the microenvironment of the luciferin can modulate the wavelength of visible light emitted, some as energetic as 440 nm (blue), many producing 560 nm (green) light, and red-shifted variants at 612 (orange-red) and 675 (near-infrared).

    In our laboratory, faculty-guided research of skilled undergraduate students seeks to more fully understand the subtleties of interaction between luciferase and luciferin substrate that determine the frequency of light emitted. Glen Meades research graphic Using the North American firefly (Photinus pyralis) or the bacterium Vibrio fischeri luciferase genes cloned into E. coli, students have generated systems amenable to site-directed mutagenesis and use of substrate analogs able to produce bioluminescent E. coli of various colors.

    Michael Van Dyke, Ph.D.

    While the Human Genome Project has yielded a wealth of information for both the human genome and other model organisms, much remains to be determined regarding individual genes and the biological roles played by their encoded products. For example, the bacteria Escherichia coli strain K12 has 4364 open reading frames, yet only about half of these genes have been well characterized by genetic, biochemical or molecular biological means. Many of the known genes (260+) encode for proteins that presumably bind specific DNA sequences. However, for most of these proteins (>200) their preferred DNA-binding sites have not been determined empirically. We have developed a combinatorial approach, REPSA, which does not require any prior knowledge of a ligand in order to determine its preferred binding site on duplex DNA. Thus we hypothesize that REPSA can be used to identify the preferred DNA-binding sites of uncharacterized proteins in the model organism E. coli K-12. We expect our research will lead to a better understanding of bacterial biology at a molecular level and ultimately advance public health by characterizing orphan regulatory proteins that can be critical players in many different microbial diseases.

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  • Chemical Education research encompasses investigations into any facets related to student learning of chemistry. Studies in this field can focus on the preparation of teachers or the activities of teachers in establishing an effective learning environment. Other studies may examine the role of students in the classroom, such as examining factors that relate to success in the class or students' previous conceptions which may hinder success. Finally, studies may develop or examine learning materials, such as textbooks, lab activities or student assessments.

    Featured Faculty Research

    Michelle Head, Ph.D.

    Photo of Michelle Head Currently work in my research group is focused in investigating the following areas:

    Due to the growing need to quality high school chemistry teachers, a strategic recruitment plan has been developed to recruit high school and early college students in to the chemistry education degree track at KSU. The effects of this plan are being investigated with regards to determine how an early teaching experience, student involvement in leading a science summer camp, influences these students to pursue this degree track and ultimately a career in as a chemistry teacher. Further investigations will also explore the level of support students need during their induction years to persist in this career.

    There is a growing need among high school chemistry curriculums to teach the conceptual basis of chemistry through the use of models. The AP Chemistry Framework and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call on students to be able to construct, revise, and use models to explain chemistry phenomenon. This is a shift from what students were required to do under previous standards. Therefore, work is currently being done to investigate how modeling is being incorporated in high school chemistry classrooms and how teachers are building a culture for modeling. We are also gathering exemplars of model-based lessons. Future work in this area will investigate how high school students construct and make sense of chemistry models.

    General Chemistry is often considered a high-risk course due the DFW rate. The type of chemistry instruction at the college-level is often a stark contrast to what students have been exposed to in high school. Therefore, there is a need to bridge this gap to allow general chemistry students an opportunity to adjust and excel in this subject. The effects of a targeted learning community in general chemistry (TLC-GC) are currently being investigated. This learning community pairs a first-year seminar with General Chemistry I. The purpose of this project is to study the outcomes associated with participation in this community which includes curricular and co-curricular supports such as: tailored first-year seminar instruction in self-regulation and study strategies for the sciences and exposure to career and undergraduate research opportunities while allowing the students to build a support system and relationships with their peers, peer leaders, and professors that are catalyzed by their involvement in the larger learning community.

    Kimberly (Linenberger) Cortes, Ph.D.

    Photo of Kimberly Linenberger Chemistry is a contextually based discipline that requires a multitude of knowledge; this knowledge stems from a basic understanding of chemistry content and the means for which it can be applied. So too is the discipline of chemistry education research. Therefore, my research investigates inquiries from both the basic and applied research perspectives in order to connect the areas of chemistry education research with the practice of teaching chemistry. In order to help inform practice, it is important to first know how and what students learn in chemistry along with what the chemistry community believes students should learn. This basic research will then be examined utilizing the best theoretical and methodological research practices from the fields of chemistry, education and psychology, creating a foundation to develop sound research-based curriculum materials that can be implemented in chemistry courses across the country.

    Current Projects Include:

    • Development of active learning materials for all levels.
    • Investigating students' understanding of representations in chemistry.
    • How do the representations we use on tests influence students' performance?
    • How can we better integrate chemistry and biology at the high school level?
    • Can we improve students' conceptual understanding of pH by improving their understanding of log functions?

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  • Inorganic chemistry involves the synthesis and characterization of inorganic and organometallic compounds, and the study of their chemical and physical properties. Inorganic chemistry includes the study of development of inorganic and organometallic materials to be used as catalysts in chemical reactions, the study of metals and their interactions in biological systems, the fate and transport of metals and non-metals in the environment, the development of new energy storage materials, the development of new organometallic catalysts and reactants important in synthetic routes to biologically active compounds, and the chemistry of minerals.

    Featured Faculty Research

    Bharat Baruah, Ph.D.

    Photo of Bharat Baruah My current research focus is on synthesis and surface modification of various metal nanoparticles and nanostructures. We synthesize gold and silver nanoparticles by classical citrate method and then surface modify with a positively charged surfactant bilayer along with an aliphatic amine. Presence of long chain amine is critical for the stability and dispersibility of the nanoparticles. We further grow nanoparticles to an optimum size by seed growth method. These size-optimized larger nanoparticles serve as excellent SERS substrates for various analyte molecules. SERS is extension of regular Raman spectroscopy and the enhancement effect comes from electromagnetic (EM) and chemical interactions between the excitation laser, analyte and the metal surface of the SERS substrate. As nanoparticles size increases EM enhancement increases. In summary, our goal is to develop facile synthesis of surface modified metal nanoparticles and nanostructures, generation of SERS substrate by seed growth method, and testing for SERS activity with various analyte molecules. UV-visible, FTIR, 1H NMR, DLS and TEM techniques utilized to characterize metal nanoparticles based substrates.

    Janet L. Shaw, Ph.D.

    Photo of Janet Shaw Research in the Shaw group focuses on bioinorganic chemistry with an emphasis on synthesizing small models of metalloprotein active sites. Currently two ligand systems are being explored with the goal of isolating coordination complexes with interesting properties. Diphenyldipyrazolylmethane approximates the di-histidine coordination environment, and N-confused tetraphenylporphyrin is a synthetic model for natural porphyrins. Research projects in the Shaw group involve organic and inorganic synthesis, including air sensitive work using glove box techniques, and compound analysis using tools such as UV-visible spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography.

    Michael Stollenz, Ph.D.

    Photo of Michael Stollez Our research addresses two fundamental challenges in materials chemistry and industry; 1) the systematic design of molecular wires and coils in nanodevices and 2) their application as building blocks in organic light-emitting devices/diodes (OLEDs).

    Linear multinuclear complexes of Group 11 metals (M = Cu, Ag, Au) exhibit fascinating luminescence properties that make them highly interesting for both applications. Our work (currently supported through a CETL Incentive Funding Award for Research & Creative Activity and a Birla Carbon fellowship) involves an appropriate ligand design that supports an efficient synthesis of multinuclear CuI and other coinage metal complexes, thus resulting in a concept for molecular wires and coils for microelectronics that are photoluminescent (Stollenz et al., Chem. Eur. J. 2016, 22, 2396). Once integrated in electronic circuits of nanoscaled microelectronics, these devices can be applied in medical engineering as nanorobots, e.g. for targeted drug delivery in the human body.

    Our synthetic methods span the full range from basic organic synthesis to advanced Schlenk techniques involving highly sensitive organometallic compounds; including all characterization methods related to them (such as NMR, UV-Vis, IR, fluorescence spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography, mass spectrometry, elemental analysis).

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  • Organic chemistry is the study of the structure, physical properties, and chemical reactions of carbon-containing compounds. Examples include the investigation of reaction mechanisms and catalysis, the development of new tactics and strategies for synthesizing molecules, both simple and complex, the examination of structure/activity and structure/reactivity relationships, and the development of new materials with novel properties and applications. Organic compounds include peptides, proteins, sugars, nucleic acids, and most pharmaceutical compounds. Particularly active areas in contemporary organic chemistry are the study of the interactions of such molecules with one another and the development of new compounds for application in medical and other biological contexts.

    Featured Faculty Research

    Christopher W. Alexander, Ph.D.

    Organophosphorus Chemistry: Synthetic Methodology Development & Application

    The focus of our research is the development of new methodologies for the syntheses of α-acylphosphonates (α-keto- and α-carbamoyl-phosphonates), and α-hydroxyphosphonates (Figure 1). Derivatives of these organophosphorus compounds are attractive targets because of their demonstrated pharmaceutical and commercial applications (e.g., Figure 2; anti-viral, antiobotic, and anti-osteoporsis drugs; and a herbicide). Therefore, our intent is to screen novel phosphonates that we synthesize for their possible anti-microbial activity and other commercial uses. Additionally, the pedagogical goal is to teach undergraduate and MS-level students advanced organic chemistry and laboratory skills.

    Kevin P. Gwaltney, Ph.D.

    Dr. Gwaltney serves Kennesaw State University in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness as the Director of Program Quality and Accreditation. His scholarship relates to assessment of academic programs, discipline and program accreditations, and institutional effectiveness and accreditation, including sharing in the preparation of KSU's documents for submission to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

    John Haseltine, Ph.D.

    Photo of John Haseltine My group is developing a better understanding of protein, structurally and mechanistically, at fundamental levels. Our current studies look at long-range effects in protease systems. Strand length and residue identity along an oligopeptide strand can strongly influence the rates of strand hydrolysis by a protease. This fact has often been ascribed to "key" structural interactions in the enzyme/substrate complexes. We showed, however, that similar, milder effects on rates are found even when substrates are cleaved non-enzymatically. So the basis of the long-range effects seems to originate in the fundamental electronic character of protein, not in the enzyme. To investigate the phenomenon further, students have prepared specific oligopeptides and analyzed their reactivity using high-field NMR spectroscopy. The results let us gauge the influence of specific strand features such as intramolecular crowding, relative stereochemistry, and hydrogen bonding capacity.

    The enzyme is not irrelevant. Its role in the long-range effects seems to be to complement and magnify long-range effects in the substrate, managing substrate conformation and molecular dynamics for an optimal impact on proteolysis rates. And since the enzyme is itself made of protein, it might use its own long-range structure and dynamics as another factor behind catalytic power. Therefore our second emphasis is to analyze the geometry of relevant enzyme/ligand complexes in great detail. Students on this aspect of the project are working to prepare stable oligopeptide mimics so that complexes between the mimics and relevant enzymes can be used as models of real enzyme/substrate interactions. Our effort in this area has identified specific electronic pathways in protease active sites.

    Daniela Tapu, Ph.D.

    My research interests lie at the interface between organic, organometallic and material science with the main focus in an area of urgent industrial interest – catalysis. Although the fundamental processes for refining petroleum and its conversion to basic building blocks are based on heterogeneous catalysts, many important value-added products are manufactured by homogeneous catalytic processes. Our project targets new classes of N-heterocyclic carbenes, ligands that we designed as supports for homo- and heterometallic complexes. The underlying objective is to elucidate and to learn to exploit the interrelationship between molecular architecture, electronic structure and chemical reactivity of these novel compounds. In addition to providing valuable scientific information, our projects involve intensive training for undergraduate and graduate scientists in experimental design, a variety of research techniques, and scientific writing.

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  • Physical Chemistry involves the study of chemical systems including gases, liquids, and solid materials, and the development of mathematical and physical methods to explain and predict how and why they behave the way they do. This can involve the study of how energy flows in chemical systems and how and why the composition and structures of these systems evolve in time. Physical chemistry seeks to understand the forces and interactions occurring at very small scales and very short times and how these influence and drive the behavior of macroscopic systems. Physical chemistry is typically divided into a few broad areas of study: thermodynamics and equilibrium, chemical kinetics, quantum mechanics and spectroscopy, and statistical thermodynamics.

    Featured Faculty Research

    Heather Abbott-Lyon, Ph.D.

    The Abbott-Lyon Laboratory aims to elucidate reactions occurring between gas-phase molecules and the surface of solids such as metal phosphides and metal oxides. In particular, we are investigating the radiation induced chemistry occurring on ice-mineral interfaces relevant to interplanetary dust grains, comets, icy moons and possibly some asteroids. Our ultrahigh vacuum chamber is equipped with a tunable low energy electron gun as well as infrared and mass spectrometers for analysis of reaction products. Experiments performed with this instrument are expected to help identify potential environments in the solar system where extremophile life might survive and to clarify the role of low energy secondary electrons in chemical reactions occurring at ice-mineral interfaces.

    Martina Kaledin, Ph.D.

    The function of biological macromolecules is closely related to their spatial structure and conformational dynamics. Recent developments in time resolved laser spectroscopy have enabled the observation of dynamical processes in gas phase and in solution; however, those studies have problems of ambiguity in assignment of spectral features. We propose driven molecular dynamics simulations of vibrational infrared (IR) absorption spectra using first principles calculations to contribute significantly to gaining insight into the behavior and functions of these systems.

    This project focuses on developing fast and highly scalable computational methods to study biomolecular structures, functions, and intermolecular interactions at atomic level, and applying these methods to understand and predict the relations between structures and functions of these molecules.

    Mark B. Mitchell, Ph.D.

    Our research investigates the use of supported nanoparticulate metal oxides as active agents for oxidative decomposition at low temperatures. These materials have high activity in large part because of their high defect site density. Work at our labs has shown that active nano-sized two- and three-dimensional domains of some metal oxides can yield very active oxidation and/or hydrolysis catalysts and can be selectively synthesized on high surface area substrates. Our research projects involve the development of methods for the synthesis of supported nanoparticulate oxides for the decomposition of contaminants and toxins, the determination of the mode of action of the materials, and optimization of their activity, including their total decomposition capacity and efficiency.

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