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Research Interests of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Investigative research lies at the heart of all of the experimental sciences. In chemistry, research can take many forms, from synthesizing compounds to building computational models or gathering and analyzing data using a wide variety of instruments and techniques. If you are interested in learning more about what chemists really do, joining a research group and taking on an independent research project is an excellent place to start!

Topic Instructor
Environmental/Analytical MachadoOpdahlRolfhus
Biochemistry GrilleyGorresMayWeaver
Inorganic KirschMcGaffNelson
Medicinal Monte
Nuclear Bryan
Organic Czerwinski | Schenck
Physical Beyer | Kirsch
Polymer Sen
Pedagogy Schenck

Analytical Chemistry

Dr. Ressano DeSouza-Machado
I am seeking to develop capabilities to measure absolute molecular weights and "sizes" of macromolecules in solution. The macromolecules could be biological in nature such as proteins, or man-made as polymers. To elucidate the information, we will employ multiangle light scattering (MALS). I would also like to extend an invitation to those students who would like to tinker with instrumentation, to work with me in improving our current offerings as experiments in upper level chemistry courses. E-mail me for additional information.

Dr. Aric Opdahl
Chemistry at surfaces and interfaces; surface spectroscopy and microscopy; biosensor design; mechanical behavior of thin films; molecular assembly at interfaces. For additional information e-mail Dr. Opdahl.

Dr. Kris Rolfhus
My  research  interests are focused in environmental chemistry, particularly the geochemical cycling and reactivity of toxic heavy metals with significant human health effects such as mercury and arsenic. Currently, I am working with Canadian scientists to evaluate the effects of hydroelectric reservoir creation and seasonal flooding events on the microbial synthesis of methylmercury, a potent human neurotoxin. I am also studying the speciation and distribution of mercury in Lake Superior and its tributaries, as well as in the Voyageurs National Park region of northern Minnesota. These metals exist in extremely small quantities in the environment, such that contamination-free sample collection and analytical techniques are applied, as well as the use of a dedicated "clean room" facility. For additional information, email me, or visit my website. 


Dr. Dan Grilley
The goal of my research is to understand in mechanistic detail how the chemical properties of DNA affect its structure and thus its function inside of living cells. Specifically, my research focuses on two related problems, how do the chemical properties of DNA affect its stiffness, and how does that stiffness affect how DNA is compacted to fit inside a cell. Students interested in doing research at the interface of chemistry, biology, and physics are encouraged to contact me.

Dr. Kelly Gorres
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) was the first virus discovered to cause a human cancer. During infection EBV switches between two phases of its life cycle. We are interested in molecules that reactivate the virus and how the process is inhibited. Our research investigates the interplay between the virus, the infected cell, and small molecules in the environment or drugs with the goal of developing strategies for treating virus-associated cancers. My lab spans virology, cell biology, biochemistry, and organic chemistry. E-mail me for additional information.

Dr. John May
Bacteria cover their cell surface with a sugar coating that is critical for their ability to cause infectious disease. My lab investigates how bacteria regulate the chemical composition of their protective sugar coating, with a focus on Salmonella enteric, a major bacterial cause of food-borne illness. Students in my group have the opportunity to learn techniques in biochemistry, enzyme kinetics, molecular biology, and bacterial genetics. This research can inform strategies to block key surface determinants of bacterial virulence. 
E-mail me for additional information.

Dr. Todd Weaver
Research in my laboratory is focused in two main areas. The first area of research uses the hemolysin system from Proteus mirabilis to characterize the activation of bacterial toxins during pore formation. The overall goal of this project aims to characterize the structural differences between the secreted (active) and non-secreted (inactive) forms of hemolysin A. The second area of research aims to characterize the recruitment of low-barrier hydrogen bonds during enzyme catalysis. We have numerous mutant forms of fumarase C and in the process of collecting steady-state kinetic and X-ray diffraction data on each form. E-mail me for additional information. 

Inorganic Chemistry

Dr. Janet Kirsch
My  research  uses different computational techniques to answer fundamental questions about the bonding in solids and on surfaces. I am particularly interested in developing explanations, based on bonding theories, for the ways in which different surfaces reconstruct. E-mail me for additional information.

Dr. Rob McGaff
Research in my group is focused on finding rational synthetic routes to extended solid-state compounds in response to technological demands for such materials. We concentrate on the synthesis of transition metal compounds that are constructed by linking metal atoms with multifunctional ligands, which are chemical entities that can attach to two different metals at the same time, thus connecting them. We are particularly interested in nitriles and borate fragments as potential ligands for linking transition metals, concentrating especially on rhenium, nickel, copper, platinum, vanadium, and chromium. 
E-mail me for additional information.

Dr. Kendric Nelson
My research utilizes a molecular approach towards new electronic and computing components that are sought to be used in conjunction with or potentially replace traditional complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) materials. Traditional CMOS materials are plagued by the physical limitation of size reduction that has been driving advancements over the past 50 years and the "bottom-up" approach is one potential solution to this "top-down" one. The molecule-based approach allows a synthetic chemist to pick-and-choose molecular precursors and potentially "dial-up" and "tune-in" desired chemical/physical properties. Our focus is on the design, synthesis, and characterization of new molecule-based materials (MBMs) that have the potential to be used to develop next generation computers and electronics. E-mail me for additional information. 

Medicinal Chemistry

Dr. Aaron Monte
Researchers in my labs are involved in the application of organic chemistry techniques to the discovery, synthesis, and development of new drug molecules.  In one area, we have been trying to identify new antibiotics present in wild fungi and green plants.  We are now attempting to synthesize several analogs of one natural product we discovered in the leaves of the "sweet fern" plant, which grows near Lake Superior and has been used in traditional medicine by Wisconsin Native Americans.  In another area, we are attempting to better understand the mechanism of action of psychedelic drugs and how they influence the function of certain serotonin receptors and neurons.  Here, we prepare rigid analogs of classic hallucinogenic phenethylamines using standard organic synthetic methods. 
E-mail me for additional information.

Nuclear Chemistry

Dr. Jeff C. Bryan
My  research  interests involve finding new and exciting ways to bring nuclear chemistry to the the masses. Current projects include a new edition of my textbook , and writing a nuclear chemistry chapter for a general chemistry textbook. Future work could involve the making of nuclear chemistry podcasts and development of a web-based interactive 3-D chart of the the nuclides for the web. I'm also working with Dr. Lesher in the Physics Department to analyze radioactive nuclides in environmental samples and with Dr. Kirsch (Chemistry) on the design and synthesis of new inorganic compounds that may also serve as radiopharmaceutical. For additional information, e-mail me or drop by my office in 441 Cowley Hall.

Organic Chemistry

Dr. Curt Czerwinski 
My  research  interests are in the area of organometallic chemistry, specifically as related to the synthesis of molecules that mimic industrial catalysts and the discovery of new organometallic reactions. Organometallic chemistry targets the interface between organic chemistry, the study of carbon-based molecules, and inorganic chemistry, the study of metals like chromium, tungsten, and iron. Combining these two areas involves synthesizing new molecules that have metal-carbon bonds and exploring reactions otherwise unavailable in traditional organic or inorganic chemistry. My research group synthesizes air-sensitive organometallic molecules using equipment that allows for manipulation of chemicals without exposing them to air, and studies the structure and rearrangement mechanisms of these molecules using infrared and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. E-mail me for additional information.

Dr. Heather Schenck
Current research is focused on pedagogy for organic chemistry; specifically, optimization of instruction for organic reaction mechanisms and multi-step organic transformations. Recent research efforts include synthesis of small hydroxamic acids and characterization of thermodynamic and kinetic properties of the molecules by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR; Sippl, S. P., White, P. B., Fry, C. G., Volk, S. E., Ye, L., Schenck, H. (2016) Magnetic Resonance in Chemistry, 54(1), 46-50) and study of complex mixtures of dissolved organic carbon by NMR. Please contact me by e-mail to learn more about this research.

Physical Chemistry

Dr. Keith Beyer
My  research  interests involve the formation of atmospheric clouds as governed by phase diagram thermodynamics. The formation of cirrus clouds in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere are my current interest. Cloud formation at this level impacts global climate and can have an impact on atmospheric chemical reactions through chemistry that occurs at the surfaces of these particles. My current NSF grant supports research on the impact of inorganic and organic chemicals on the freezing of particles that lead to cirrus cloud formation. E-mail me for additional information.

Dr. Janet Kirsch
My research uses different computational techniques to answer fundamental questions about the bonding in solids and on surfaces. I am particularly interested in developing explanations, based on bonding theories, for the ways in which different surfaces reconstruct. E-mail me for additional information.

Polymer Chemistry

Dr. Sujat Sen
Rapidly decreasing cost of wind and solar electricity across the world has motivated the use of electrons as clean reactants to perform industrially relevant chemical reactions. The increasing use of these renewable energy sources has also necessitated the development of energy storage technologies. My research program explores these challenging problems using ideas and techniques across different disciplines such as polymer/organic synthesis, inorganic/nano-science, analytical methods, and electrochemistry. Students in my group will have an opportunity to synthesize organic/inorganic nano-materials, and use them for various electrochemical applications such as energy storage (batteries, fuel cells) or energy conversion (electrolyzers). Access to cheap and clean energy is of critical importance to society and the world economy – The development of renewable energy technology is bringing exciting new possibilities! Please contact me by e-mail to learn more.

"To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science." - Albert Einstein