The Chemistry and Biochemistry department offers research opportunities to all students at Rose-Hulman. Students from every science and engineering major have participated in chemistry research projects. Students typically begin research during their sophomore year although it is possible to start at any time - including the freshman year!
Students can participate in one of two ways:
1) Register for credit (usually one credit) for CHEM 290 or CHEM 490
2) Work as a paid research assistant for a faculty member
What's Going on in Rose-Hulman Chemistry:
Dr. Daniel Morris is an analytical chemist. His research interests involve the role of metal ion binding in oxidative DNA damage and the development of microfluidic devices for chemical analysis (lab-on-a-chip). Oxidative DNA damage is monitored by following production of 8- hydroxy-2'- deoxyguanosine (8-OH-dG), the oxidized form of the guanine base. The techniques employed include HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography), CE (capillary electrophoresis) and Raman spectroscopy. Dr. Morris' second project concerns "lab-ona- chip" technology. A "chip", roughly the size of a microscope slide, has small, micrometer-sized channels etched in it. These can be used to separate and analyze chemical mixtures, thus allowing analytical chemistry at an extremely small scale. Dr. Morris is an important participant in the microfabrication laboratory at Rose-Hulman.
Dr. Michelle Hoffman is an analytical chemist by training with an interest in cross-disciplinary work that includes analytical chemistry, microbiology, and biophysics. Her current research interests involve the development of a portable microfluidic analysis system to quantify and remove specific heavy metals (i.e. lead, cadmium, mercury) through the use of a bio-regenerative detector, the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus. C. crescentus has been shown to adhere to a variety of diverse surfaces through an adhesive holdfast, to form very robust biofilms, and to survive in a broad range of environmental habitats including low-nutrient and contaminated conditions. In her research plan, students in Dr. Hoffman’s group will conduct assays to characterize and quantify the ability of these bacteria to tolerate heavy-metal contamination by the use of cytoplasmic fluorescent probes, and will observe the effect of biofilm formation under heavy metal stresses. Further work involves the design and fabrication of a microfluidic device in which discrete amounts of sample from contaminated water sources will be delivered to a channel where a biofilm has been grown to qualitatively identify and quantitatively determine the concentration of contaminated species.
Dr. Mark Brandt is working with the human estrogen receptor, a protein of great importance in both normal development and in breast cancer. Students working with Dr. Brandt have the opportunity to learn a variety of techniques that are widely used in both industrial and academic biochemical laboratories, including molecular biology, protein purification, and chromatographic and spectroscopic methods in their work analyzing the estrogen receptor. Students perform experiments using state-of-the-art HPLC and spectroscopic instruments, which allow observation of changes in protein structure and function in real-time in solution. Dr. Brandt also has computational biochemistry projects. Dr. Brandt has been a driving force behind the Interdisciplinary Research Collaborative (IRC), a program that offers students the opportunity to perform paid full-time summer research. As members of the IRC, students enjoy excursions such as a recent canoe trip, and have the opportunity to present their research at the IRC symposium and other meetings.
Dr. Ross Weatherman. Research in the Weatherman lab focuses on using chemistry and biochemistry to better understand the role estrogen plays in the development and treatment of breast cancer. A major class of breast cancer drugs block estrogen action, but this blockade leads to side effects in other parts of the body also affected by estrogen. The goal of this research is to make and test new compounds to dissect the molecular mechanisms of action responsible for the actions of estrogens and antiestrogens in breast cancer and other tissues in the body and perhaps improve existing drugs. The research experience can range from making compounds using organic chemistry to measuring the effects of these compounds on proteins using biochemical assays to testing the compounds in cell-based assays.
Dr. Rebecca DeVasher has begun an active research program in green chemistry. The key to solving certain issues of human health and environmental protection lies in the hands of environmentally friendly technologies. Green chemistry involves the development of new methods and technologies that reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals hazardous to human health and the environment. Carefully designed palladium catalysts provide a means to convert organic starting materials into useful pharmaceuticals in a one-step synthesis, such as the synthesis of the FDA approved NSAID (nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug) diflunisal. Student researchers will be using GC/MS, 1H NMR and heteronuclear NMR instrumentation to determine product identity, purity and yield for newly developed synthetic methodologies. Students also learn valuable schlenk line techniques when working with air-sensitive species in an inert atmosphere glove box.
Dr. David Erwin conducts research that seeks new energy sources. One area involves the synthesis of new organometallic compounds (species composed of transition metals bonded to large organic molecules) that can catalytically produce fuels from small molecules such as carbon dioxide gas and hydrogen gas. Another area focuses on the study of deuterium on palladium catalysts in electrochemical cells as sources of thermal and electrical energy.
Dr. Stephanie Poland is an inorganic and polymer chemist by training. Research in the Poland lab centers on the synthesis and development of biodegradable plastics using transition metal catalysts. In particular, focus is given to the synthesis of poly(trimethylene carbonate), PTMC, and various derivative polycarbonates that have use in biomedical applications such as sutures and drug delivery devices. Students working with Dr. Poland will use air-free techniques including the glovebox and Schlenk line in order to synthesize metal catalysts and then use these catalysts to perform polymerization reactions. Particular focus is given to the use of catalysts containing biometals such as magnesium, iron, and zinc for these polymerizations. Future work includes developing the synthesis of biodegradable polycarbonates from glycerol, an abundant waste material made in the synthesis of biodiesel.
Dr. Bruce Allison has been working with undergraduate students on synthetic organic projects for many years. His most recent project is the synthesis of sattabacin, a molecule found to have anti-viral properties, but which exists only in very small quantities in nature. In the past he has worked on a project synthesizing optical chromophores part of an effort funded by the Center for Applied Optics. Dr. Allison is an expert in mass spectrometry, and at his insistence the department has recently taken delivery of a new, quadrupole GC/MS (gas chromatograph with a mass spectroscopic detector). This instrument augments and complements the ion trap GC/MS used by the analytical chemists. Dr. Allison is also expert on our nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, a tool which his research students use extensively.
Another research area includes polycarbonates that have become the material of choice for optical applications ranging from lightweight eyeglass lenses to compact discs due to a combination of favorable properties including optical clarity, high glass transition temperature (Tg), high impact resistance below the glass transition temperature, high refractive index (RI), and low specific gravity (sg). Students are participating in a systematic study of the effect of added polarizable functionality to high glass transition, high impact resistant polycarbonates with the goal of producing clear, colorless, high refractive index thermoplastic polycarbonates. Modification of commercial polycarbonates, synthesis of new polycarbonates incorporating polarizable functionality, and synthesis of new polycarbonate/sulfones and polyurethanes are now underway.
Dr. Michael R. Mueller is both a theoretical and an experimental physical chemist. His research is in two principles areas: a) combustion chemistry on biofuels in terms of corrosive issues, lubricity, and emissions and b) a computational research project that combines reactant and intermediate structure to calculate rate constants for organic reactions. Some of the work is currently being sponsored by a company interested in producing a biodiesel based two-cycle engine lubricant. Students involved in these projects come from a variety of majors. Besides using state-of-the-art chemical instrumentation, the project also includes engine and dyno work in the Rotz Laboratory. Research is also being done with Biology on changing algae into biodiesel fuel.
Dr. Luanne Tilstra is a polymer chemist by training, but whose current research includes physical biochemistry. In particular, she is interested in insulin aggregation. Normal human insulin consists of two proteins that are bound together. However, a slight change of conditions will cause the insulin proteins to aggregate in larger numbers: four, six, or more. The conditions which cause this aggregation and the degree to which it occurs are the subjects of Dr. Tilstra's work. Dr. Tilstra has developed a novel instrument for studying this process. Using money from a Research Corporation grant, she has built a capillary electrophoresis instrument with a light scattering detector. When light impinges on a particle, it can either be absorbed or scattered. Most spectroscopists look at the absorption spectrum, but Dr. Tilstra looks instead at the scattered light, which is very sensitive to particle size. Thus she can measure the size of insulin aggregates.