Chemistry Research Projects

If you're interested in participating in one of the projects described below, talk to the faculty investigator.

Natural Products Chemistry (Fitch)

The work in my group involves the isolation, structure elucidation and synthesis of natural products. Most of this work centers around neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, which are important to fast synaptic transmission in the central nervous system. Dysfunction of these receptors has been implicated in a number of disease states, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, Tourette's syndrome, Schizophrenia, and certain epilepsies. Projects in my group include isolation and identification of bioactive compounds from plants, including tobacco, Laburnum (golden chain tree), Kentucky Coffeetree and other legumes. Synthetic projects include enantioselective Swern oxidations and metal-mediated reactions, synthesis of natural products, such as epiquinamide, and medicinal chemistry of bioactive compounds for determining structure-activity relationships. While I take students at all levels, an understanding of organic chemistry is needed for the synthetic projects and thus preference will be given to those who have completed CHEM 351/352 with reasonable grades.

Biochemistry: Plant and Fungal Enzymes: Browning Reactions in Plants, Fruits, and Vegetables (Flurkey)

Browning reactions occur in plants, fruits, and vegetables just as they do in mammals and invertebrates. These reactions can lead to loss of nutritional quality and consumer appeal in fruits and vegetables. The enzymes responsible for these reactions include tyrosinase (polyphenoloxidase), laccase, and peroxidase. Tyrosinase exists in an inactive or latent form that can be converted into active forms under various conditions. We are currently examining the biochemical characteristics of the active and latent enzyme in order to understand their relation to browning. We are also examining forms of the enzyme that exist during mushroom development using isolelectric focusing and 2-D electrophoresis. Number of participants: one to three, preferably with an interest in biochemistry. Required background: interest in biochemistry, knowledge of organic chemistry. What the participants will learn: biochemical techniques associated with protein and enzyme characterization.

Computational Chemistry: Reactions of Small Organic Molecules on Metal Atoms (Glendening)

Metals promote a variety of insertion, rearrangement, and elimination reactions in organic systems. Though the products of these reactions can be identified in the laboratory, the mechanisms by which they are produced often remain unclear. We use computational chemistry methods to explore, in detail, reactions of small organic molecules on single transition metal atoms. We are particularly interested in understanding how the metal center influences the reaction. Recent attention has focused on the gas-phase reactions of acetylene, ethylene, and formaldehyde with neutral yttrium atoms. Comparison data are available from molecular beam experiments. The calculations reveal that the reactions are controlled by the insertion of metal atoms into C-H bonds. Number of participants: one to three, preferably chemistry majors, freshmen or higher. Required background: interest in computers. What the participants will learn: computational chemistry methods, high-level calculations with the Gaussian 98 and MOLPRO programs, the Linux operating system.

Bioinformatics (Inlow)

The field of bioinformatics centers around the computer-assisted analysis of molecular sequences (protein, DNA, RNA). Bioinformatics tools and techniques can be used to investigate biological questions relating to these sequences, with the goal of providing information and predictions to guide subsequent work by experimentalists. Our work focuses on structural bioinformatics problems, employing sequence analysis in order to predict protein structure and/or function. One project currently underway is the analysis and comparison of the amino acid sequences of the enzyme tyrosinase from a variety of species. Of particular interest are tyrosinases from plants and fungi. Number of participants: one to two undergraduate chemistry majors with an interest in biochemistry. Required background: knowledge of organic chemistry and introductory biology (knowledge of biochemistry is desirable but not essential). What the participants will learn: use of bioinformatics tools for sequence alignment, secondary structure prediction, protein structure visualization, prediction of protein posttranslational modification, and interpretation of results.

Organic Chemistry (Kjonaas)

(1) Synthesis of biologically active compounds. Synthetic organic chemists are very much in demand today. They develop synthetic methods for making new compounds such as pharmaceuticals and materials. They also make compounds that can be used by other scientists with a wide range of research interests. Our attention is currently focused on the use of use of synthetic organic methodologies to modify proteins and carbohydrates. This work is being done in collaboration with Professor Ghosh in the Life Sciences Department. Unlike the original carbohydrate or protein, these new compounds will contain a strongly hydrophobic group and, as such, should have interesting and hopefully useful physical, chemical, and biological properties. Number of participants: one to three. Required background: completion of Chemistry 352 and 352L. What the participants will learn: how to carry out a multistep synthesis along with isolation, purification, and characterization of the intermediate and final products. (2) Development of new small-scale experiments for use with permanent-magnet proton and carbon-13 NMR in undergraduate organic chemistry laboratory courses. Number of participants: one to three. Required background: completion of Chemistry 351 and 351L. What the participants will learn: how to modify the published procedure for a known chemical reaction so that it is can be carried out safely and reliably by students in an undergraduate organic chemistry laboratory course.

Inorganic (Rosenhein)

Compounds of transition metals are studied for many reasons: they are relevant to the active centers of metalloenzymes; they are used as industrial catalysts for transformations of organic molecules; they can be formulated so as to create extended structures with particular geometrical or electronic properties - to mention a few. Here, we concentrate on dinuclear complexes, in which two metal atoms are in proximity, and which usually have sulfur-containing ligands. (Nitrogenase and hydrogenase are two important enzymes that also have these properties.) New compounds are synthesized, after which they must be characterized by spectroscopic means, and sometimes ultimately with x-ray crystallography (performed at Indiana University). Electrochemical characterization is also of great interest, as many of these kinds of compounds can exist in more than one oxidation state. Number of participants: one. Background: organic chemistry. What the participants will learn: synthesis and handling of compounds in an anaerobic environment, typical characterization techniques, studies of reactivity.

Cosmochemistry (Wolf)

The chemical and physical conditions prevailing in the early solar system are recorded in the structure and composition of meteorites. This is particularly true for the primitive ten-family group of meteorites designated as chondrites. Because meteorite composition provides information about the parent planets from which they are derived, a systematic method for meteorite classification is essential to interpretation of this information. Our goal is to develop a systematic chemometric method for the classification of meteorites based on their bulk composition We are investigating the applicability of multivariate chemometric data analysis techniques including discriminant analysis, cluster analysis and principal component analysis of data from published meteorite composition databases for this purpose. Interested students must have completed Chemistry 321, have experience with Microsoft Excel, and have an interest in analytical chemistry and cosmochemistry. Additional information on the classification of meteorites can be found on Dr. Wolf's Research Group Homepage: