Featured Research Projects

The projects described below are featured to:

(a) highlight the variety of research opportunities available in the CSU Chemistry program, and
(b) link less-experienced undergraduate researchers to thoughtfully constructed assignments, with the aim to maximize discoveries and research productivity.

Please note: prospective REU participants are welcome to apply to work with any of our participating faculty.


Project #1: Visible light Photoredox Catalysts for Polymer Synthesis 

Mentor: Prof. Garret Miyake

Project Description: Synthetic polymers are the most important materials to society. The chemical composition, molecular weight, and architecture influence the properties of the polymer. Our research develops organic photoredox catalysts that are driven by specific wavelengths of light for the synthesis of well-defined polymers. The REU student will work with other group members to use photoredox catalysts in polymerization catalysis for the synthesis of new materials, while gaining knowledge in catalysis, polymer chemistry, and materials characterization.

Project #2: Designing Peptide-Based Biomaterials

Mentor: Prof. Martin McCullaghmccullagh

Project Description: Peptides provide a useful basis for self-assembling biomaterials due to the diversity of macrostructures that they can form. Peptides are also inherently biocompatible suggesting that they are useful materials for biomedical applications. The chemistry of the composite amino acids also provides a useful basis for smart switchable materials. As an example, the aspartate/aspartic acid residues in a 16 member peptide with a RADA repeat (RADA16) can be protonated or deprotonated depending on pH. Using coarse-grained models we can investigate the self-assembly behavior at different pH values. As is depicted in the figure above, we observe face to face aggregation behavior at neutral pH (pH=7) while we observe only end-to-end assembly at acidic pH (pH=2). Our results are in good agreement with experiment and provide a basis to aid in the molecular design of switchable peptide-based materials.

Project #3: Catalytic Synthesis of Chiral Ether Compounds

Mentor: Prof. Jeff Bandar

Project Description: Our group aims to streamline the synthesis of important small molecule building blocks frequently used in the pharmaceutical industry. To do this, projects in the Bandar Group involve the design and study of catalysts that promote reactions between common functional groups in ways that are currently not possible. We perform mechanistic studies in order to optimize these reactions; this includes conducting kinetic measurements and structure activity relationship comparisons. Students conducting summer research will take this approach in order to develop new catalysts and methods to prepare chiral ethers, which are frequently found in modern pharmaceuticals (see figure). As part of this work, students will learn to use diverse instrumentation techniques (NMR, GC, HPLC and MS) and will also participate in group meetings where we will discuss and present our research findings.

Project #4: Molecule-based MRI Thermometry

Mentor: Prof. Joseph Zadrozny

Project Description: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a powerful diagnostic window into the body. However, many diseases cause changes in the body’s chemistry, and MRI is profoundly limited in its ability to detect such changes. In this project, a REU student will explore transition metal complexes as MRI sensors. These sensors will be important steps toward new MRI probes that detect diagnostic chemical information. Students will perform air-stable and air-sensitive inorganic syntheses of molecular complexes with a specific design principle in mind. Then, the student will investigate prepared molecules with spectroscopy to gain key insight into electronic structure. Tests of the viability of the agent for MRI detection will proceed via solution NMR studies, which will seek to correlate structure to function. This project will provide an REU student with an experience that spans the key dimensions of modern coordination chemistry.