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: Investigating plant emissions under stress

Mentor: Prof. Delphine FarmerIMG_2448

Project Description: Plant emissions of volatile organic compounds are oxidized in the atmosphere, leading to the formation of secondary organic aerosol and ozone, potentially impacting both air quality and climate. However, plant emissions are changing as a result of stress: climate change is increasing temperatures, impacting drought stress, while anthropogenic pollution is increasing ozone and nitrogen deposition, altering plant health. The ways in which plant emissions change in response to these stresses are poorly constrained. In this project, a student will investigate the use of cartridge samplers for off-line measurement of monoterpene isomers with GC-MS with the aim of studying plant emissions of volatile organic compounds following drought stress. Students will get hands-on experience with environmental experimental design, gas-phase sampling and data analysis.

Project #2: Designing Peptide-Based Biomaterials

Mentor: Prof. Martin McCullaghmccullagh

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: High Speed Schlieren Photography of Combustion Ignition inside a Rapid Compression Machine

Mentor: Prof. Azer Yalin  REU_NSF_Pictures

Our overall project relates to basic studies of ignition and combustion with goals of improving efficiency and reducing pollutant emissions of combustion devices. More specifically, the REU student will implement High Speed Schlieren Photography inside a Rapid Compression Machine. Schlieren photography is a widely used experimental technique that allows visualization of flow-field density variations due to associated variations of the index-of-refraction of light. The Rapid Compression Machine (RCM) is an opposed piston system that compresses gases (fuel air mixtures) to high pressures and temperatures representative of internal combustion engines. In some cases we operate the RCM under auto-ignition (like a diesel engine) while in other cases we use a laser induced plasma to provide an external ignition source. The REU student will work with other researchers in the Department of Mechanical Engineering to use the Schlieren technique to measure flame properties (such as flame speed and flame stretching) for methane/air mixtures at various conditions inside the RCM, thereby improving the basic understanding of the ignition process.

Project #4: Modeling Solar Photocatalysis

Mentor: Prof. Tony Rappé

Step minimization is a mantra of energy efficiency as well as waste reduction. As we project toward a sustainable future selectivity, catalysis, earth-abundant materials, as well as utilizing solar energy are important considerations.  Within the Organic photocatalysis literature there are numerous examples of light-driven catalytic oxidations and reductions that are significantly more product and diastereo-selective than the corresponding electrochemically-driven processes. When earth-abundant first row transition metals are thrown into the mix, electron spin becomes a challenging ancillary variable. The summer research student working on this project will use electronic structure software to compute excitation energies as well as excited state reaction profiles for earth-abundant photocatalysts.  The research student will learn the basics of scientific programming, the use of electronic structure codes, and gain a better understanding of sustainable chemistry.

Project #5: Organic meets biological chemistry

Mentor: Prof. Debbie Crans 

The regiospecific saturation of lipoquinone isopropyl side-chain of bacterial menaquinone (MK) is known to aid classification of bacterial species. For example the reductive conversion of MK-9 to MK-9(II-H2), see below, is conserved throughout the Mycobacterium spp.

cransWe recently reported that MenJ (Rv0561c) of Mycobacterium tuberculosis was shown to catalyze the hydrogenation of a single isoprene unit in the MK-9 and as a result are interested in this class of compounds. We are currently in the process of synthesizing and characterizing these compounds using spectroscopic techniques, electrochemistry and computational methods. For example, after preparation of MK-2 (menaquinone with n=1) we study its conformation using 2D NMR spectroscopy and examine how it interact with interfaces in a model membrane system.