Faculty Research Projects

Many faculty members engage undergraduates in their research. Students can receive units for their research by enrolling in Chem 397. Undergraduates work closely with their faculty mentors, and in some cases experienced Masters students, to answer interesting scientific questions. Undergraduates are very often credited for contributing key experimental results and insights to a project that is later published as a Research Paper  in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Here is a list of our current research-active faculty, along with a brief description of their research interests. Click on a name to read about that faculty's research projects. For more information on a specific area, please contact our faculty via e-mail.

Megan E. Bolitho 
Claire Castro 
Jeff Curtis 
Lawrence D. Margerum 
Giovanni Meloni  

 Megan E. Bolitho: Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry

Disrupting Bacterial Quorum Sensing Using Small Molecules. Our group studies the phenomenon of cell-cell communication in bacteria known as quorum sensing. As quorum sensing systems have been implicated in the expression of virulence factors in a wide range of pathogenic bacteria, these pathways are promising new drug targets. Our group utilizes the techniques of synthetic organic chemistry, molecular biology, and biochemistry to develop and evaluate new anti-quorum sensing compounds as potential novel antimicrobial agents. Specifically, we are synthesizing analogs of the small molecule S-ribosylhomocysteine (SRH), a precursor to the interspecies quorum sensing communication signal autoinducer-2 (AI-2), in order to find a potent inhibitor of the AI-2 synthase protein, LuxS. We are also developing an in vitro LuxS fluorescence assay to evaluate the activity of our inhibitors in vitro. In this interdisciplinary project, organic and biochemists work together collaboratively towards a common goal in our lab.  

 Claire Castro: Organic and Computational Chemistry

Dynamic Processes in Organic Molecules. Both annulenes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons continue to provide valuable insights into the concept of aromaticity, reaction mechanisms and novel topologies and materials. Our computational work with undergraduate students has provided a new mechanism for facile thermal cis-trans isomerization in annulenes. This mechanism is distinct from the well-established text book mechanism that involves breaking a pi-bond. More recent work on pi-bond shifting reveals that new modes such as planar, non-degenerate pi-bond shifting (bottom left) and two-twist pi-bond shifting (bottom right) might play a role in observed annulene chemistry. We also use computational methods to critically assess whether experimentalists have made correct structural assignments with respect to annulenes and related species (e.g, dehydroannulenes, annulene radical anions) and to predict what properties these species might have. 

Claire's Research Annulene

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are very important in the generation of carbon-rich materials (e.g., nanotubes) and have been the focus of vigorous work. Flash vacuum pyrolysis (FVP) is a long-standing method for preparing new carbon-based topologies. Understanding the mechanisms for these high-energy reactions is essential if experimentalists are to rationally design materials using this method. Of primary interest to our group is understanding Stone-Wales type rearrangements observed in a host of hydrocarbons:

Claire's reserach. Stone Wales  

 Jeff Curtis: Inorganic Chemistry

Electron- and Charge-Transfer Processes in Transition Metals. Our research program focuses on the energetics and dynamics of electron-transfer reactions as well as spectroscopic charge-transfer processes between transition metal complexes in solution. We have a particular interest in how non-covalent interactions mediate the quantum mechanical electronic coupling between redox partners. We are also interested in how details of the solvent-solute interaction as well as any ion-pairing interactions impact redox reaction mechanisms. The work involves synthesis of novel transition metal complexes followed by kinetic and spectroscopic measurements using a full range of instrumentation: these include electroanalytical, UV-Vis-NIR, NMR, IR/Raman, stopped-flow and fluorescence lifetime measurements.  

 Lawrence D. Margerum: Inorganic and Analytical Chemistry

Surface Tethered Dendrimers (STD) for immobilized metal indicator release assays. We are grafting soluble nanoparticles called PAMAM dendrimers (treelike) onto controlled pore glass beads to create new, high-density reactive surfaces. Subsequent modifications to these Surface Tethered Dendrimers (STD) with metal-dye complexes lead to highly colored beads. The beads release the dye into water when added to solutions containing a substrate of interest (a type of colorimetric sensor).

Current work focuses on characterization of all the synthetic steps in this process and adding the blue beads to solutions of different substrates (including some biologically important molecules) to see if the dye can be displaced. Our group uses chemical and instrumental methods to measure the amount of metal ion on the beads, the number of primary amines on the surface and the amount of dye absorbed/released by the beads (Current Methods: Atomic Absorption, UV-Vis, fluorescence, surface IR, chemical sensors). 

Larry's research

 Giovanni Meloni: Physical Chemistry

Products and Intermediates Characterization of Biofuel Reactions. The research projects in our group are focused on the characterization of biofuel reaction products and intermediates. Our experiments are carried out at the Chemical Dynamics Beamline of the Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The experimental apparatus we use is a multiplex photoionization mass spectrometer. 

Giovanni's Research

1“Direct observation of the gas‐phase Criegee intermediate (CH2OO) in dimethyl sulphoxide oxidation,” C. A. Taatjes, G. Meloni, T. M. Selby, A. J. Trevitt, D. L. Osborn, C. J. Percival, and D. E. Shallcross, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 130, 11883 (2008).

2“Energy‐resolved photoionization of alkyl peroxy radicals and the stability of their cations,” G. Meloni, P. Zou, S. J. Klippenstein, M. Ahmed, S. R. Leone, C. A. Taatjes, and D. L. Osborn, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 128, 13559 (2006).

3“Photoionization of 1‐alkenylperoxy and alkylperoxy radicals and a general rule for the stability of their cations,” G. Meloni, T. M. Selby, F. Goulay, S. R. Leone, D. L. Osborn, and C. A. Taatjes, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 129, 14019 (2007).