Chemistry

All Majors & Minors

Faculty-Student Research

Chemistry was the first department at Ursinus College to have a summer research program.

As a charter member of the Intercollegiate Student Chemists Convention (ISC), the Chemistry Department has a long tradition of involving its undergraduates in research. For many years, ISC was the principal venue for student presentation of research work. However, in the past 20 years, our students have been presenting papers and posters in a wide variety of local, regional, and national meetings and have been co-authors on numerous publications.

The department offers one-, two-, and four-credit-hour research/independent study courses and actively encourages our majors to enroll in these offerings or in an off-campus internship. As a result, most of our majors graduate with some degree of research experience.

Traditional Research Areas for Faculty

Analytical

Eric Williamsen – High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is one of the most commonly used separation techniques in chemistry and biochemistry, but a complete, molecular level understanding of the separation process has not been obtained. For a separation to occur, analytes must interact with the stationary phase component of the HPLC separation medium. My students and I are contributing to this understanding by characterizing fluorinated and other stationary phases as a function of temperature, stationary phase, mobile phase, and analyte type. Because a large amount of data is acquired, we are analyzing the data with a variety of multivariate analysis techniques. These projects are of interest to students who want experience in troubleshooting and working with common scientific instruments, such as HPLC with diode array and mass spectrometric detectors, or want experience with increasingly used multivariate analysis techniques. Students who have interests in analytical, biological, and physical chemistry will find these projects interesting.

Biochemistry

Amanda Reig – I seek to create protein-based structural, spectroscopic, and functional models of metalloenzymes to understand how nature activates dioxygen and catalyzes chemical transformations with such great specificity. We are currently interested in the design and characterization of simple, four-helix bundle protein models of oxygen-activating diiron enzymes. Students will use common molecular biology techniques to mutate and produce model proteins and/or characterize the structure and reactivity of a model protein using a wide range of spectroscopic techniques.

Organic

Victor Tortorelli - Professor Tortorelli investigates the mechanism of the reduction of benzil to give a variety of stereochemical products. By using deuterium labeling we can gain insights into the mechanism of this reaction. A second area of interest is the forensic analysis of materials using analytical chemistry. We use solid phase microextraction (SPME) techniques coupled with GC/ms for headspace analysis of fire debris. Finally we have developed experiments that incorporate readily available technology and instrumentation for use in science outreach programs.

Ryan Walvoord - Our group’s research is focused on applying organic synthesis for the creation of chemical tools.  In particular, we are interested in synthesizing color- and/or fluorescent-responsive small molecules for the detection of environmental toxins such as pesticides and disinfection byproducts.  A related area of interest is the creation of custom fluorophores that may find application in other areas of science, including bioimaging, forensics, and as laser dyes.

Inorganic

Brian Pfennig - Our group is interested in photo-induced electron transfer processes occurring in mixed-valence compounds with more than two metal centers. In addition to addressing such basic science questions as how remote metal centers communicate electronically with each other, we are also interested in the design of molecular devices, such as a photochemical switch or molecular wires made out of coordination compounds. Students working on these projects will gain experience in classical inorganic synthesis, column chromatography, electrochemical methods, and electronic and vibrational spectroscopy.

Amanda Reig –I seek to create protein-based structural, spectroscopic, and functional models of metalloenzymes to understand how nature activates dioxygen and catalyzes chemical transformations with such great specificity. We are currently interested in the design and characterization of simple, four-helix bundle protein models of oxygen-activating diiron enzymes. Students will use common molecular biology techniques to mutate and produce model proteins and/or characterize the structure and reactivity of a model protein using a wide range of spectroscopic techniques.

Nanoscience

Mark Ellison - I am currently working with Professor Michael Strano at MIT to study the motion of ions through single-walled carbon nanotubes.  We are studying the motion of metal ions to determine whether nanotubes could be used to remove toxic ions from contaminated water.  We are also studying the motion of amino acids as a step toward using carbon nanotubes to probe the contents of cells.

I also have research projects that involve functionalizing carbon nanotubes for applications in fields as varied as solar energy and nanomedicine. For solar energy, we are pursuing the functionalization of carbon nanotubes with molecular wires, which are organic molecules that conduct electricity. For nanomedicine applications, we are studying how carbon nanotubes enter cells and whether they can be used to deliver drugs to targeted cells. The research involves synthetic strategies to functionalize the nanotubes characterization using IR, UV-vis, and other spectroscopies, and study of their performance in simulated solar cells or their interaction with cells.

Physical Chemistry

Mark Ellison - I am currently working with Professor Michael Strano at MIT to study the motion of ions through single-walled carbon nanotubes.  We are studying the motion of metal ions to determine whether nanotubes could be used to remove toxic ions from contaminated water.  We are also studying the motion of amino acids as a step toward using carbon nanotubes to probe the contents of cells.

I also have research projects that involve functionalizing carbon nanotubes for applications in fields as varied as solar energy and nanomedicine. For solar energy, we are pursuing the functionalization of carbon nanotubes with molecular wires, which are organic molecules that conduct electricity. For nanomedicine applications, we are studying how carbon nanotubes enter cells and whether they can be used to deliver drugs to targeted cells. The research involves synthetic strategies to functionalize the nanotubes characterization using IR, UV-vis, and other spectroscopies, and study of their performance in simulated solar cells or their interaction with cells.



Recent Research

CoSA

The Celebration of Student Achievement (CoSA) is an all-day campus-wide event which engages the entire campus community in the presentation, discussion and celebration of all forms of intellectual and creative work done by our students at all levels of their college careers.