Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry Undergraduate Research Opportunities
The following summaries describe the broad areas of research conducted in the department this year. If you are interested in becoming involved, make an appointment with the faculty member of interest, or talk with your advisor. In general, undergraduate research during the academic year is done as part of Independent Study courses. You register for these after consulting with the faculty research mentor and filling out a form for the registrar.
Dr. Jacqueline Bennett studies green synthesis of organic compounds. These are methods used to form known compounds using either less energy or solvents and reagents that are more environmentally benign. In addition, Dr. Bennett studies luminescent chemical compounds. Dr. Bennett, in collaboration with Dr. Odago and Dr. John Dudek at Hartwick College, have NSF funding supporting portions of this work.
Dr. Ronald Bishop is an expert on chemical issues related to the petroleum industry. Part of his work is investigating the chemical components of hydraulic fracturing fluids by developing laboratory-based chemical models of these fluids and the methods used to study them. Another part of Dr. Bishop’s work involves field studies of abandoned oil and gas wells, as well as other petroleum industry infrastructure.
Dr. Joseph Chiang’s research involves the following areas:
Dr. Kelly Gallagher’s biochemical research group focuses on structure-function studies of the human proteins TTC35, COX4 neighbor, and CGI-112. Although they are precise cellular role is unknown, these molecules have recently been identified as components of the ER membrane protein complex (EMC 2, eight, and nine, respectively). This complex has been implicated in several important biological processes including protein “quality control” as well as lipid transport. Defects in the EMC have been linked to cystic fibrosis, several neurodegenerative diseases, and most recently the pathogenicity of HIV and the viruses that cause Dengue and Yellow fevers. We are trying to determine the three-dimensional structure of the proteins and determine the molecular components that determine the functional properties of each molecule. Techniques used in the lab include computational modeling of macromolecules, protein purification from recombinant bacteria, gel electrophoresis, Western blotting, in vitro binding assays, chemical labeling of proteins, and spectroscopy (UV-visible, circular dichroism, protein NMR). We also collaborate with Dr. Nancy Bachman of the Biology Department to create genetic constructs that can be used to produce modified versions of the proteins we study.
Dr. Gallagher also has a strong interest in science outreach/education and teacher education she currently serves as Assistant Director of the Al Read Science Discovery Center of Oneonta, a small interactive science Center on the SUNY Oneonta campus. She is involved in many outreach programs designed to educate the public about both basic science and emerging technologies brought about by recent advances in chemical research. Students interested in developing or participating in teaching the public about science in fun and interactive ways can contact Dr. Gallagher or Dr. Paul French of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Dr. Heike Geisler’s research interests are in the materials science field of Surface Science.. She investigates the adsorption and reactions of molecules on metal surfaces in Ultra-High Vacuum (1X 10-11 Torr). Topics of interest are catalytic processes at surfaces, the formation of self- assembled monolayers (SAMs) on single crystal surfaces, and the growth of two-dimensional materials such as graphene on transition metal substrates. Much of Dr. Geisler’s research work involves collaborations with colleagues at the Albany NanoCollege. Students working with her will periodically travel to the Nanocenter to run experiments.
Dr. Allan Green’s research concerns mechanisms that regulate fatty acid release from adipocytes (fat cells). This work is important in developing new approaches to treatment and prevention of Type 2 diabetes, which is often a consequence of obesity. Fatty acids are primarily released by adipocytes as a result of hydrolysis of triacylglycerol (fat). This can result in higher than normal concentrations of fatty acids in the bloodstream and oxidation of fatty acids by muscle and other tissues can inhibit uptake and metabolism of glucose. In a lean person this is an important mechanism for ensuring that blood glucose concentrations do not fall to dangerous levels during food deprivation, prolonged exercise, or consumption of a very low carbohydrate diet. However in an overweight or obese person, fatty acids are often released from a dip a sites inappropriately, and this can inhibit glucose uptake and metabolism, leading to hyperglycemia and eventually two diabetes.
Dr. Green works with students on a variety of projects related to regulation of adipocyte lipolysis. The most common experimental approach is to isolate that cells from rats and study the effect of addition of various metabolites, hormones, and dietary supplements on the rate of lipolysis. Triacylglycerol (fat) molecules consist of three fatty acid molecules esterified to one molecule of glycerol. Therefore lipolysis results in release of three mols of fatty acid for each mol of glycerol. Fatty acids can be metabolized by adipocytes but these cells lack the enzyme (glycerol kinase) for metabolism of glycerol. Therefore measurement of the rate of glycerol release provides an accurate and convenient measurement of lipolysis. Glycerol concentrations are relatively easy to measure by an enzymatic assay. Identification of new mechanisms that alter the rate of adipocyte lipolysis may lead to new therapeutic approaches to treatment or prevention of type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Maurice Odago’s research interests involve designing and honing the techniques of modern methodologies of organic synthesis. Towards this and, his group has been pursuing the synthesis of calorimetric and luminescent anion sensors “compounds that selectively change color/glow or quench-refuse to glow) upon interaction with specific analytes, which can be anions/cations.
Dr. Odago’s other research interest is in the synthesis of chiral ferrocenyl-substituted ligands that are in the family of N-Heterocyclic carbenes for potential applications as chiral auxiliaries in homogeneous asymmetric catalysis (make single-handed carbon coordinated stereodirecting groups, that an able preferential formation of single-handed enantiomeric products in transition-metal catalyzed organic transformations).
Dr. Odago’s last, but certainly not least, research interest, is to provide students with an enabling research environment to interact, explore, test their imaginations in chemistry, have fun and grow to become better scientists and develop essential skills to manipulate and carry out delicate organometallic reactions in inert atmospheres. Because it is just really cool and amazing.
Dr. Odago, in collaboration with Dr. Bennett and Dr. John Dudek at Hartwick College, has NSF funding supporting portions of this work.
Dr. Trudy Thomas Smith’s research interests fall into three categories. They are (1) basic analytical chemistry in which portable analytical instruments are designed, constructed, and tested. (2) Environmental chemistry in which the concentration and fate of emerging contaminants from personal care products and pharmaceuticals in natural waters are determined and (3) History of Science which involves the examination of the role of Black, African American and other scientists from ethnic minority groups in the scientific enterprise and societal recognition of that role.
Dr. Bill Vining creates educational software, particularly interactive simulations and tutorial modules. Students interested in working with Dr. Vining learn to design and program such modules and need no programming experience.