Chemistry and Biochemistry Research
The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is committed to excellence in cutting-edge interdisciplinary research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. With our dedicated faculty and state-of-the-art facilities, our Department offers a unique environment for our students to excel in interdisciplinary research, new discoveries, and a culture of life-long learning. What makes our research program unique is the close working relationship between students and faculty and our commitment to the one-on-one mentoring. Graduate and undergraduate students are encouraged to contact faculty members to discuss mutual research interests. In addition, the interdisciplinary research activities span a wide range of topics in biological, organic, inorganic, analytical, and physical chemistry with specific research emphasis.
Inorganic elements, such as metal ions, play important roles in biological systems. Faculty members in our department are interested in the roles of iron porphyrins in oxidation chemistry (Zhdankin), copper plays in natural oxidoreductase enzymes (Berry), or calcium in protein signaling events (Hinderliter). Furthermore, the use of iodine compounds as redox reagents has been an area of active study (Zhdankin).
Membrane and Cellular Biophysics
The complex, heterogeneous, and dynamic nature of biomembranes in cell biology play an important role in cellular processes such as cell signaling, protein trafficking, and cell communications. Model membranes, for examples, are being used to investigate the underlying thermodynamics of membrane-protein interactions (Hinderliter, Heikal, and Sheets) and calcium protein activation (Hinderliter). Another research area is to understand the role of lipid-cholesterol-protein interactions in lipid domain formations and IgE receptor signaling in mast cells (Heikal and Sheets).
The Minnesota Supercomputing Institute is regularly used by our faculty to investigate a number of chemical problems such as electron orbital energies, structures, and spectroscopies of numerous porphyrin based systems for potential light harvesting. Using the same computational approaches, the physical chemistry of solids and gases are being investigated using Monte Carlo simulation (Siders). In addition, boron-containing compounds are also being investigated using molecular dynamics calculations for potential applications in the LED field and cell imaging (Kiprof).
The social and economic impacts of diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and bacterial infection dictate a need for new drug discoveries and new basic knowledge concerning structure-function relationship of cellular proteins and enzymes. Our organic chemists are actively creating new classes of drug molecules for targeted diseases as well as to emulate natural products with biological activity (Mereddy, Carlson, and Grundt).
Disease Mechanisms and Signaling Pathways
The properties, preferred substrates, and inhibitors of a protease family are being investigated due to their implication in Alzheimer’s disease (Johnson). Factors that influence the reduction potential and substrate binding ability of an important class of hormone synthesizing dinuclear copper enzymes is being modeled using protein design techniques (Berry). We are also interested in the molecular underpinning of the allergic response in mast cells, with particular emphasis of protein-protein interactions and nanostructural changes in the plasma membrane associated with IgE receptor signaling (Sheets and Heikal). We are examining the mechanism of inhibition of cellular proteases by a class of designed inhibitory drugs (Johnson and Mereddy). Energy metabolism and mitochondrial activities in healthy and diseased cells are also being investigated using natural coenzymes as biomarkers (Heikal).
In northern states, especially Minnesota, there is a need for new sensors to detect frozen water on bridges and roads for motorists’ safety. We are developing small durable devices using time domain reflectometry techniques to address this problem (Evans).
Environmental and Fresh Water Chemistry
UMD is located on Lake Superior, the largest body of fresh water in the world. This provides a unique opportunity for our researchers who are interested in the environmental impact of carbon and other elements. We use cutting edge mass spectrometry and other state-of-the-art techniques to track carbon through its natural cycles in fresh water as a probe for environmental changes that may impact our daily lives (Minor).
Material Engineering for Molecular Electronics and Light Harvesting
Organometallic porphyrins and their analogues hold a great promise for molecular electronics and bio-sensing devices. Metallocenyl-containing macrocycles, for example, are being investigated for random-access memory (RAM) development in molecular computations as well as bio-sensors for intracellular redox reactions. We are also developing efficient light-harvesting materials, using new molecular multichromophoric designs. This effort will ultimately improve the performance of existing Organic Photovoltaic devices and dye-sensitized solar cells towards sustainable energy production. Novel boron-containing compounds are also being synthesized and investigated, using molecular dynamics calculations, for potential applications in the light-emitting diode (LED) field (Kiprof).