Section Navigation: Chemistry and Biochemistry Department
Research in Chemistry and Biochemistry
Nanoparticles used for anticounterfeiting
Dr. Hao Jing's research article on nanoparticles was specially promoted and highlighted by the Royal Society of Chemistry in April 2020 with the publication of a graphic developed by his group.
Faculty in chemistry and biochemistry explore a variety of topics such as developing novel compounds for medicinal applications, such as cancer and Alzheimers, transportation of contaminants in aquatic environments, bioremediation, multi-functional inorganic solid-state materials, nanoparticles, new materials for energy storage and conversion. Select from the general divisions listed below to read descriptions of research topics and connect with faculty mentors.
Dr. Abul Hussam: I have been involved in the development electroanalytical techniques for the study of toxic species in the environment. We are particularly interested in the chemistry of arsenic in groundwater and the development of inexpensive arsenic filters.
First, we have developed a field technique to measure parts-per-billion level of arsenic species in groundwater. Second, we have devised a simple method to purify groundwater from toxic arsenic species. More than 10,000 such filters are in use in Bangladesh and continue to provide more than a Billion liter of clean drinking water.
In addition, we are actively engaged in the development of hardware and virtual software for electroanalytical engines (reagent generator and sensor) to be used with ‘lab-on-chip’ platform. We have also extended the use of electrochemical techniques to understand the diffusion behavior and electron transfer kinetics of lipophilic redox species in organized media such as micelles and microemulsions.
To complement these studies we have built a high precision headspace gas chromatograph to study the partition behavior of volatile species in complex micelles and microemulsions.
Dr. John Schreifels: My laboratory works on problems associated with the solid – gas interface. We study molecular events occurring in the top few atom layers of solid surfaces (thickness levels of about 1/10000 the thickness of a human hair).
Recently, we studied the interaction of fuel additives with stainless steel surfaces. Certain compounds (called metal deactivators, MDA) are added to bulk fuel to eliminate fuel degradation during long term storage under ambient conditions. It turns out that fuels also form dark thick deposits on injectors of jet engines during operation. The temperature in the injector is much higher, which means the deposition rate is much higher than in the bulk fuel. These deposits can cause catastrophic failure of the engine.
The presence of MDA can reduce this effect. We studied the fundamental interactions of the compound with stainless steel in our instrument under ultra – high –vacuum conditions. The vacuum insured that we were studying only the interaction of the compound with the stainless steel surface. We found that the compound broke into smaller fragments upon initial exposure of the surface to the compound.
There were several new compounds generated in addition to the original compound that might have been the cause of the reduced deposition of residues on the surface. In fact because of the temperature at which each of these compounds desorb, from the surface we believe the new compounds may very well be responsible for the reduced rate of deposition.
Using the insights from this study, we will continue to deposit other compounds with chemical structures similar to the compounds detected on the surface to try to understand how to produce an improved effect. Additionally, we are studying the adsorption of compounds that are used to reduce the extent of corrosion.
Finally, our studies have involved metallic surfaces and how they interact with compounds to produce new compounds; these metal surfaces are often called catalysts and are used extensively in the chemical industry.
Dr. Yun Yu: Our laboratory focuses on the nanoscale electrochemistry of low–dimensional materials. We aim to understand and tailor electrocatalytic and photocatalytic reactions at plasmonic nanoparticles and layered van der Waals (vdW) materials. We leverage the capability of scanning electrochemical microscopy to obtain unique insights into the reaction kinetics and structure–activity relationships of the probed material.
With the knowledge gained from nanoelectrochemistry, we explore strategies to design complex material platforms that integrate metallic nanoparticles and 2D semiconducting layers to address the challenges in energy conversion chemistry. We currently work on (1) Electrochemical mapping of vdW heterostructures comprised of a series of 2D transition metal dichalcogenides (TMD). (2) Tailoring the selectivity of molecular electrocatalysis via vdW substrate engineering. (3) Manipulating plasmonic hot carrier energies with semiconductor layers. (4) Tuning the geometric effects of plasmonic/2D TMD heterostructure on its photocatalytic activity.
Dr. Barney Bishop
“In my laboratory, we are interested in applying peptide/protein engineering principles to investigate biomolecules and their function. The rampant increase in the incidence of multi-drug resistant bacteria and the threat of bioterrorism necessitate new approaches to preventing and treating infection.
Higher organisms produce a complex host of molecules that they use to combat infection and invading microbes. In these defensive mechanisms, peptides and proteins consistently stand out as critical elements. Therefore, we are interested in studying the biophysical properties of these molecules and the varied antimicrobial mechanisms employed by them.
As a model system, we are looking at the defensin family of peptides, whose members demonstrate antimicrobial activity against a broad spectrum of pathogens including bacteria, fungi and viruses. We believe that such studies will provide valuable insights into strategies for combating bacterial and viral infections, and we intend use this information in the design of novel therapeutic agents and biomaterials.”
Dr. Robin Couch
The Couch lab is researching several aspects of developments of MEP pathway inhibitor antibiotics, small molecule metabolomics, biosensor/electronic nose, and chemoprevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
The increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistant strains emphasizes the need for continued development of new antibiotics with novel mechanism of action. Many human pathogens exclusively use the methylerythritol phosphate (MEP) pathway, making it an excellent target. To facilitate MEP pathway inhibitor development, my lab has cloned, expressed, and enzymatically characterized several MEP pathway enzymes. We are iteratively deriving structure-activity relationships and performing mechanism of inhibition assays to guide the development of rationally designed synthetic inhibitors of these enzymes.
We are also using state-of-the-art metabolomics techniques to evaluate small molecule metabolites present in biological samples, including feces. We are currently using both GC-MS and LC-MS in our analyses to examine fecal volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We discovered that the current technologies were inadequate to facilitate a proper headspace solid phase microextraction-based (hSPME) metabolomics analysis of biological samples. We developed and patented a device that enables these analyses, and coined the term “simulti-hSPME” to describe our optimal process of using multiple sorbent types to simultaneously extract VOCs of diverse chemistries from a sample. We are also using our newly developed simulti-hSPME for the rapid and minimally invasive detection of biothreat-relevant microbes (“electronic nose”).
We are applying our small molecule and protein expertise to determine the signal transduction mechanism underlying the ability of select small molecules to induce nerve growth factor release from glial cells. Nerve growth factor keeps neurons alive, and thus has promise for the chemoprevention of Alzheimer’s Disease. Using cultured human glial cells, we have utilized reverse phase protein microarrays to generate temporal maps of signal transduction protein activation, and we are now validating the involvement of these proteins/pathways using pathway specific agonists and antagonists.
Dr. Lee Solomon
Dr. Solomon joined Mason in June 2019 as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry. His research lab is in the Institute for Advanced Biomedical Research building on the Science & Tech campus in Manassas, VA. His work centers on using rational-design methodologies to understand natural functions and create proteins and materials, which will allow for the creation of new medicines and energy technologies. Dr. Solomon’s research lab will focus on three primary areas: (1) stimulated structural and morphological changes, (2) protein interactions, and (3) catalytic chemistry.
Dr. Ozlem Dilek
Dr. Dilek joined the department in 2023 as an Assistant Professor and her research lab is in the Institute for Advanced Biomedical Research building on the Science & Tech campus in Manassas, VA. Dr. Dilek's research interests focus on development of novel fluorescent probes tools for selective imaging of biomolecules in live cells and in vivo. Examples of technologies that drive our research are bioorthogonal click chemistry, diagnostics and metal sensing.
The goal of our laboratory is to develop transformative fluorescent probe and click chemistry technologies leveraging our laboratory’s unique multidisciplinary strengths in organic synthesis, fluorescence spectroscopy and cell biology. We also pursue diagnostic applications of our developed tools to particularly for cancer and other human diseases in our own laboratory and through collaborations.
Our research projects are broadly divided into three major topics:
1) Developing fluorescent tools using click chemistry for imaging cancer and other human diseases
2) Developing new visible-light photocatalysis methods for pro-drug conjugation systems;
3) Developing fluorescent imaging agents to detect metals in biological systems and human diseases.
Dr. Andre Clayborne
The Clayborne Research Group aims to develop novel technologies and materials through scientific discovery. We use computation to study the chemical and physical properties of nanoscale materials. Current research interests include the design and virtual screening of nanomaterials for catalysis, developing organometallic nanoparticles for biological applications, battery research, STEM education, and algorithm development. Research is often multidisciplinary, spanning across chemistry, physics, chemical engineering, education, and computer science.
- Chemical and Physical Properties of Structurally Precise Nanoparticles: We use computational models to characterize the chemical and physical properties of a series of organometallic nanoparticles. We probe photodynamic and electronic properties, nanoparticle formation and dissociation, and the properties of their assemblies. Often we try to correlate our results to experimental observations through collaborative efforts.
- Modeling Electrochemical and Heterogeneous catalysis: At the core of developing future materials, one must understand not only the catalytic reaction networks, but also the role of substrate morphology and electronic structure. We are interested in understanding the mechanistic details of various reduction and oxidation reactions on various metal-oxide and nanoscale organometallic structures using computational approaches.
Dr. Fei Wang
My research focuses on using quantum mechanics to describe chemical reactions. As nearly all reactions involve electron/proton migrations, quantum mechanics plays an important role in these processes. Developing theories and computational tools to simulate these processes not only satisfy our scientific curiosity and contribute to fundamental understanding, but also provide practical guidance in designing efficient chemical systems for light harvesting and energy conversion.
- Modeling proton transfer reactions in enzymatic reactions and DNA. Proton transfer reaction is almost ubiquitous in the strategy that enzymes use to catalize biochemical reactions. Proton transfer in DNA is also the proposed mechanism for mutation. Simulation these processes involve using quantum mechanics to describe the proton degree of freedom, and using classical or semi-classical methods to simulate the rest of the molecular skeleton and solvent. These simulations are run on the supercomputer.
- Modeling exciton transfer in organic solar cells and light harvesting complexes. Energy excitation in one part of the molecular aggregate will migrate to the other part. This excitation energy transfer is critical in organic photovoltaics and light harvesting complex in photosynthetic center. Classical hopping picture will not model this process accurately, as significant quantum effect can involve, such as coherence and delocalization. We construct models to simulate the process quantum mechanically.
- Photochemical pathways of luminescent materials. Luminescent materials are important in many daily applications such as LED and medical imaging. Illuminating the mechanisms of radiative and non-radiative decay of these materials can provide valuable insight into the rational design. We use electronic structure methods and rate theory to understand the photochemistry of these materials.
Dr. Gregory Foster: “Students in the Foster research laboratory investigate the sources, reactions and transport of contaminants in the aquatic environment. Currently, we have two ongoing lines of active research. The first involves determining the amounts and sources of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in storm runoff in the Anacostia River, a tributary of the Potomac River that runs through Washington, DC.
PCBs are persistent, carcinogenic organochlorine contaminants that are thought to adversely affect both human and environmental health. The Anacostia River is one of the three most heavily contaminated PCB regions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where the highest sedimentary PCB concentrations have been reported to date. We are aiding in a massive clean up of PCBs in the Anacostia River. Storm flow runoff is the primary mode of input of PCBs in the Anacostia River, and storm flow inputs must be characterized to design effective, long-term clean up strategies.
The second line of research is in determining the inputs of pharmaceutical and personal care chemicals in the Potomac River. Over 32 wastewater treatments plants in the metropolitan DC region release pharmaceutical chemicals through wastewater discharge, and some of these biologically active chemicals are severely impairing reproductive development in fish species by serving as estrogen mimics (as recently reported in the Washington Post). We are investigating the nature of pharmaceutical chemical inputs and potential estrogenic effects in aquatic organisms.”
Dr. Benoit Van Aken: “The mission of the Van Aken’s Environmental Molecular Biology Lab is to develop and apply molecular biology tools to solve environmental issues.
Dr. Van Aken’s primary research interests have focused on the development of molecular biology methods for various environmental applications, including bioremediation, biofuel production, and water quality surveillance. He is currently conducting research in two major areas: (1) the molecular response of organisms exposed to environmental stressors (toxicogenomics) and (2) the development of molecular biomarkers for the detection of harmful aquatic organisms, including pathogens, invasive species, and toxic algae. Dr. Van Aken has been PI or co-PI on multiple research projects funded by state and federal agencies, including NASA, NIH, NSF, PennDOT, SERDP, and USDA.”
Dr. Xiaoyan Tan: “Our group focuses on the discovery of functional and multifunctional inorganic solid-state materials, ranging from intermetallics to oxides, with applications in technology and energy conversion. We specifically target materials with noncentrosymmetric and polar space groups, which include (but not limited to) metallic oxides, oxide thermoelectric materials, multiferroics, and magnetic semiconductors.
Students will be trained on the synthesis of crystalline inorganic solid-state materials by various methods, growth of single crystals, structural analysis, calculations of the electronic structure, and characterization of the physical properties of inorganic solid-state materials. Students will also have the opportunity to learn X-ray neutron diffraction while using state-of-the-art research facilities at national laboratories such as Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and Oak Ridge National laboratory (ORNL).”
Dr. Rebecca Jones: I study the chemistry of photography and alternative processes, such as mordancage. Using analytical techniques, I am curious about the changes to silver in relation to different binders in photographic paper.
Dr. Mikell Paige: The focus of our lab is drug discovery. We utilize medicinal chemistry strategies for the design and synthesis of small molecule modulators of dysfunctional enzymes. We utilize structural biology and computational chemistry in conjunction with kinetic assays to determine enzyme mechanisms. Our capabilities also include the design, synthesis, and characterization of peptidomimetic inhibitors of protein-protein interactions.
Targets we are currently pursuing in our lab are mainly focused on diseases of the lung to include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). We are also developing projects targeting viral infections, gram-negative bacterial infections, and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
■ Design and synthesis of small molecule modulators of the leukotriene A4 hydrolase enzyme for pulmonary inflammation
■ Inhibiting protein-protein interactions with modified natural product macrocycles as a strategy for targeting idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
■ Determining the kinetic mechanisms for small molecule activators of enzymes
■ Iterative approaches to the synthesis of new peptidomimetic scaffolds
Dr. Chao Luo: “Dr. Luo's current work focuses on (1) structure design and material fabrication for organic alkali-ion batteries, (2) high-energy lithium sulfur batteries, and (3) all-solid-state lithium batteries.
Dr. Luo’s research explores the use of organic/inorganic materials and new fabrication techniques to design and synthesize novel organic electrodes, porous carbon, nanostructures and their hybrid composites to address environment and energy challenges. A fundamental understanding of reaction mechanism and kinetics, investigation of structure-property correlations and development of functional structures and devices will be explored.”
Dr. Hao Jing
We focus on the synthesis and characterization of optically-active gold and/or silver nanoparticles as well as hybrid nanostructures made of two or more compounds with a high degree of dispersed uniformity in size and shape. We also work on lanthanide-doped or rare-earth doped upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) which convert low-energy near-infrared photons into high-energy fluorescent emissions which are highly tunable across the ultraviolet (UV) and visible spectral regions. These questions are investigated via simple and robust wet chemistry methods based on the characteristics of the solution.
- We are currently interested in metal-semiconductor core-shell hybrid hetero-nanostructures with extinction peaks tuned to near-infrared (NIR) spectral region. This will lead to the efficient conversion of solar energy especially the NIR portions into chemical energy through photocatalytic reactions by utilizing novel anisotropic hybrid nanostructures.
- Another current project is the rational design of smart probes based on NIR-excited lanthanide- doped upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) for latent fingerprint imaging and particularly, encryption.
- We are also interested in intelligent NIR light-triggered anticancer drug release utilizing novel nanostructures based on UCNPs and their derivatives due to their remarkable advantages such as deep penetration depth, no blinking or biotoxicity and non-invasiveness.
Undergraduate and graduate students are an integral part of our research in chemistry. Opportunities are available within the department for undergraduate participation in original research in conjunction with the chemistry faculty. This may be achieved through CHEM 355, CHEM 451 and 452 (Special Projects in Chemistry) or through involvement with faculty members on externally funded research grants.
Help wounds heal faster
Equipped with a $7.57 million contract with the federal government’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), biochemist Barney Bishop and systems biology researcher Monique van Hoek are exploring how Komodo Dragon peptides might be used to create super antibiotics of the future.
Understanding a historic photographic process
Dr. Rebecca Jones and Caroline Fudala (BS Biochemistry, 2019) unveiled the mysterious chemistry behind the mordanҫage process. In 2019, they published their work in the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry.
Center for Drug Discovery for Rare and Underserved Diseases