Faculty-Student Research

Student-faculty collaborative research is a strength of the program. Research projects are ongoing in the areas of analytical, physical, organic, inorganic, and biochemistry. The research experience may be as short as a single semester or it may last for a year and even culminate to a published paper. All students who are pursuing an American Chemical Society approved major must complete one year of undergraduate research. Please take a few minutes to check out the exciting research opportunities available.

Dr. Michael Dvorak – Analytical Chemistry

http://web.stcloudstate.edu/madvorak

My research interests are based on the practical application of fluorescence and luminescence techniques for the detection and quantification of select species in mixtures. This can take on either a theoretical or experimental application. On the theoretical side, our goal is to develop simple, matrix based algorithms that can model the spectroscopic response from the components of a mixture. The results of these models are compared with experimental results to determine the validity of the model. On the experimental side, we are interested in using pulsed (laser based) and non-pulsed (traditional lamp) techniques aimed at generating either fluorescence lifetimes (pulsed mode) or fluorescence signatures (lamp) from species on surfaces, species separated via chromatographic techniques, or species intrinsic to a mixture.

Other projects include establishing a Resonance Enhanced Multiphoton Ionization (REMPI) workstation for ultratrace detection of aromatic species in the gas phase. I am also involved in understanding the nature of dative bonding via several techniques including IR grazing angle and possibly Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS) on self assembled monolayers, gas phase IR in a supersonic slit expansion (in collaboration with the U of MN), and fluorescence signatures of select B-N species in solution phase.

The interested student should note that my work requires a “hands-on” aptitude to work with chemical instrumentation and to trouble-shoot experimental methodology. Although programming skills are not necessary, students desiring to develop programming skills are especially welcome. I believe that students ultimately interested in graduate or post- SCSU activities in a physical/analytical laboratory are a good fit for my lab.

Dr. Michael Jeannot – Analytical Chemistry

http://web.stcloudstate.edu/majeannot

We are investigating simple microextraction techniques capable of performing trace analysis on environmental or biological samples. In particular, we are developing and applying a technique called solvent microextraction in which a microliter of extracting solvent is suspended from the tip of a syringe needle in the headspace above (or directly immersed in) an aqueous sample. Volatile or semi-volatile organic compounds (pollutants such as chloroform and benzene) are preconcentrated in the microdrop, which is then analyzed by gas chromatography - mass spectrometry or other techniques. Current and future research in this area includes: application of the technique to new analytical problems of interest, and investigation of the mass transfer kinetics of the headspace (3-phase) system.

Dr. Rebecca Krystyniak - Chemistry Education

http://web.stcloudstate.edu/rakrystyniak

Areas of interest include investigating student’s conceptual understanding of ionic compounds at the particulate level, the effects of the order of chemistry content instruction on student understanding, and student understanding of the language of chemistry and how that understanding relates to symbolic representations of molecules and compounds.  I have also been working on a project to investigate student understanding and ability to draw Lewis Dot Structures. 

Many of my research interests revolve around inquiry and it’s implementation into the classroom and the laboratory.  I am interested in reforming the undergraduate laboratory experience to include both guided- and open-inquiry activities.  Part of this process would include developing instruments to measure learning outcomes of these inquiry activities.  I am also interested in incorporating research-based inquiry-focused pedagogy into the Preparatory Chemistry course.

Dr. Tamara Leenay – Organic Chemistry

Research interests are in synthetic organic chemistry and outreach development.

Dr. Mohammad Mahroof-Tahir – Inorganic Chemistry

http://web.stcloudstate.edu/mmahroof

My group is involved in synthesis and characterization of vanadium complexes with promising antidiabetic properties. These complexes are characterized by using instrumental techniques like NMR, IR, UV-vis, and GC-MS. We characterize these complexes in a solution state to get an insight into the active species with antidiabetic properties. We are also working on understanding the mechanistic and structure activity relationship (SAR) studies in which complexes are synthesized with systematic variations in their structures. These complexes are tested for their enzyme inhibition properties with three key enzymes, protein tyrosine phosphatase, alpha glucosidase and phosphodiasterase, which play an important role in diabetes.

My research group is also involved in synthesis and characterization of anticancer complexes of titanium and germanium. The studies of the interaction of these complexes with DNA are carried out by using NMR spectroscopy and other instrumental techniques to understand the mechanism and action of these complexes. The anticancer properties and enzyme inhibition studies of these complexes are carried out in my collaborators’ laboratories.

Dr. Jack McKenna – Physical Chemistry

http://web.stcloudstate.edu/jfmckenna

Current research topics include:

  1. Analysis of codeine in poppy seed muffins by GC-MS.
  2. Photochemically induced reactions using laser pointers.
  3. Growth of "large" crystals for a macro-crystalography demonstration.
  4. Development of a technique for the recovery of silver for a CHEM 210 experiment.
  5. Analysis of the fire hazard in the copper-to-silver-to-gold demonstration.
  6. A modification of the "glowing pickle" demonstration.
  7. Development of an NMR equilibrium/kinetics laboratory for pchem.
  8. Development of an NMR experiment on the hydration of aspirin.
  9. Modification of general chemistry experiments to be more "discovery-based."
  10. Development of novel chemical demonstrations.

Dr. Mark Mechelke – Organic Chemistry

http://web.stcloudstate.edu/mmechelke

One strategy in cancer treatment is the development of drugs that will selectively induce apoptosis in tumor cells.  The ability of cancer cells to avoid apoptosis and continue to proliferate is one of the key steps in cancer development.  One potential source for new chemotherapeutic agents is natural products.  Natural products and synthetic derivatives of natural products make up over 60% of all cancer drugs used today.  

GoniothalaminAn example of a natural product that we are working on in my laboratory is goniothalamin (1).  Goniothalamin is a natural product originally isolated from the dried stem bark of trees and shrubs from the goniothalamus genus.  In preliminary studies, goniothalamin has been shown to exhibit low micromolar IC50 values against a variety of different cancer cell lines.  These IC50 values illustrate that goniothalamin’s structure could potentially be used as a template for chemotherapeutic drug design.  A better understanding of goniothalamin’s mechanism of action might lead to the synthesis of derivatives that demonstrate even more potent cytotoxicity. 

The research in my laboratory is directed toward the design and synthesis of novel natural product analogues that will exhibit lower IC50 values against cancer cell lines than the natural product itself.  By making hypotheses on the natural products’ mechanism of action, we design analogues by altering the steric and/or electronic properties of the natural product to make it more biologically active.  The ultimate goal in this research is to design compounds that are more effective in inducing apoptosis in cancer cells and therefore more potent chemotherapeutic agents. 

Dr. Don Neu

My research focuses on the characterization of physical, optical and electrical properties of semiconducting materials including molecular organic semiconducting materials. Additional information can be found at http://www.stcloudstate.edu/cmse/research.asp.

Dr. Sarah Petitto – Physical Surface Chemistry

Physical surface chemistry of metal oxides, with interdisciplinary research with physics and materials science, focusing primarily the composition and speciation of aquatic systems influenced by chemical processes occurring at the solid-solution interface to develop a detailed understanding of the influence of bulk composition and structure, surface orientation, and interaction of water and other surface modifying solutes on the structure and reactivity at the mineral-fluid interface

Dr. Latha Ramakrishnan – Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Neuroscience

Neurotransmitter-gated receptor proteins mediate communication between ~ 100 billion neurons in the brain. These membrane-bound proteins are critical for the fundamental brain functions, such as memory and learning, and play key roles in the regulation of cell excitability. Many neurological and neuromuscular diseases affect the functions of the neurotransmitter-gated receptor proteins. My primary research interest is to understand the basic molecular mechanisms by which these ion channel proteins work in health and disease states.

The specific ligand-gated ion channel (LGIC) protein that I am interested in is the gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptor protein. GABAA proteins are one of the sub types of the major inhibitory neurotransmitter-gated ion channel proteins. The investigations in the lab focus on understanding the evolution, function, and expression of this class of proteins in an invertebrate model organism (Planaria). Planarians, the non-parasitic flatworms, are an emerging model organism in regeneration and pharmacology research and are enjoying recent renewed interest as an unique invertebrate model organism in many frontiers of research. We are interested in investigating the behavioral and biochemical pharmacology of the GABAergic proteins in planaria using simple behavioral assays to chromatographic experiments to understand the complex biochemistry of these worms.

The long-term goal of our research is to understand the evolution, expression, and function of GABAerig proteins in planaria. To this end, we will use bioinformatics to investigate the evolution of this class of protein molecules, polymeric nanoparticles to probe the expression of the proteins, and electrophysiology to study the function of the cloned protein molecules in expression systems such as oocytes or mammalian cell lines.

Dr. Gayan Rubasinghege - Analytical, Physical and Environmental Chemistry

An integrative and multidisciplinary approach to study the aqueous phase behavior of mineral oxides and engineered nanoparticles at low pH environments., with a specific focus on effect of particle size (nano vs. micro), ionic strength, light and oxyanions, using a combined approach of spectroscopy (FT-IR, ICP-OES, UV-VIs) and microscopy (SEM).  These studies are integrated with extensive material characterization to better understand the environmental implications of fate, transport and climatic impacts of mineral dust aerosol and other engineered particles. 

Dr. Lakshmaiah Sreerama - Biochemistry

http://web.stcloudstate.edu/lsreerama

We are conducting research in the areas of cancer chemotherapy (drug resistance and drug metabolism), toxicology of ethylene glycol ethers and forensic toxicology.  Our research is divided into three areas.

Area 1: Understanding the role of aldehyde dehydrogenases in toxification of ethylene glycol ether aldehydes (toxicological and forensic interest) and detoxification of aldehyde intermediates of anticancer drugs, e.g., cyclophosphamide and its analogues.

Area 2: Identifying the molecular basis for the resistance to selective anticancer drugs, e.g., cyclophosphamide, mafosfamide, flavopiridol, UCN-01 and Otteliones via proteomic [matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) mass spectrometry-based analysis] and genomic analysis.

Area 3: Genetic polymorphisms in aldehyde dehydrogenases and their relevance to cancer chemotherapy, carcinogenesis and cancer chemoprevention.

Research Model Systems: We utilize cell-free systems (purified enzymes), cultured human cell (normal and tumor) models, animal-tumor models and human tissues for our research.

EGE metabolic graphic

Dr. Zhihong Xu - Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry

Dr. Xu’s research lies at the interface of natural product chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. Her research focus is the isolation and synthesis of bioactive compounds, and investigation of small molecule interactions with targets. The ongoing projects involve four topics. 1) Bioassay-directed isolation and structural identification of anti-cancer, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory agents, such as terpenes, flavonoids, nucleosides, etc., from natural sources. 2) Development of novel and efficient synthetic approaches for obtaining bioactive nucleoside analogs. 3) Investigation of the interactions between small molecules and cellular biological systems. 4) Development of strategies for the delivery of bioactive leading compounds to target cells, mainly through chemical strategies.

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