By Paul C Sanschagrin
As part of BU’s September 2012 annual alumni weekend celebrations, the Department of Chemistry invited four distinguished alumni to describe some highlights of their varied careers in science and technology and how their BU education launched them on these career paths. The speakers ranged in fields (theoretical chemistry to organic chemistry to physical chemistry) and careers (academia, entrepreneurship, law, industry) and BU educational experiences (undergraduate to Ph.D.). The symposium proved to be both practical in terms of career advice and touching in the tribute speakers paid to their advisors, and demonstrated the substantial impact that their BU Chemistry training had in helping to shape these successful careers. The photo shows the speakers with their advisors: Dr. Victor Battista, GRS ’96, now Professor of Chemistry at Yale, with Prof. John Straub (standing in for Victor’s advisor, David Coker); Dr. Les Dakin, GRS ’03, now scientist at Constellation Pharmaceuticals with advisor, Jim Panek; Dr. Jack Driscoll, GRS ’67, founder of HNU PID with advisor Professor Emeritus, Morton Hoffman; and Dr. Matt Zisk, CAS ’85, now partner and patent counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates with advisor, Professor Emeritus Gil Jones.
This fall, Chemistry welcomes three new instructors to its teaching core. Dr. Rebecca Loy has joined the department as Course Coordinator for the organic chemistry laboratory program (CH 203/204/214). In addition to developing the laboratory curriculum and giving the pre-laboratory and course lectures, she directs and trains the courses’ Teaching Fellows and Undergraduate Assistants. Prior to coming to Boston University, Dr. Loy was a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Melanie Sanford at the University of Michigan, studying palladium catalyzed perfluoroalkylation of arenes and vanadium redox flow batteries. Dr. Loy’s academic studies began at the University of California, Berkeley where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in 2004. While there, she conducted research under both Professors Robert Bergman and F. Dean Toste. She studied both titanium catalyzed hydroamination reactions of allenes and rhenium catalyzed glycosylation reactions. She obtained her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2009 under the direction of Professor Eric Jacobsen studying asymmetric intramolecular oxetane openings catalyzed by cobalt salen complexes.
In addition two new Postdoctoral Faculty Fellows (PFFs), Dr. Kristen Mascall and Dr. Lynetta Mier, have joined the PFF Program. The innovative program provides a two-year, full time appointment in the Department of Chemistry for recent Ph.D. graduates who plan to pursue academic careers at 4-year liberal arts colleges. (Since its founding in 2002, there have been 23 PFFs.) In addition to her teaching, Dr. Mascall is conducting research in medicinal chemistry with Professor Aaron Beeler. She received her Ph.D. in Chemistry from Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH) in 2012. Dr. Mier is conducting research in ultrafast spectroscopy with Professor Larry Ziegler. She received her Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 2012.
Gas hydrates – ice with small molecules trapped in cages – are important for the energy sector because they store natural gas and carbon dioxide, block gas pipelines with an enormous cost impact, and hold potential for hydrogen storage and water purification. In a 3-year, $500K award, the Department of Energy has funded Prof. Tom Keyes to uncover the mechanism, or pathway, of gas hydrate formation. The pathway is a complex sequence of steps involving solvation, association, nucleation, growth, and a first-order-like transition, with a free energy barrier and unstable regime of thermodynamic states. Consequently, the theory of hydrate formation is in an early stage, and computer simulations using conventional algorithms have been hampered by the rarity of rate-limiting visits to the barrier.
Continuing their highly productive (32 publications), 20-year collaboration, Professor Karen Allen and Dr. Debra Dunaway-Mariano, University of New Mexico, have received a 4-year, $1.26 million award from the NIH. The team is known for much of the current understanding of catalysis and specificity of the Haloalkanoic Acid Dehalogenase Superfamily (HADSF). This current award, “Structure and Function of HAD Phosphatase Partners Dullard and Lipin,” represents a new and highly innovative research direction for the the Co-Investigators. Using an interdisciplinary approach, they will investigate the structural basis for the function of two enzymes that utilize the same protein scaffold to interact with and dephosphorylate macromolecules and phospholipids at the cell membrane. The Co-Principal Investigators bring their respective expertise to address the problem. Karen Allen will direct the protein chemistry, bioinformatics, X-ray crystallographic and Small-angle X-ray Scattering aspects of this project. Debra Dunaway-Mariano will direct the substrate screening, assay development, and radio-labeled vesicle binding studies.
By defining the structural features of enzymes that allow recognition of specific proteins and cell membrane components, the study will provide significant insight into the complexities of cell lipid metabolism. The findings will lay the foundation for the rational design of therapeutic agents to treat the diseases associated with diabetes and clinically identified defects in fat metabolism.
The National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates Program supports active research participation by undergraduate students in any of the areas of research funded by the National Science Foundation. For the second time, BU Chemistry has received one of these coveted site awards. Focused on the theme “Fundamental Research in Chemistry Addressing Problems in Biology,” the 3-year program (2012-2015) is led by Professors John Snyder (Principal Investigator) and Linda Doerrer (Co-PI).
The NSF Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBETS) has funded Bjoern Reinhard and his Co-Investigator, Professor Luca Dal Negro (Electrical & Computer Engineering,) to combine the advantageous photonic and plasmonic properties of nanostructured surfaces to develop a multiparametric responder that improves sensitivity and selectivity of conventional biosensing platforms through combined analysis of elastic and inelastic light-scattering processes. The award, “Multiparametric Optical Sensing of Microbes on Plasmonic Nanostructures,” is for $300K over three years.
In a July 19 article, C&E News reported on the work of Professor Ramesh Jasti and his Group on carbon nano hoops. Cycloparaphenylenes (CPPs) or nanohoops are made from para-linked benzene rings. Stacking of CPPs could be the basis for preparing useful quantities of pure carbon nanotubes. However, CPPs are so difficult to make that they are currently sold commercially for about $100 per milligram. In a remarkable achievement, the Jasti Group have developed a new catalytic method that boosts the yields of eight- and 10-unit nanohoops by two orders of magnitude. As reported in C&E News, this work has implications for nanoelectronics because armchair nanotubes, the type of carbon nanotubes that would be made by nanohoop stacking, are highly prized as conductive nanowires.
Ramesh Jasti joined the BU faculty in 2009. The reported work is part of his laboratories goal of utilizing organic synthesis to probe the physics and theory of carbon nanostructures, with the ultimate goal of developing new applications in nanotechnology. Prior to coming to BU, he was one of the first postdoctoral fellows at the Molecular Foundry—a US Department of Energy nanoscience facility at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. As a highly interdisciplinary scientist, Professor Jasti also has appointments in the Materials Science and Engineering Division, as well as the Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology.
In July, Aaron Beeler, joined BU Chemistry as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in medicinal chemistry. Aaron received his Ph.D. in 2002 from Professor John Rimoldi’s laboratory in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Mississippi. In 2002, he joined John Porco’s laboratory as a postdoctoral fellow and in 2005 was promoted to Assistant Director for the Boston University Center for Chemical Methodology and Library Development (CMLD-BU). Professor Beeler has been an integral contributor to the highly successful operations of CMLD-BU which is successfully developing organic chemistry methodologies for the synthesis of complex molecules that are evaluated for biological activity. Among Aaron’s recent achievements has been the development of a microfluidic platform that has been utilized in the discovery of new reactions and complex molecular scaffolds for application in the synthesis of small molecule arrays.
Aaron brings his multidisciplinary expertise and experience in organic chemistry, engineering, and biology to address problems in medicinal chemistry related to human health. More specifically, research efforts in his laboratory will utilize microfluidics technology and organic synthesis to discover and optimize small molecules that will enable new therapies for diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, cystic fibrosis, and cancer, as well as contributing to a deeper understanding of these conditions.
In June of 2012, the Jasti Research Group hosted a group of students from the Steppingstone Foundation as part of Professor Jasti’s chemistry and nanotechnology outreach commitment. The Steppingstone Foundation is a non-profit organization that develops and implements programs which prepare urban schoolchildren for educational opportunities that lead to college success.
The students learned about the nanoscale world of matter and how nanotechnology research is going to be particularly important for society in the upcoming years. They also viewed a number of demonstrations that illustrated major concepts of chemistry, such as catalysis and the process of dehydration. The demos ended with a bang – literally – as the students saw how a Pringles® Chips can could be turned into a rocket, a live demonstration of how combustion works.
The students also had the chance to participate in hands on activities. In the lab, the kids synthesized Nylon 6-6, while simultaneously learning about polymers and how abundant and important they are to modern society. The students were challenged to a little friendly competition to see who could synthesize the longest piece of Nylon. The group that won produced a piece of nylon that was nearly 10 feet in length!
The Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society (NESACS) established the James Flack Norris and Theodore William Richards Undergraduate Summer Fellowships to honor the memories of Professors Norris and Richards by promoting research interactions between undergraduate students and faculty.
This year’s NESACS summer research fellowship was awarded to Morris Cohen (BU Chemistry, Class of 2013), who joined the research group of Dr. Binyomin Abrams in the fall of 2011. Under the mentorship of Dr. Abrams and former PFF Dr. Adam Moser, Morris has been working on the development of an all-atom computational model for the meta-phenylene ethynylene class of foldamers – oligomers that fold into helical structures in solution using non-covalent interactions. Morris has been utilizing several software packages for this work, including Gaussian, CHARMM, and NAMD, on computational resources located at BU as well as the RANGER supercomputer at the University of Texas, Austin.