Category: Research

Professor Elliott Published in Nature Communications: Enzymatic Discovery Cools a ‘Hot’ Intermediary

March 7th, 2019 in Elliott, Sean, Front Page, Grants, NIH, Publications, Recognition, Research

Enzymatic Discovery Cools a ‘Hot’ Intermediary

In the world around us enzymes perform the wizardry of allowing reactions that should occur, to do so in a timely fashion. Enzymes that transform hydrogen peroxide often generate a highly reactive, ‘hot’ intermediate along the way, which will transform another molecule in a startling feat of chemistry. In a recent research study a team from Boston University, MIT and Carnegie Mellon University has found that one such reactant generated by a bacterial enzyme can be ‘cooler’ than thought previously.

In the March 7, 2019, Nature Communications report, the team has discovered a new class of peroxide-transforming enzyme that is found widely in bacterial organisms. Through their studies of one family member, called BthA, they have learned that the ‘hot’ intermediates produced by enzymes like BthA have diverse properties, which will hopefully lead to further discoveries in biological chemistry.

Enzymes like BthA are referred to as diheme peroxidases, which make use of two natural heme iron cofactors that talk to each other, in terms of how they share their own electrons. Previous studies have found that enzymes like BthA produce highly reactive states where both irons share electron via pathway provided by a conserved amino acid residue, called Tryptophan. 

By combining methods of biochemistry, electrochemisty and spectroscopy, Kimberly Rizzolo and Prof. Sean Elliott (Boston University) worked with Andrew Weitz and Prof. Michael Hendrich (CMU) using Electron Paramagnetic Resonance and Mössbauer spectroscopies in order to demonstrate that BthA would produce the same fierce oxidant that has been reported. Stunningly, they found that the ‘hot’ state persists for over an hour, instead of rapidly quenching like something reactive should.

Extending these efforts with X-ray crystallography, the BU team paired with Steve Cohen and Prof. Catherine L. Drennan (MIT/HHMI) to solve the structure of BthA. Through that molecular view,, it is clear that Nature has changed the way in which the two heme irons of BthA talk to one another, substituting the native Tryptophan for a different amino acid residue. That change lets the chemical equivalent of napalm persist in the enzyme, until it is quenched.

“The work illustrates how if we look at the microbial world, enzyme continue to surprise us with how inventive they can be with chemical transformations,” says Sean Elliott. “If we can understanding the wiring, we’ll be able to re-wire these catalysts to do the reactions we need them for.”

Further Information:  The research was funded by the National Institutes for Health (National Institute for General Medical Sciences), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and the Department of Energy.

CONTACT INFORMATION:  Sean J. Elliott, elliott @, 617-358-2816, Boston University.

PUBLICATION: Rizzolo K, Cohen SE, Weitz AC, López Muñoz MM, Hendrich MP, Drennan CL, Elliott SJ.  A widely distributed diheme enzyme from Burkholderia that displays an atypically stable bis-Fe(IV) state”, Nature Communications, 7 March, 2019. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09020-4.

EMBARGO INFORMATION: The manuscript is currently under embargo by Nature Communications, the publication date is 7 March 2019.



BU Chemistry NSF-REU Program Awarded Three-Year Renewal of Funding

January 29th, 2019 in Doerrer, Linda, Faculty, Front Page, Grants, Grants & Funding, NSF, Outreach, REU, Snyder, John, Teaching, Uncategorized, Undergraduate

2018 Chemistry REU Poster Presentations

BU Chemistry is pleased to announce a three-year renewal of funding for our NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program.  This summer program, hosted by the Chemistry Department, provides students from primarily undergraduate institutions with opportunities to work in advanced research laboratories. Of the 33 students who participated in the program over the past three years, 91% came from underrepresented minority groups, better than 60% were women, and almost 45% came from community colleges. Many of them co-authored peer-reviewed publications, presented their findings at conferences, and/or decided to attend graduate school, including BU. Another measure of the program’s success is its ever-expanding pool of applicants, with over 600 applications received for the summer 2018 program alone.

Chemistry would like to give special recognition to the efforts of Professors  Linda Doerrer, Principal Investigator (PI), and ,John Snyder, co-PI, and Chemistry Departments Proposal Development Administrator Daniel Hauck, whose hard work and commitment to the program made this renewal possible.

Due to a change in the National Science Foundation’s funding periods, the Chemistry Department will not be hosting REU students for the Summer of 2019. The program will be active again in the Summer 2020.  For more information, including the application process, visit the BU Chemistry REU.


Professor Kamenetska Awarded Prestigious 3 Year Air Force Young Investigator Research Program Grant

December 13th, 2018 in Award, BUWIC, Faculty, Fundraising, Grants, Grants & Funding, Recognition, Research

We are excited to announce that the Boston University Chemistry Department’s newest faculty member, Professor Maria Kamenetska, was recently awarded an Air Force Young Investigator Research Program Grant (AFOSR-YIP) for her novel work on robust DNA conductance and force signatures for detecting protein binding to DNA with base-pair resolution.

With the creation of the BU HUB educational requirements, Boston University has committed to a fully integrated and interdisciplinary approach to higher education. Dr. Kamenetska, who goes by Masha, holds a joint appointment between the Chemistry and Physics departments and is also a member of our Materials Science & Engineering Department. Masha’s joint appointment and her truly interdisciplinary research are an excellent example of BU’s commitment to educational integration.

The AFOSR-YIP funded project, which will support her work and that of 2 graduate students, focuses on using DNA conductivity as a sensor for DNA-protein interactions. The innovative research will first investigate the degree of electron transfer as a function of binding conformation of DNA between metal electrodes to help address some of the debates in the literature regarding electron transport in DNA. She and her research group will use this information to correlate the specific ways that DNA constructs bind in the junction and conduct current, which will create a unique conductance signature of various conformations of the DNA molecule in the junction; this will allow her and her research group to probe protein binding to specific base-pairs of that molecule. The application of this technique will be used to investigate the basic unit of Chromatin—known as the nucleosome—which controls the access of DNA for transcription and thus plays a key role in gene regulation.

Dr. Kamenetska says this about the award and the project “I am grateful to the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for this opportunity. With their support, I look forward to developing a deeper understanding of electron transport properties of DNA and using this knowledge to establish novel single molecule techniques for probing structure-function relationships in biology and material science.”

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2018 GROW (Greater Boston Research Opportunities for young Women) Poster Session

August 11th, 2018 in Award, Department, Faculty, Front Page, Grants, Grants & Funding, NSF, Outreach, Perlstein, Deborah, Recognition, Research, Teaching

As they finished out the sixth and final week of the 2018 GROW (Greater Boston Research Opportunities for Young Women) program, the 12 summer interns present their capstone to the six weeks of research conducted during a Poster Session held on Friday, August 10th in the Science Metcalf Building Lounge located on the first floor from 2:00 – 4:00 PM.

LERNet was created in 1998 to provide programming for K-12 students interested in pursuing the STEM fields and to encourage teacher development. In recent years, Brossman says, she has become more focused on young women, because they face a gender imbalance in STEM fields. The GROW program came into being this year after Deborah Perlstein, a CAS assistant professor of chemistry, came to Brossman looking for ways to broaden the impact of a research project so that it would satisfy a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant requirement. After her project was funded for one student, they decided to go further.

“For young women interested in careers in math and science, it’s really important for them to have an opportunity to get in lab and see what that’s like,” says Perlstein. “It’s also important for them to have the opportunity to see some (female) role models. That was important to me in choosing my career path.

”Brossman and Perlstein put together a program with funding from sources including Vertex, Pfizer, and other companies; LERNet; the chemistry and biology departments; CAS; BU’s ARROWS (Advance, Recruit, Retain & Organize Women in STEM);  and existing NSF grants, all adding up to about $30,000. Despite a late posting of the application, in April, some 60 rising juniors and seniors from Greater Boston high schools applied. A dozen students were placed in BU chemistry and biology labs and assigned research projects and graduate student or post-doc mentors.

“I wanted to create an accessible program for local students who may not be able to afford some of the existing programs or who needed to work during the summer,” Brossman says. “We wanted to give the students a stipend so we could eliminate any financial barriers to participation.”

Here are some photos from this years Poster Session:

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Boston University’s 2018 Undergraduate Research Symposium

May 23rd, 2018 in Award, Department, Faculty, Recognition, Research, Students, Undergraduate


Class of 2018 students who presented at this year’s symposium

On Friday, May 4th, 2018 the work of 22 students was spotlighted in this year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS).  The high-caliber projects presented underscored the importance of the hands-on, challenging research that is the hallmark of Boston University’s Chemistry major. The even was organized by the Undergraduate Programs Committee, Professor John Snyder and coordinated by our Undergraduate Program Coordinator, Julia Jesielowski.

URS was first instituted in 1987 by then Director of Undergraduate Studies, and now Emeritus, Prof. Mort Hoffman, and has been a much anticipated, spring’s-end annual event ever since.  The Symposium is modeled along the lines of talks at an American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting:  12 minutes of presentation followed by 3 minutes of questions and discussion.  Capping the day was the announcement of the Departmental Awards, followed by a celebratory pizza party for the students, their faculty advisers, graduate mentors, and their guests.

Professor Bjoern Reinhard awarded an NSF-CHE 3 Year grant to Study Plasmon Coupling Correlation Spectroscopy

May 17th, 2018 in Grants, Grants & Funding, NSF, Recognition, Reinhard, Björn, Research

Prof. Bjoern Reinhard, BU Department of Chemistry

Prof. Bjoern Reinhard, BU Department of Chemistry

Prof. Reinhard was recently awarded a 3 Year renewal of her National Science Foundation Division of Chemistry (NSF-CHE) Grant titled: Plasmon Coupling Correlation Spectroscopy. This will help Prof. Reinhard and his research group investigate the unique optical properties and strong field localization properties of plasmonic nanoparticles as they are important components of many chemical sensing technologies and Efield enhanced spectroscopies. The research will advance the field of chemical imaging and sensing by introducing the concept of correlation spectroscopy to localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) spectroscopy. The ambitious research plan will utilize distance-dependent near-field coupling between plasmonic nanoparticles that cause spectral fluctuations in the far-field to monitor interparticle separations at signal intensities that are manifold higher than that of conventional dyes. Importantly, due to their superb photophysical stability plasmonic nanoparticles overcome existing limitations of fluorescence based correlation approaches in terms of maximum observation time and will facilitate a continuous signal correlation over a much longer time than is currently possible with fluorescence based approaches entirely without blinking. The research funded by this grant is transformative as it will facilitate the application of optical signal correlation techniques to systems that have, so far, not been accessible with conventional fluorescence-based correlation methods.


Besides the scientific impact, the research project has a series of educational and outreach components as well as detailed plans to encourage the participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering. The grant will allow for the development of new course work and training opportunities for students from the high-school to graduate school level. Furthermore, Dr. Reinhard will organize annual workshops for students from inner city high schools, which typically have high representations from groups underrepresented in science and engineering. His main goal is to enthuse these students about the research of the proposal and to attract them to a career in STEM fields. The course material developed during the lifetime of the project will be disseminated via the PI’s homepage to further enhance the broader impact of this proposal.

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Professor Linda Doerrer awarded a 3-Year NSF-CHE 3 Renewal

May 2nd, 2018 in Award, Doerrer, Linda, Grants, Grants & Funding, NSF, Recognition, Research

Associate Professor Linda Doerrer

Associate Professor Linda Doerrer

Prof. Doerrer was recently awarded a 3 Year renewal of her National Science Foundation Division of Chemistry (NSF-CHE) Grant titled: Oxidation Catalysis with 3d Complexes Bearing Fluorinated Alkoxide Ligands. This will help Prof. Doerrer and her research group continue their investigation into oxidation catalysis. The project will focus on developing more effective and sustainable catalytic reactions for chemical synthesis, which is critical for the 21st century. Oxidation of C-H bonds remains a central component of chemical transformations with many remaining challenges. This work builds on her recent success with Cu/O2 chemistry that has demonstrated the effectiveness of fluorinated alkoxide ligands to make highly reactive species for oxidizing C-H bonds. Recently her group has demonstrated catalysis with two different systems, and one reaction that differentiates the two systems. Understanding this difference, extending this success to other earth-abundant metals and potentially to water as a reaction medium are the targets of this award. Proven synthetic and characterization methods will be used, augmented by new ideas and some recent discoveries that hint at new and improved conditions for these needed chemical reactions.

Stephanie Beach, of the Doerrer Group, wins prestigious Chateaubriand Fellowship

March 28th, 2018 in Award, Doerrer, Linda, Front Page, Graduate, Recognition, Research

Stephanie Beach, in a bell tower overlooking a small medieval town to the west of Bordeaux called Saint Emilion

Stephanie Beach, in a bell tower overlooking a small medieval town to the west of Bordeaux called Saint Emilion

Stephanie Beach, of the Doerrer Group, recently won a prestigious Chateaubriand Fellowship! The Chateaubriand Fellowship is a grant offered by the Embassy of France in the United States. It supports outstanding Ph.D. students from American universities who wish to conduct research in France for a period ranging from 4 to 9 months. Chateaubriand fellows are selected through a merit-based competition, through a collaborative process involving expert evaluators in both countries.

The program is divided into two subprograms: Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) which supports those who seek to study Humanities and Social Sciences. Stephanie was awarded the Chateaubriand Fellowship in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics & Biology-Health (STEM), which is for doctoral students who aim to initiate or reinforce collaborations, partnerships or joint projects between French and American research teams. This fellowship is offered by the Office for Science & Technology (OST) of the Embassy of France in partnership with American universities and French research organizations such as Inserm and Inria. It is a partner of the National Science Foundation’s GROW program.

Stephanie is currently working at the Centre de Recherche Paul Pascal, a CNRS lab, in Bordeaux, France from February through May of 2018 to partner with the group of Prof. Rodolphe Clérac. She is developing new variations of the Doerrer group thiocarboxylate lantern complexes for development as single molecule magnets.

Congratulations Stephanie!

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Pu-Ting Dong Wins SPIE Photonics West Translational Research Best Paper Award

March 27th, 2018 in Award, Front Page, Graduate, Publications, Recognition


Translational Research Symposium co-chiars Gabriela Apiou (far left) and Bruce Tromberg (far right) present the Translational Research Best Paper Award to Boston University's Pu-Ting Dong (center)

Translational Research Symposium co-chairs Gabriela Apiou (far left) and Bruce Tromberg (far right) present the Translational Research Best Paper Award to Boston University’s Pu-Ting Dong (center)

Research at Boston University’s Photonics Center reporting on a drug-free photonic approach to eliminating methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) earned Pu-Ting Dong (BU Chemistry Student, Dr. Ji-Xen Cheng Group) the SPIE Photonics West 2018 Translational Research Award.

Translational Research Symposium Chairs Bruce J. Tromberg of the Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Center at the University of California, Irvine (USA) and Gabriela Apiou, from the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (USA) presented the award to Dong Sunday, February 4th during a forum that focused on translational research applications of blue light.

Dong’s research found a synergy between photobleaching of staphyloxanthin (STX) with blue light and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) in killing the highly infectious and dangerous MRSA.
“This potentially opens a new way to address a tremendous problem that the healthcare system is facing using a biophotonic technology,” Apiou said.

As Dong noted, it can take 30 years after the emergence of antibiotic resistance for a new antibiotic to be developed.

Treating MRSA is “a significant problem in infectious disease,” Tromberg, an SPIE Fellow, said, and Dong’s solution “could benefit a large number of patients worldwide.”

In a talk preceding Dong’s presentation, SPIE Fellow Michael Hamblin of the Wellman Center, explained how blue light has been found to influence circadian rhythms and magnetic fields and has become a common treatment for treating acne, low-back pain, neurological disorders, and other diseases and disorders.

Hamblin noted that a new conference at Photonics West, Photonic Diagnosis and Treatment of Infection and Inflammatory Diseases, and its 60 papers, indicated the importance of light technologies in treating a number of diseases.


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Professor Linda Doerrer Awarded Two-Year Grant from The American Chemical Society

December 6th, 2017 in ACS, Department, Doerrer, Linda, Grants, Grants & Funding, Recognition, Research

We are happy to announce that Associate Professor Linda Doerrer was recently awarded a $110,000, grant titled “Lanthanide-Based Polymerization Catalysts with Water Resistant Ligands” from The American Chemical Society. The funding, which will last for 2 Years, will help Professor Doerrer explore a family of O-donor ligands, both aryloxide and alkoxide, that are heavily fluorinated in order to further the development of more water-tolerant catalysts, which would be a boon to many industrial polymerization reactions.

Associate Professor Linda Doerrer









Congratulations to Dr. Doerrer for this exciting Award!