The work of 22 students was spotlighted in this year’s day-long Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS). The record number and outstanding quality of the projects presented underscored the importance of the hands-on, challenging research that is the hallmark of BU’s Chemistry major. The even was organized by the Undergraduate Programs Committee with laudable efforts from Mr. Moneil Abu Speitan (the department’s undergraduate administrator). The 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 BBQ for the students, their faculty advisers, graduate mentors, and their guests. To view URS photos, please click here.
Prof. Corey Stephenson has received a 2013 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award. This prestigious national award supports the research and teaching careers of talented young faculty in the chemical sciences. Based on institutional nominations, the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation provides discretionary funding to faculty within the first five years of their independent careers. The award is based on the body of scholarship and a demonstrated commitment to education, signaling the promise of continuing outstanding contributions to both research and teaching
Corey started his independent career at BU in 2007. His research interests range from catalytic method development to complex natural product synthesis. In that regard, he has initiated a novel program in photoredox catalysis, an area in which he is a recognized pioneer, using visible light and ruthenium and iridium coordinated to bipyridine ligands, which absorb visible light giving rise to electron transfer chemistry. As strong as Corey’s commitment is to his research, he is equally dedicated to mentoring undergraduate students, outreach to high school students, and innovations in teaching.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has awarded Liz Hirst, a fifth year graduate student in the Jasti Group, with a year-long American Fellowship that will enable her to complete her dissertation research in the next year.
Hirst’s research is highly interdisciplinary, combining chemistry, physics, and materials science. The focus of her work is the synthesis of novel cycloparaphenylenes (CPPs) with nitrogen incorporated into the backbone. CPPs represent the smallest unit cell of a metallic carbon nanotube (CNT). Also termed carbon nanohoops, CPPs consist of all para linked benzene rings. Nitrogen-doped CPP synthesis will enable a fundamental exploration of the structure-property effects of adding nitrogen to carbon networks. This could serve as an empirical model system for understanding the electronic changes in nitrogen-doped graphitic materials. It will also allow for correlation of theoretical predictions to reality. This synthesis will also enable construction of novel carbon-based materials. Specifically, once the target CPPs are synthesized, Liz will explore incorporation of these molecules into 3-d porous carbon-based frameworks. These frameworks may have uses in energy storage and small molecule detection.
In addition to pursuing her research, Liz Hirst works to promote the representation of women in the sciences. She has played a leadership role in the BU Women in Chemistry, currently serving as the organization’s president. A hallmark of her presidency has been outreach to local area high schools and the Girl Scouts to enable students to participate in and experience chemistry research.
Prof. John Caradonna and his group have received a 3-year National Science Foundation award from the Chemical Catalysis (CAT) Program in the Division of Chemistry (2013-2016). Entitled “Utilizing Iron-Coenzyme Oxygen Activation in Catalysis,” the project aims to investigate new oxidation processes that directly use dioxygen in sustainable metal-based systems that preclude non-selective free-radical chain reactions. The area of catalytic alkane oxidation and functionalization is of intense scientific and commercial interest because of its potential to convert inexpensive aliphatic hydrocarbons to valuable chemical and fuel products.
This project aims to develop and characterizes a family of biologically inspired mononuclear iron complexes that utilize dioxygen in the production of an iron-based reactive species that can catalytically oxidize carbon-hydrogen (C-H) bonds in the presence of sacrificial two-electron donor ligands such as α-keto acids (e.g., α-ketoglutarate). The research focuses on two fundamentally different, although related aspects of alkane oxidation: 1) the development of a molecular-level understanding of the mechanism by which these mononuclear non-heme ferrous complexes activate dioxygen to form a metal-based oxidant, and 2) the creation of second-generation complexes that will support the general synthetic use of the formal oxygen-atom transfer reactivity properties of these systems.
The researchers will combine state-of-the-art experimental (low temperature [-85 oC] stopped-flow kinetic studies, mechanistic investigations utilizing isotopicallylabeled and/or radical clock substrates), spectroscopic studies (flow resonance Raman, rapid-freeze quench Mössbauer and X-ray absorption spectroscopy), and computational simulations to characterize the mechanistic steps. This approach will enable them to develop catalysts with enhanced and selective reactivity properties. The use of iron in these catalytic systems is particularly attractive as this metal is earth-abundant and non-toxic. Thus this effort will open new avenues to inexpensive and sustainable catalytic transformations of interest to industry. Overall, the Caradonna Group aims to achieve a deeper understanding of fundamental reaction chemistry that could lead to the development of useful reagents for the controlled oxidation of substrates such as alkanes and arenas.
Tianyang (Shasha) Ji’s structure of a Hot-dog thioesterase was chosen as the top banner image of the Brookhaven National Laboratory’s “Rapid Data Collection and Structure Solving at the NSLS: A Practical Course in Macromolecular X-Ray Diffraction Measurement” (21-26 April 2013). The Hot-dog Fold superfamily enzymes, which have been studied by the Allen Laboratory for the past 20 years, are represented in all domains of life and are dominated by acyl-thioester hydrolases. Shasha is a second-year graduate student in the Allen Laboratory. She is a Ph.D. candidate in BU’s Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry Program.
Benjy Cooper, a second-year Chemistry graduate student in the Grinstaff Group, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. These awards are highly competitive: in 2013, the NSF chose only 2,000 fellows from among 13,000 applicants. Fellows share in the prestige and opportunities that become available when they are selected and receive a three-year annual stipend. At the same time, there is the high expectation that Fellows will become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.
Benjy’s research project for his fellowship is the “Development of Dendritic Macromolecules for Increasing Boundary Lubrication.” In addition to Prof. Mark Grinstaff, he will be advised by Dr. Brian Snyder, Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Children’s Hospital Boston. The project aims to synthesize and characterize a series of dendritic macromolecules that enhance boundary lubrication of cartilaginous surfaces, and to evaluate the dendritic network’s efficacy in reducing friction and wear.
At the same time, in terms of broader impact, Benjy will mentor underrepresented high school students performing summer research in the Grinstaff lab, and he plans to network with the non-scientific community to present his research to a broader, more general audience (e.g. through public seminars at the Boston Museum of Science).
For a second year, Professor Karen Allen and Dr. Jeff Bacon of the BU Chemical Instrumentation Center have continued their X-ray Crystallography outreach program to local area high schools. This February, they welcomed a group of Advanced Placement Biology students from Acton-Boxborough Regional High School.
Prior to coming to BU, the students had grown their own crystals of lysozyme in their school laboratory. During their visit, the group learned about the history and theory of X-ray crystallography for determining protein structure in a one hour classroom discussion led by Prof. Allen. They then took their crystal samples to the X-ray laboratory where Dr. Bacon gave them a practical demonstration of the experiment. The students examined their crystals under a microscope, and two crystals were mounted on the instrument for live demonstrations of X-ray diffraction and unit cell determination.
The crystallography outreach program began as an activity of the ACA Young Scientists’ Special Interest Group in 2012, and was supported by a donation of crystallization supplies from Hampton Research.
The Fulbright Program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Scholars (approximately 1,100 each year) are selected based on their academic merit and leadership potential. The award enables them to study, teach, and conduct research at a host institution abroad. This year, Prof. Linda Doerrer has received one of these coveted awards.
In September, she will start a nine-month stay at the Technische Universität Berlin (TUB)with Prof. Matthias Driess, who is currently head of the DFG-supported “Unifying Concepts in Catalysis” (UniCat) Cluster of Excellence. During this period, she aims (1) to do research to advance the Cu(I) and Cu(II) C-H bond activation systems developed by her group in catalytic processes for efficient substrate oxidation or coupling with mechanistic understanding for favoring one chemistry over the other; and (2) to gain significantly enhanced experience with materials synthesis and characterization. She will also be able to apply the experience she gains at the TUB UniCat to research in the Division of Materials Science and Engineering at Boston University.
Prof. Ramesh Jasti has received a Boston University Ignition Award to investigate carbon nanohoops as advanced energy storage materials. The winning proposal was developed in collaboration with 2nd year graduate student, Evan Darzi, in the Jasti Group. Through this award, they aim to advance their research to commercialization, possibly as a start-up company.
Porous carbon nanostructures have shown great promise as energy storage materials for high performance batteries and capacitors. However, current production processes are very crude and result in structurally ill-defined and heterogeneous materials. The Jasti Group has developed the synthesis of the smallest possible slice of a carbon nanotube (termed “carbon nanohoops”), with various diameters and complete uniformity. Importantly, these structures self-assemble in the solid-state to generate tubular materials that have long-range ordered channels, reminiscent of a carbon nanotube. This configuration renders them ideal as potential carbon energy storage materials, with other possible long-range applications in hydrogen storage, CO2 sequestration, and nanofiltration. In this award, the Jasti Group will explore the effect the hoop diameter and crystallinity have on charge capacitance, discharge rates, and energy storage systems. At the same time, they will develop a “flow” system for continuous synthesis of these carbon nanohoops. The work will test the hypothesis that these materials will outperform currently available porous carbon materials, as well as commercially utilized capacitors and batteries. These technical advances would enable large-scale production of carbon nanohoops and position the technology as commercially attractive for batteries and capacitors.
Boston University’s competitive Ignition Award Program funds faculty to advance their research toward commercialization (e.g., licensing, startup companies). Prof. Scott Schaus and his co-inventor, Prof. Ula Hansen in BU Biology, have received an Ignition Award to develop a small molecule chemotherapeutic for the effective treatment of primary liver cancer.
Liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), is the fifth most common cancer worldwide (approximately 1 million new cases each year) and the third largest cause of deaths (600,000 deaths each year). Due to metabolic syndrome and hepatitis, the incidence of liver cancer is increasing and there are few therapeutic options. Currently there is only one FDA-approved drug (Nexavar) that can enhance lifespan by only 3 months, with significant negative side effects.
The BU research team has shown that transcription factor Late SV40 (LSF) is an oncogene for HCC, highly expressed in patient tumors, driving both tumor growth and metastasis. Their work has demonstrated that LSF inhibitors cause rapid death of HCC cells in vitro and that these inhibitors stop HCC growth in vivo (mouse models). There is a remarkable lack of side effects/toxicity in the mouse models. With the Ignition Award, they will perform a detailed toxicological assessment of compounds; assess the pharmacokinetic and oral availability; and determine the LSF biological targets that lead to cell death in HCC upon treatment with inhibitors. Through licensing, they anticipate that they will be able to develop new small molecule LSF inhibitors and a biomarker for early stage disease.