EKU Chemistry Research Opportunities

Get Involved with Research Opportunities!

Students can receive hands-on experience with State-of-the-Art Facilities and Chemical Instrumentation while receiving credit towards their chemistry degree, elective or ACCT credit by working with chemistry and forensic faculty on independent research projects. Students that want to perform an independent research project with a faculty mentor should go to the Chemistry Research Course Information page to learn what type of research courses are available in the Department of Chemistry and the process of starting a research project!!

Faculty Research Projects:

Students are needed to work with faculty on mentored research projects. Students can receive credit for CHE 200, CHE 495A & B, FOR 490 or HON 420. Individual faculty have diverse research projects currently underway in the department.  If you are interested in performing a research project in any of these areas or want to propose your own project, please contact us at chemistry@eku.edu or contact the faculty mentor directly.

Dr. Martin Brock (martin.brock@eku.edu) - Biochemistry

Dr. Brock performs biochemical research pertaining to enzymatic activity is specific conditions.  Currently, Dr. Brock is pursuing research to develop a method in which cellulose is converted to ethanol from switchgrass utilizing enzymes. However, enzymes are typically unable to perform at elevated temperatures. The discovery of thermophiles has shown that enzymes are able to perform at elevated temperatures. The aim is to collect data from malate dehydrogenase and other dehydrogenases and understand the stability of thermophillic bacteria in order to apply this information to cellulase.  In addition, the activity of these enzymes in media that help switchgrass degradation, e.g. ionic liquids, is also being investigated.

Dr. David Cunningham (david.cunningham@eku.edu) - Forensic Science

Dr. Cunningham’s research involves projects focused on collection and analysis of samples of forensic interest, as well as, projects involving development of new analytical reagents and devices.  Specific projects include imaging of latent fingerprints on metal substrates such as gun shell casings, coins, keys and locks.  Another project focuses on improvement of photopolymerization processes used in production of commercial enzyme electrodes for testing whole blood.  Students interested in either literature or experimental-based research projects are welcome.

Dr. Radhika Dasari (radhika.dasari@eku.edu) - Analytical Chemistry

Dr. Dasari’s research interest is in the field of analytical chemistry, surface chemistry, electrochemistry and materials chemistry.  Current work in her group is focused on the development of novel electrochemical methods for characterizing nanoparticles, molecules and polymers in a fast and reproducible manner.  The information from these studies will aid in better understanding the fundamental properties of these materials which inturn will lead to the fabrication of ultrasensitive nanoelectronic devices comprising these materials for detecting various analytes.

Dr. Margaret Ndinguri (margaret.ndinguri@eku.edu) - Organic Chemistry

Dr. Ndinguri’s research involves synthesis of interesting molecules that have biological and medicinal significance. Research efforts are focused on the development of new small biological molecules and peptide based anticancer agents. Several peptide motifs have been used as vehicles for drug targeting and exhibit a diverse spectrum of biological activities including, antitumor, antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive actions.

Dr. Jamie Fredericks (jamie.fredericks@eku.edu) - Forensic Science (Biology)

Dr. Jamie Fredericks's research focuses on the application of molecular beacons in forensic DNA analysis.  Today there is a growing need from the forensic community and law enforcement agencies to develop rapid, compact and portable devices that can genotype individuals in real-time and in the field. There has been tremendous effort to reduce the time for the PCR and improve the rate of analyzing samples. Although the time for amplification has been reduced, samples still require analysis through an expensive genetic analyzer, a protocol that can take over an hour. By generating a DNA profile in the shortest period of time possible, perpetrators, who would otherwise elude law enforcement agencies may be apprehended, and victims could be identified quickly. This would not only benefit criminal investigations, but also the families and communities involved. Molecular beacons (MBs) are single-stranded, nucleic acid probes that are able to elicit a fluorogenic response in the presence of a specific nucleic acid sequence. In the absence of a specific target, the MBs remain dark. Their high specificity and sensitivity characteristics are highly desirable and have the ability to genotype (both homozygotes and heterozygotes) multiple polymorphisms including SNPs and InDels. Current genotyping protocols in forensic DNA analysis requires a genetic analyzer. Genetic analyzers are expensive, require extensive training and extends the time taken to analysis samples by a considerable amount. The results of our preliminary study intend to demonstrate the novel application of molecular beacons in forensic science. We have designed MBs that are be able to genotype DNA samples, including hair, blood and saliva, directly and in real-time, thus significantly reducing the time taking to profile individuals. 

Dr. Pei Gao (pei.gao@eku.edu) - Physical Chemistry

Dr. Pei Gao’s group is interested in the chemical research at nanometer scale. Protein patterns immobilization on surfaces in nanometer to micrometer scale is one focus of this lab. Assembling protein molecules onto designated positions on the surface while retaining their bioactivity is critical to develop new protein based devices such as biosensors and biochips. We are interested in studying and developing different mesoscaled protein patterning methods. Another project is the assembly of gold nanoparticles (AuNPs). Because of the thiol-gold interaction, the AuNPs can be coated with thiol-derivatized single-stranded oligonucleotides to investigate different molecular interaction and recognition, which are critical in the sensing areas. In addition, some advanced characterization instruments, such as atomic force microscopy (AFM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) will be introduced and utilized to accomplish our project goals. Students interested in nanotechnology and nano-material assembly and related researches are welcome to work in this group.

Dr. Judy Jenkins (judy.jenkins@eku.edu) - Inorganic Chemistry

Dr. Jenkins’ research focuses on the fundamental chemistry of materials relevant to energy conversion platforms.  Specific topics include the synthesis and characterization of doped semiconductor nanocrystals for solar hydrogen production and electrodeposition of semiconducting polymers for use in organic solar cells, organic light emitting diodes, and other organic electronics. Students with interests in nanocrystal synthesis, semiconducting polymers, solar energy conversion, spectroscopy, and electrochemistry are encouraged to enquire about literature-based and/or lab-based research experiences.  In addition to her interests in energy conversion, Dr. Jenkins is also passionate about teaching chemistry, especially at the high school and college levels.  Works with those preparing for and/or continuing in teaching careers, so contact her for possible research options in the chemical education field as well!

Dr. Donghui Quan (donghui.quan@eku.edu) - Physical Chemistry

Dr. Quan’s research is dedicated to chemical modeling of astronomical systems and currently focused on two types of projects: molecules in interstellar medium and those in Titan’s atmosphere. Interstellar medium: In between the glorious stars, there is no vacuum. This is actually where the interstellar medium locates. Regions in the interstellar medium with relatively high densities are called interstellar clouds and are rich in chemistry. Despite the extremely low density and the relatively low temperature of these regions, many molecules, including organic ones, have been detected towards these sources. Titan’s Atmosphere: Titan is unique in the solar system as the only moon with a dense atmosphere. The physical conditions and chemical composition of Titan’s atmosphere are similar to that of the early Earth. The most abundant chemical species in Titan’s atmosphere are nitrogen gas, methane, hydrogen gas, and more importantly, many hydrocarbons and nitrogen bearing organic molecules. Modeling: Computer assisted modeling of the molecules detected in the universe will lead to a better understanding of the underlying chemistry. This will enrich our knowledge of the universe and may answer some of the ultimate questions of human beings. For example: what is the origin of life on the earth? Can extraterrestrial civilization exist? What will be the best places for people to search for habitable planets? Study of chemistry in the Universe is therefore very important and becomes a thriving field of modern chemistry. Students are welcome to discuss your interests and the research opportunities with me.

Dr. Christian Paumi (christian.paumi@eku.edu) - Biochemistry / Microbiology / Fermentation

Dr. Paumi’s research is focused on determining the role of glutathione (GSH) in reducing cellular oxidative damage and regulating cell growth and cell division in brewers yeast.  To determine the role of GSH in cellular protection and cell growth regulation my lab uses an interdisciplinary approach combining biochemical, analytical chemistry, and molecular biology techniques. A major goal of Dr. Paumi’s research is to determine the role of GSH is reducing oxidation of beer and wines during storage and regulating yeast cellular function during fermentation. The work carried-out as part of this project has direct implications to both the beer and wine industry and our understanding of cellular division in cells exposed to high levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Currently, Dr. Paumi is planning on having two projects.  The first of these projects is to determine if increased cellular GSH synthesis and recycling decreases oxidative stress in yeast, positively regulates cell division and growth, and increases overall fermentation efficiency. The goal of this project is to decrease yeast cellular oxidative stress via increasing the mechanisms by which GSH is synthesized and continually reduced from the oxidized form, GSSG. To carryout this work, Dr. Paumi and members of the lab will take advantage of the yeast deletion collection.  The yeast deletion collection contains over 5000 yeast clones in which a single gene has been removed at the chromosomal level.  These 5000+ clones represent greater than 90% of the yeast genome.  The use of the single gene deletion clones will allow for a systematic biochemical analysis of the GSH synthesis and recycling pathways.  The second project is in collaboration with Dr. Frederick (Department of Chemistry, Forensic Science Program) and is aimed at using a Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) technique to develop a methodology that could be used to identify various yeast and bacterial strain simultaneously. To this end, the identification of both yeast and bacteria at one time has been difficult due to a number of problems including techniques sensitivity.  The method that we have chosen to focus on, molecular beacon RT-PCR, is very sensitive and versatile.  Using molecular beacon RT-PCR technology will not only allow for an increase in sensitivity but will result in a method that could be utilized in a number settings including rapid identification of microbes in beer and wine and of microbes in the clinic.

Dr. Tanea Reed (tanea.reed@eku.edu) - Biochemistry

Approximately ten million people worldwide suffer from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) for which there is currently no cure. My research evaluates the use of a novel drug as a post therapeutic treatment and investigates its remediation of moderate traumatic brain injury. The use of this neuroprotective agent against oxidative stress in this TBI study would demonstrate the prevention of functional neurological decline and restoration of function following brain injury. This project incorporates biochemistry, proteomics, drug therapy, and neuroscience.

Dr. Buchang Shi (buchang.shi@eku.edu) - Organic Chemistry

One of research area is to study the mechanism of the Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis (FTS). FTS is a polymerization process that converts a mixture of CO and H2 to hydrocarbons. Since CO and H2 can be produced from any organic matter that contains carbon and hydrogen, the FT reaction becomes an attractive way to produce biofuel from biomass. This reaction has also been invoked to explain the formation of abiogenic hydrocarbons in the Earth’s crust, the formation of organic matters in the nebula, and the producing precursors of life-essential building blocks. Therefore, the FT reaction is not only important in producing synfuel, it may also be fundamentally important for understanding the origin of life. Our approach in studying the mechanism of FTS is through determining the isotope effect and the isotope enrichments in hydrocarbons produced by FTS using H2/D2 switch and competitive methods. The techniques used in these studies include: operation of fixed bed reactor, analysis of gas and liquid samples by GC and GC/MS, synthesis of model compounds labeled with deuterium. Our recent publications in this area: Applied Catalysis, 393 (2011) 178-183; 398 (2011) 54. Another area of our research is the sugar and chemical production from low temperature pre-treated biomass. Our ultimate goal is to develop a technique that can produce fuels and chemicals from low temperature pre-treated biomass, which could be an energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly technique in utilizing biomass.

Dr. Darrin Smith (darrin.smith@eku.edu) - Analytical Chemistry / Fermentation

Dr. Smith's research is based on the application of mass spectrometry for the analysis of compounds, either found readily found in biological matrices or from synthetic methods. The employment of ambient ionization methods has been key to attaining mass spectrometry information on a wide variety of samples including those related to biofuel production and toxicology investigations. This relatively new class of ionization sources, including desorption electrospray ionization (DESI) and direct analysis in real time (DART), are available to directly desorbed molecules from sample surfaces with little to no preparation (including derivatization) or prior separation. This method has the potential to become rapid and reliable form of analysis (even for quantitation) of analytes directly from complex mixtures (including a very complex mixture called Beer!). In addition to using ambient ionization, nanospray ionization is also utilized for the determination of protein identification through peptide sequencing to gain information about different samples derived from a variety of fields.

Dr. Lori Wilson (lori.wilson@eku.edu) - Analytical Chemistry

Phosphorous (P) containing compounds from farmland runoff or municipal /industrial discharges are associated with widespread contamination and expanding eutrophication of freshwaters. Eutrophication is the oversupply of nutrients, which causes explosive growth of plants and algae and in turn consumes the oxygen in the body of water, thereby creating a state of hypoxia. Eutrophication has the potential to impair water quality by restricting a water body’s use for fisheries, recreation, industry, and drinking purposes.  The reduction of P from animal manures used in farming can mitigate contamination and eutrophication of natural waters. Excess P from farms enter a watershed and accumulate in larger bodies of water. The overall focus of my research is to reduce the overall P levels in the soil by removing it from manure slurry, thereby preventing its ultimate runoff into streams and infiltration into ground water. Research has indicated that carbonaceous materials have the ability to remove P from aqueous solutions. Student investigators will conduct exploratory analyses to determine the quantity of P in dairy manure slurry, the extracted sludge, and the resulting effluent before and after incubation in various plant residues. Students will analyze sludge and slurry samples for total P using spectrophotometric molybdenum blue analysis after total digestion of the sample. Total P will also be measured by energy dispersive X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy. The five main advantages of measuring total P by XRF are1) higher sample throughput, 2) ease of sample prep, 3) good reproducibility, 4) lower operating costs and 5) multi-elemental information.