Skip to main content

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 chemistry 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 or contact the faculty mentor directly.

Dr. Karim Abdelhay ( - Forensic Science

Dr. Abdelhay's research focuses on developing the analytical methodology necessary for the differentiation of regioisomeric and isobaric compounds that are structurally related to designer drugs of abuse of the amphetamine, piperazine, synthetic cannabinoid and bath salts classes. This research is considered as a part of an overall effort to provide for greater analytical specificity in the identification of individual drug species via evaluation of the most likely imposter molecules. The synthesis of the designer drugs that are structurally related to the aforementioned classes of drugs of abuse, thereby creating the analytical challenges is also studied. A variety of sensitive analytical techniques are utilized for performing forensic analytical studies in order to differentiate between the drug of abuse and its related isomers and/or isobaric compounds. These techniques include but are not limited to Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), Gas Chromatography-High Resolution Mass Spectrometry (GC-TOF-MS), Gas Chromatography with Infra-Red Detection (GC-IRD) and High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC).

In addition, Dr. Abdelhay is also interested in the development and validation of analytical methods required for the analysis of pharmaceuticals and drugs in their pure forms, pharmaceutical preparations and biological fluids.

Dr. Anuradha Akmeemana ( - Forensic Chemistry

My research will be focused on fire debris and ignitable liquid analysis. Also, I am interested in machine and deep learning applications in trace evidence analysis. Some of my specific research interests are fingerprinting crude oil in soil samples and investigating isotopic ratios in ignitable liquid samples (gasoline, petroleum distillates etc.). Proposed instrumental techniques for these research projects are Gas Chromatography Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (GC-IR-MS) and Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). Machine and deep learning techniques will be used in the analysis and will be executed by R, python, Keras and TensorFlow.

Dr. Derek Bussan ( - Analytical Chemistry

My research interests revolve around analytical chemistry, specifically novel analytical techniques, forensic chemistry and environmental chemistry. 

Students who join my lab will be expected to go out into the field to collect environment samples which then be processed back in the laboratory.  One of the most important aspects of obtaining good measurements if not the most important aspect is how the sampling is conducted and handled before the samples are analyzed.  With that said students will learn the proper techniques of “sampling”, as well as proper processing methods of the samples.  Eastern Kentucky University is fortunate to be equipped with a wide variety of “World Class” instrumentation and as a member of my lab you will be exposed to, i.e. (GC-MS, LC-MS, DART, and ICP-OES).

Many of our everyday devices contain rare earth elements (REEs).  Dysprosium is used in smart phones, neodymium is used in magnets, gadolinium improves the quality of MRI images, lanthanum used by the military in night-vision goggles, samarium can be used in precision-guided weapons, and as “white noise” production in stealth technology.  Currently the largest producer of these REEs are international countries.  The United States specifically the U.S. department of Energy is spending millions of dollars in research working on separation techniques of these REEs in-order for our country to become self-sufficient.  Currently, one of the hottest topics in the state of Kentucky is coal mining.  Law and policy makers want to go away from coal to cleaner fuels for energy consumption.  What is also known is that coal is a source of these rare earth elements.  That’s where working on separation techniques, as well as finding out where the largest depositories of these REE’s would be beneficial to Kentuckians.  REE’s could be the so called “second coming” of coal. 

Dr. Jamie Fredericks ( - 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 ( - 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 ( - 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. Cindy Tran ( - Forensic Science (Chemistry)

There two distinct ongoing research projects in Dr. Tran's group:

  1. Recommendations for the chemical profiling of smokeless powders. There are currently a wide array of extraction and characterization techniques used by trace evidence analysts to compare the chemical profiles of smokeless powders (both intact and burned residues) which limits inter-lab comparisons. This research aims to provide a platform for comparison that accounts for the inherent differences that arise from the varying protocols.
  2. Predictive modelling of algal blooms in local point water sources. As much of southeastern Kentucky is characterized by agriculture – both in family-owned and industrial farming – the presence of harmful or toxic algae in the local water sources can be detrimental. The average farmer cannot predict when or if blooms will occur and will end up treating the blooms with a shock of toxic chemicals that can negatively impact the environment. This research seeks to use analytical techniques identify a combination of easily-monitored variables that would allow a lay person to predict the pending formation of algal blooms, allowing for less-harmful preventative water treatments to be used.

Dr. Margaret Ndinguri ( - 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. Donghui Quan ( - 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. Tanea Reed ( - 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. Laura Rowe ( - Analytical Chemistry

Dr. Rowe’s research group focuses on analyzing alternative biological building blocks (such as unnatural amino acids) in origin of life and astrobiology research, and employing such building blocks in developing bio-analytical sensors. This research can encompass field work to “terrestrial analogue” sites, as well as extensive in-laboratory work. In addition, Dr. Rowe is interested in developing, and assessing, innovative pedagogy during the design of her courses in order further chemical education research.

Dr. Buchang Shi ( - 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. Benjamin Wicker ( - Inorganic Chemistry

  1. Phosphonium ionic liquids.  These salts are unique in that they have low melting points but are still very stable toward high temperatures.  Dr. Wicker is investing the synthesis of new classes of phosphonium ILs that will have tunable physical properties for different applications.
  2. Cationic ligands.Some of the phosphonium salts that Dr. Wicker has developed have structures that should allow for the formally positive phosphonium to coordinate (strongly interact with) metal ions.  The end goal of this project is to stabilize unique metal charges and utilize the “extra” electrons in catalytic reactions.
  3. Phosphorus extrusion.  The first generation of phosphonium ligands did coordinate to metal ions, but the phosphonium reacted to generate bipyridine molecules.  Fortunately, the synthesis of bipyridines is of great interest for industrial and pharmaceutical applications.  Dr. Wicker’s third project is the development of this technology for a more widespread application.

Dr. Li Li Zyzak ( - Biochemistry

 Studying the Biochemistry of Flavor:  Our perception of flavor is driven by the binding of volatile molecules to receptors within our olfactory bulb and non-volatiles to taste buds on our tongue.  These interactions enable us to enjoy the things we smell and the foods we eat on a daily basis.  Each food or beverage has its own signature blend of chemical compounds that give rise to their characteristic flavor.   At its core, chemistry allows us to enjoy these pleasures.  The focus of my research will be in discovering the chemicals and pathways for the generation of these desirable flavor compounds.  In addition, steps will be taken to develop correlations between flavor compounds and consumer liking or preference.  Students involved in this research will be utilizing skills in biochemistry, organic chemistry, and analytical chemistry.

Open /*deleted href=#openmobile*/