Tag Archive for Chemistry

PhD Candidate Obenchain Recipient of Humboldt Research Fellowship

Dan Obenchain,a PhD candidate in chemistry, has been awarded the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship to study microwave spectroscopy in Germany. He's pictured here with his Wesleyan advisor, Stew Novick, professor of chemistry.

Dan Obenchain, a PhD candidate in chemistry, has been awarded the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship to study microwave spectroscopy in Germany. He’s pictured here with his Wesleyan advisor, Stew Novick, professor of chemistry.

A PhD candidate in chemistry will spend two years in Germany working on microwave spectroscopy research.

As a recipient of the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship, Dan Obenchain will continue his studies at the University of Hanover. He will start his fellowship in August 2016 after taking two months of intensive German language classes.

On March 4, Dan Obenchain met with Jens Grabow, a professor from the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry at the University of Hanover. Grabow was visiting Wesleyan to speak at the Department of Chemistry's Colloquium. Obenchain will work with Grawbow for the next two years in Germany.

On March 4, Dan Obenchain met with Jens Grabow, a professor from the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry at the University of Hanover. Grabow was visiting Wesleyan to speak at the Department of Chemistry’s Colloquium. Obenchain will work with Grabow for the next two years in Germany.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation brings young and senior scientists from around the world to Germany to conduct research in many different fields of science.

“Thankfully, working at Wesleyan has given me many great opportunities to publish my work. The faculty of both the chemistry and physics departments have been very supportive throughout my time at Wesleyan,” Obenchain said.

At the University of Hanover, Obenchain will work alongside Jens-Uwe Grabow, a professor from the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry. Both Obenchain and Grabow are microwave spectroscopists who study the properties of molecules by observing how they rotate. In 2015, Obenchain wrote a research proposal that looks at the interaction of two metals found in bimetallic nano-particles. Nano-particle research is a growing field of materials science, and is helping to make advances in many fields, including fuel cell efficiency and in polymer synthesis.

“Thinking about what we do is similar to thinking about a figure skater spinning in place. The skater will go faster if they bring their arms into their body, and slower if they extend them out. We use the same ideas when molecules rotate to determine their shapes and the type of chemistry they can do,” Obenchain explained.

In addition to having similar research interests, Obenchain and Grabow also design and maintain their own research instruments. Wesleyan’s Machine Shop constructed Obenchain’s microwave spectrometer, which mimics Grabow’s design in Germany.

After graduating from Wesleyan with a PhD in chemistry this May, Dan Obenchain will conduct research in Germany

After graduating from Wesleyan with a PhD in chemistry this May, Dan Obenchain will conduct research in Germany.

“Jens is not only a great scientist, he’s the best at designing and building microwave spectrometers,” Obenchain said. “I am more of a MacGyver when it comes to the instruments, while Jens is more of a Michelangelo. Hopefully, I can gain some of his expertise as one day I’d like to start my own academic research lab.”

Obenchain, who is completing his fifth year at Wesleyan, plans to defend his thesis at the end of the month and graduate in May. In addition to his research in Hanover, Obenchain looks forward to exploring Germany “and experiencing its culture, and hopefully seeing a Bundesliga soccer match at some point.”

After completing his fellowship, Obenchain will join more than 27,000 Humboldt Foundation alumni worldwide – the Humboldtians.

Support Wesleyan Researchers in Crowdfunding Pilot

Four Wesleyan academic departments, from psychology to dance to chemistry to biology, are competing for grant funds through a new crowdfunding site specifically designed for research project fundraising.

experimentExperiment.com’s Challenge Grant for Liberal Arts Colleges asked scientists to define a scientific research question for the crowd with a prize for the project with the most backers. The pilot launched on Feb. 24 and concludes March 25.During this 31-day period, the goal is to reach $4,000 in funding. If so, the team is granted the money. If not, they receive nothing and no one’s pledges are charged. By backing a project, participants will receive updates, results and data from project creators.

Wesleyan research include how the brain prevents risky-decision making/addiction; the effects of using artificial sweeteners; controlling seizures with light; and the effectiveness of somatic mind-body practices on victims of the war.

On Wednesday, March 16 at 11:59 p.m., Experiment will award the project with the most backers $2,000 directly through their project page.

Wesleyan’s projects include:

Northrop Featured in Synform‘s Young Career Focus

Brian Northrup

Brian Northrop

Synform, a journal of chemistry, recently featured an interview with Associate Professor of Chemistry Brian Northrop through its Young Career Focus series. Within it, Northrop briefly discusses his research and his most important scientific achievements.

“Currently, I think the greatest impact of my group’s research is more a matter of approach than a specific result. By this I mean that we approach research projects working across each of the ‘three M’s’ of chemistry: making, modeling and measuring. This complementary blend of synthesis, analysis, and theory provides my group with a deep, fundamental understanding of the chemical reactions and processes we are interested in…

“It is my hope that our approach to research and our initial published work have laid a solid foundation for a variety of more important scientific achievements in the future,” he said.

Read the full interview here.

Personick Studies Chemistry of Noble Metals

Michelle Personick joined the faculty this fall, and is teaching courses in Chemistry of Materials and Nanomaterials and an Integrated Chemistry Lab. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Michelle Personick joined the faculty this fall, and is teaching courses in Chemistry of Materials and Nanomaterials and an Integrated Chemistry Lab. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In this News @ Wesleyan story, we speak with Michelle Personick, a new member of Wesleyan’s Chemistry Department.

Q: Welcome! Please fill us in on your life before Wesleyan.

A: I’ve lived in the Northeast for most of my life. I grew up in New Jersey and then moved a bit further north to go to college in Vermont. I did my graduate work at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, which is just outside of Chicago. It was fun to be a short train ride away from Chicago and to be able to experience a new city for a few years. Then I moved back to the East coast to Cambridge, Mass. to do postdoctoral research at Harvard. I really enjoy the Boston area. I went there a lot as a kid and my best friend moved there after college, so it’s a place that’s always been home to me and it was nice to be back there for a couple of years.

Q: How did you first get interested in studying chemistry?

A: I was interested in science from a very young age, partly because my father is an electrical engineer, so I was exposed to a lot of science and engineering. In high school, I went back and forth between wanting to study chemistry and being interested in physics. As a junior in high school, I wrote a report on gold nanoparticles in cancer treatment for a science writing competition as a part of a class assignment. I got really interested in the topic of metals in chemistry while doing research for the report, and that’s when I decided on chemistry.

Q: Why did you want to teach chemistry in a liberal arts school like Wesleyan?

A: I went to Middlebury College as an undergrad, and as a student I enjoyed being able to interact with my professors and appreciated that they knew who I was and cared about how I was doing in their particular class.

Nobel Prize Awarded to Satoshi Omura, Wesleyan’s Max Tishler Professor of Chemistry

Satoshi Omura

Satoshi Omura Hon. ’94, the honorary Max Tishler Professor of Chemistry, received a Nobel Prize on Oct. 5.

Satoshi Omura was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for developing a new drug, which has nearly eradicated river blindness and dramatically reduced mortality from other devastating diseases. Omura made the discovery that led to this drug while a visiting professor at Wesleyan in the early 1970s.

Omura has remained in touch with Wesleyan colleagues since then and in 2005 was appointed the first Max Tishler Professor of Chemistry, an honorary position. He returns to campus every few years to meet with faculty and present his current research.

The Nobel Committee honored Omura and William Campbell for discovering the drug Avermectin, as well as Youyou Tu, who discovered Artemisinin, on Oct. 5.

“These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually,” the committee said in a statement. “The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable.”

Omura came to Wesleyan in 1971 while on sabbatical from the Kitasato Institute in Tokyo, and worked closely with the late Professor of Chemistry Max Tishler for a year and a half. According to Albert Fry, the E.B. Nye Professor of Chemistry, who was a young professor here at the time, Omura brought to Wesleyan a number of extracts from soil samples to analyze their effects on harmful microorganisms.

Faculty Teach Local Girls about Science

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The Green Street Teaching and Learning Center hosted a Girls in Science Camp Aug. 3-7. Wesleyan faculty members Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology (pictured third from left); Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies (pictured at far right); Chris Othon, assistant professor of physics (pictured at left), along with three undergraduate students, worked with the campers on various experiments. Sara MacSorley, director of the GSTLC (second from left), coordinated the activities.

Johnson led the campers on a bug hunt through Wesleyan’s West College Courtyard garden. There, the girls observed insects while considering insect diets and insect life-cycles. The girls also learned about the life-cycle of the fruit fly and set up an experiment to test the effects of feeding flies a high-sugar diet (this negatively affects the fly life-cycle, and is akin to inducing Type II Diabetes). Johnson also taught the campers about genetic variations (mutations) that affected wing and bristle development.

“Learning about these phenotypes served as an intro to genetics, genes and proteins,” Johnson said.

Johnson also taught the girls about microscopy. After a short presentation on how a variety of biological objects appear when viewed with high magnification, the girls viewed and captured images of the fly pupal eye with a fluorescent microscope. The girls also viewed a variety of mutant adult fly eyes with dissecting microscopes and, to build their skills in observation, built 3D models of these with modeling clay.
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Students Share Summer Research at Poster Session

On July 30, Wesleyan’s Summer Research Poster Session took place at Exley Science Center. More than 110 undergraduate research fellows from Math and Computer Sciences, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, the Quantitative Analysis Center, and Psychology presented research at the event. (Photos by Laurie Kenney)

Aidan Bardos ’17 presented her research titled "The Effects of Nutrition on the Immune Response of Wooly Bear Caterpillars Infected by Parasitoid Wasps." Bardos' faculty advisor is Michael Singer, associate professor of biology and environmental studies.

Aidan Bardos ’17 presented her research titled “The Effects of Nutrition on the Immune Response of Wooly Bear Caterpillars Infected by Parasitoid Wasps.” Bardos’ faculty advisor is Michael Singer, associate professor of biology and associate professor of environmental studies.

A poster titled "Immunohistochemical Analysis of Status Epilepticus Mice Treated with Striatal-Enriched Tyrosine Phosphatase Inhibitor" was presented by Matt Pelton ’17. His advisor is Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

A poster titled “Immunohistochemical Analysis of Status Epilepticus Mice Treated with Striatal-Enriched Tyrosine Phosphatase Inhibitor” was presented by Matt Pelton ’17. His advisor is Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

Uchendu ’17 Researches Production of Biofuels as McNair Scholar

Stacy Uchendu ‘17 is researching second generation biofuels with Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry and environmental studies, as a McNair Scholar.

Science in Society major Stacy Uchendu ‘17 is researching second generation biofuels as a McNair Scholar.

In this News @ Wesleyan story, we talk with Stacy Uchendu from the Class of 2017. Uchendu is participating in Wesleyan’s Ronald E. McNair Post Program, which assists students from underrepresented groups in preparing for, entering and progressing successfully through post-graduate education.

Q: Stacy, where are you from and what is your major?

A: I’m from Houston, Texas, and my major is Science in Society with concentrations in chemistry and religion.

Q: When did you become a part of the McNair Program? Why did you decide to participate?

A: McNair offers a wonderful opportunity to do paid research over the summer and during the academic school year.

NIH Grant will Support Taylor’s Drug Treatment Research

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor

On June 15, Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, received a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health) to support her research on “Inhibition of (the enzyme) HeptosyltransferaseI for the treatment of Gram-negative bacterial infection.” Gram-Negative bacteria include things like E. coli, Salmonella, and V. cholerae (the cause of Cholera) that are common causes of food-bourne illnesses.

The grant, worth $492,000 will enable her to engage multiple graduate and undergraduate students in the proposed work through June 2018. Preliminary results for this project were obtained with the help of graduate student Joy Cote and Dan Czyzyk PhD ’15; and undergraduates Zarek Siegel ’16, Keonmin Hwang ’16, Noreen Nkosana BA ’11, MA ’13, and several others.

The current widespread use and misuse of antimicrobials has led to the emergence of bacterial resistance to many commonly used antibiotics, necessitating development of new drug targets. Lipopolysaccharides, a major constituent of the Gram-negative bacterial outer membrane, important for cell motility, intestinal colonization and bacterial biofilms formation, contribute substantively to antibiotic resistance by hampering antibiotic uptake. Inhibiting the synthesis of bacterial lipopolysaccharides results in bacteria that are unable to form biofilms and are more susceptible to antimicrobials.

The LPS heptosyltransferase enzymes investigated as part of this proposal are therefore potential targets for the inhibition of bacterial biofilm formation and the development of therapeutic agents.

“Every morning when you wake, you have a bacterial biofilm on your teeth,” Taylor explained. “Also, when you see/feel slime on a rock at the shore that too is likely from a bacterial biofilm (so long as it isn’t being caused by algae).”

Bacteria grow in biofilms to help enable survival under harsh conditions (including things like drying out, being exposed to highly acidic environments as happens in our mouths; biofilms also help bacteria resist UV-radiation and antibiotic treatments).

The project is intended to lead to the development of new antimicrobials for the treatment of Gram-negative bacterial infections. The long-term goal of this work is the development of new drugs for the treatment of these infections, Taylor said. This work also could help in the prevention of secondary infections transmitted in hospitals because of the prevention of bacterial biofilms on things like catheters.