Tag Archive for Chemistry

Paper by Taylor, Students Show How Enzymes Break down Lignin

Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, is the author of a paper “Exploring Allosteric Activation of LigAB from Sphingobium sp. strain SYK-6 through Kinetics, Mutagenesis and Computational Studies,” published in Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Vol, 567, pages 35-45, February 2015.

Co-authors include graduate students Kevin Barry and Joy Cote; Erin Cohn ’15, Abraham Ngu ’13 and former graduate student Jason Gerbino.

Development of renewable alternatives for petroleum derived fuels and chemicals is of increasing importance because of limits on the amount of fossil fuels that are available on the planet. In an effort to improve the utilization of lingo-cellulosic biomass sources (which includes switchgrasses, trees and other terrestrial plants) for the production of these chemicals, Taylor and her students have been working to enhance the understanding of how Lignin is broken down in nature (by environmental fungi and bacteria). As part of this work, they study an enzyme called LigAB from Sphingobium sp. strain SYK-6.

In a recent study, Taylor’s group showed that this enzyme works faster in the presence of vanillin, a molecule that is produced in large quantities as Lignin is depolymerized (which also is the primary ingredient in vanilla extract).

“The activation of LigAB is exciting because the enzymes that break down vanillin show that an organism can more efficiently metabolize all of the compounds — or get energy from the abundant molecule more quickly. This is the first time that an enzyme like LigAB has been shown to be responsive to other metabolically linked molecules, and it suggests that the flux of compounds through this pathway may be more complicated and interesting that initially predicted,” Taylor said.

Now, the group is interested in figuring out exactly how this activation works and also if there are any relatives of LigAB that exhibit similar behavior.

Neuroscience Major Russell ’15 an A Cappella Singer, Organic Chemistry TA

Colin Russell '15 sings with two a cappella groups on campus and works as a Senior Interviewer in the Office of Admission. "My goal is to personalize a student’s application as much as possible, and it has been a joy to meet so many accomplished high school seniors," he said. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Colin Russell ’15 sings with two a cappella groups on campus and works as a Senior Interviewer in the Office of Admission. “My goal is to personalize a student’s application as much as possible, and it has been a joy to meet so many accomplished high school seniors,” he said. Colin plans on applying to medical school next spring. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

#THISISWHY
In this Q&A meet Colin Russell from the Class of 2015.

Q: Colin, what are you majoring in? What have been your most instrumental courses so far?

A: I am majoring in neuroscience and behavior while also on the pre-medical path. Two of the most instrumental courses in my journey through Wes have been Organic Chemistry and the Organic Chemistry Lab that is paired with the lecture course. The reputation of Organic Chemistry was extremely intimidating prior to taking the course, and I was nervous that I would not like this subject that is the basis for so much of the biological world. However, I soon learned that I enjoyed the structure of subject, not just in the way it was taught, but in the way that my brain began to process information. The concurrent lab course, while extremely difficult, also allowed for hands-on application of the processes and reactions that we were learning in the lecture class. I enjoyed the course so much that I became a Teacher’s Assistant for the lab, and I will be starting my fourth semester as a TA for the lab in the spring. Not only has the information from these two courses been crucial for my studies, but the process of meeting the challenges of these two classes has also been extremely important in my academic journey.

Q: You’re currently a Senior Interviewer in the Office of Admission. Please describe that role.

A: Joining the Office of Admission team has critically shaped my senior year and outlook on Wesleyan. I have learned much not only about the admissions process, but also a ton about Wesleyan and her students. As Senior Interviewers, we are expected to know about the various corners of campus life, and so I found myself seeking out ways to soak up random tidbits,

Northrop Teaches Students at Green Street about Polymers through Putty Workshop

gsac-(18)

Brian Northrop teaches a student at the Green Street Arts Center how to properly mix the putty’s ingredients.

On Nov. 3, Brian Northrop, assistant professor of chemistry, spoke to students at the Green Street Arts Center about polymers. As part of the hands-on workshop, Northrop taught the participants how to make their own silicone polymer putty with glue, water, Borax and food coloring.

Similar putty was accidentally invented during World War II when an American scientist working for General Electric in New Haven, Conn. was trying to create synthetic rubber using silicone oil and boric acid. The result produced a “solid-liquid” goo that had a high melting temperature, could bounce when dropped, and stretch. The product is most commonly known as Silly Putty, a trademark of Crayola LLC.

Northrop’s workshop is funded through a 2014 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. This is the second year that he’s taught students at the GSAC.

Photos of the polymer workshop are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

gsac-(71) gsac-(80)

Graduate Students, Faculty Attend American Chemical Society Meeting

Chemistry graduate student Duminda Ranasinghe spoke about his research on "Density functional for core-valence correlation energy."

Chemistry graduate student Duminda Ranasinghe spoke about his research on “Density functional for core-valence correlation energy.”

Two graduate students and two faculty attended the 248th national meeting of the American Chemical Society Aug. 10-14 in San Francisco, Calif.

Chemistry graduate students Duminda Ranasinghe delivered a poster presentation on her research titled “Efficient extrapolation to the (T)/CBS limit” and an oral presentation on “Density functional for core-valence correlation energy.”

"Assessing weak interactions in small dimer systems with PM7."

Chemistry graduate student Kyle Throssell presented a poster titled “Assessing weak interactions in small dimer systems with PM7.”

Chemistry graduate student Kyle Throssell presented two poster presentations on “Potential curves of selected radical thiol double additions to alkynes” and “Assessing weak interactions in small dimer systems with PM7.”

The students were accompanied by George Petersson, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of chemistry; and Michael Frisch, research professor in chemistry.

Wesleyan Faculty Teach Fifth Graders about Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Astronomy

Fifth graders from Snow Elementary School in Middletown toured Wesleyan’s astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics and scientific imaging departments on June 18, 2014. Students also visited the Joe Webb Peoples Museum and Collections in Exley Science Center.

Brian Northrop, assistant professor of chemistry, used the reversible hydration and dehydration of cobalt(II) chloride to demonstrate Le Chatelier's principle and create color-changing "humidity sensors." Pieces of filter paper were saturated with a solution of cobalt(II) in water, which turned the paper pink. Warming the paper with a blow dryer evaporated the water and turned the paper blue by re-forming cobalt(II) chloride.

Brian Northrop, assistant professor of chemistry, used the reversible hydration and dehydration of cobalt(II) chloride to demonstrate Le Chatelier’s principle and create color-changing “humidity sensors.” Pieces of filter paper were saturated with a solution of cobalt(II) in water, which turned the paper pink. Warming the paper with a blow dryer evaporated the water and turned the paper blue by re-forming cobalt(II) chloride.

eve_snowschool_2014-0618115734

Research student Jesse Mangiardi ’15 Mangiardi ’15 demonstrated how to change the chemical composition — and color — of a penny. First he submerged a copper penny in a solution containing zinc mixed with a base, which coated the penny in zinc and made it appear silver. Next, he heated the zinc-coated penny with a blow torch which caused the zinc and copper to react and form brass, and turned a penny bright gold.

eve_snowschool_2014-0618120108

The students took a few silver and gold pennies back with them to Snow School.

Tsui ’15 to Study with Professor Fry as American Chemical Society Fellow

Elaine Tsui ’15

Elaine Tsui ’15, who is currently studying abroad, will speak at the 2014 Connecticut Valley Section-American Chemical Society Undergraduate Research Symposium.

This summer, Elaine Tsui ’15 will work on her undergraduate research in the Chemistry Department as an American Chemical Society Fellow.

Tsui, who is double majoring in English and chemistry, received the fellowship from the Society’s Connecticut Valley Section. Funding opportunities are available for those with interests in physics, biology, materials science, engineering and medicine.

As a fellow, Tsui will conduct self-directed research under the supervision of Albert J. Fry, the E.B. Nye Professor of Chemistry. In 2013, Tsui worked with Fry as a Hughes Fellow and studied “Andodic Oxidation of 1,1-Diphenylacetone in Various Alcohols.” She will continue this research for 10 weeks under the fellowship.

“I will be continuing work on a project that investigates the mechanism for the electrolytic conversion of 1,1-diphenylacetone to the benzhydryl alkyl ether,” Tsui said. “This particular reaction has been my main focus since I first started work in Professor Fry’s lab during my sophomore year.”

As a fellow, Tsui is also required to give a talk at next year’s Connecticut Valley Section-American Chemical Society Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Tsui was initially notified of the opportunity through Professor Fry.

Of particular appeal to Tsui was the funding opportunity that the fellowship presented. “During the year, with all my classes and other responsibilities, it’s difficult to be able to carry out some of my experiments that take hours to complete, and the summer is a great opportunity to just focus on my project in lab,” she said. “To be honest, I didn’t think I would actually get the fellowship considering how many excellent chemistry students are out there, so I was surprised and happy when I was notified that I had gotten it.”

With her most recent appointment, Tsui hopes to hone her skills as a chemical scientist. “I’m also hoping that I will be able to gain more familiarity with lab work and the entire process of using different techniques to investigate different questions we have,” she said.

From the experience, Tsui foresees a growing interest in chemical research surrounding her current work surrounding oxidation reactions in alcohols. “There is still so much to learn about this reaction,” said Tsui, “and the results we have been getting from some of our experiments continually surprise us.”

After graduating, Tsui hopes to pursue additional research opportunities in organic chemistry, largely in part to the influence of her alliance with Fry.

“I think being exposed to this environment and my own growing interest in my project and what my lab mates are working on have made me realize that I do want to get into a career in research,” she said.

Tsui is currently completing a semester abroad in England and will begin her research in June. She’s also planning to submit a paper for review and publication.

Chemistry’s Taylor Leads Biofuels Workshop for Area Teachers

On April 26, Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, led a biofuels workshop for area teachers at the Green Street Arts Center.

On April 26, Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, led a biofuels workshop for area teachers at the Green Street Arts Center.

Taylor led a presentation about her biofuel research and led an activity where the teachers made biofuel from cooking oil. The workshop was funded by a Connecticut Teacher Quality Partnership grant, which supports professional development of high school teachers in alternative energies and project-based learning.

Taylor led a presentation about her biofuel research and led an activity where the teachers made biofuel from cooking oil. The workshop was funded by a Connecticut Teacher Quality Partnership grant, which supports professional development of high school teachers in alternative energies and project-based learning.

Northrop Awarded Prestigious NSF CAREER Award

Brian Northrop

Brian Northrop

This month, the National Science Foundation awarded Brian Northrop, assistant professor of chemistry, with a 2014 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award.

The CAREER awards support junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

The honor came with a five-year grant totaling $537,561, which Northrop will use on his study titled “Selective Thiol-Ene and Thiol-Yne Chemistry, From First Principles to Organic Materials.”

At Wesleyan, Northrop’s research focuses on the design, synthesis and analysis of new organic materials utilizing molecular recognition and self-assembly, and “click” chemistry. With the CAREER Award, Northrop and his students will continue to investigate new methods for making polymers and nanoscale assemblies.

“Synthetic polymers form the basis of many of the materials we encounter every day, from plastics and adhesives to medical equipment and electronics,” Northrop explained. “One of the primary goals of contemporary polymer synthesis is to be able to fine-tune the physical properties of polymers by exhibiting precise control over their chemical structure. By developing methods that allow such precise control, researchers are able to directly influence whether a given polymer is stiff or flexible, fragile or resilient, insulating or conductive, etc.”

Much of the research in Northrop’s lab focuses on developing a thorough, fundamental understanding of how compounds known as thiols react with alkenes and alkynes.

Taylor Keynote at Undergraduate Research Symposium

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, delivered the keynote address at the 16th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, hosted by the School of Natural Sciences of Fairleigh Dickinson University on April 25.

Taylor spoke on “Alternative Energy Sources: Enzymology That Is Essential for Making Lignin.”
At Wesleyan, Taylor is exploring the enzymology that is essential for making Lignin a viable biomass source for production of energy and as a commodity chemical feedstock.

Graduate Students, Faculty Attend 2014 Biophysical Society Meeting

Several graduate students and faculty from the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department, Chemistry Department, and the Molecular Biophysics Program presented their research at the 2014 Annual Biophysical Society meeting in San Francisco, Calif. Feb. 15-19.

The Biophysical Society encourages development and dissemination of knowledge in biophysics through meetings, publications and committee outreach activities. Every year, the society holds an annual meeting that brings together more than 6,000 research scientists in different fields representing biophysics.

Wesleyan graduate students, from left, Katie Kaus, Stephen Frayne, Yan Li, Shu Zhang, Anushi Sharma and Harikrushan Ranpura, presented research at the the Biophysical Society meeting.

Wesleyan graduate students, from left, Katie Kaus, Stephen Frayne, Yan Li, Shu Zhang, Anushi Sharma and Harikrushan Ranpura, presented research at the the Biophysical Society meeting.

Westmoreland, Craft, Hensiek Present Papers at American Chemical Society Meeting

David Westmoreland, associate professor of chemistry, and chemistry graduate student Breanna Craft presented a paper titled, “pH-Dependent Mechanisms of 1H Relaxivity in a Series of Structurally Related Mn(II) Cyclen Derivatives” at the 245th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society held in New Orleans, La. in April 2013.

Westmoreland, Craft and chemistry graduate student Sarah Hensiek also presented a paper titled, “Solution Dynamics of Transition Metal Complexes of Cyclen Based Ligands Containing Amide and Carboxylate Functional Groups.”