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Research

Student education is strengthened further through participation in research. On both the graduate and undergraduate level, students perform high-quality research under the direct guidance of a faculty member who is an expert in his or her field. This unique research environment provides the student with valuable experience that is highly prized in industry. Most students graduate with at least one research publication or presentation to their credit.

Areas of Current Research

  • Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Physical Chemistry
  • Computational Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Organometallic Chenistry
  • Polymer Chemistry

Azzedine Bensalem, Ph.D.

Azzedine Bensalem, Ph.D.
Professor
Research: Materials Science
Education: Ph.D., Inorganic Chemistry, Université de Nantes, Nantes Cedex, France
Phone: 718-488-1448; Fax: 718-488-1465; E-mail: azzedine.bensalem@liu.edu

 

Synthesis and characterization of inorganic materials of great technological application using sol-gel method. Materials such as transition metal oxides and lithiated metal oxides in Li-battery application, that are usually prepared at high temperature, can be prepared at room temperature using sol-gel technique. Metal phosphates that have properties that range from catalysts through nuclear waste disposal to synthetic bone application that are usually prepared using hydrothermal techniques requiring special pressure and temperature, can be prepared using sol-gel technique under ambient conditions. New carbon/metal oxides, with improved combustion properties in which the ignition temperature and the carbon monoxide evolution are greatly reduced, are another area of research we are pursuing. We have turned our attention recently to the sol-gel preparation of flame retardant materials and smoke reducing agents. All the prepared materials are fully characterized using several characterization techniques (X-ray power diffraction, TGA/DSC, FTIR, UV-Vis, 400 MHz NMR, etc.).

Mrinal Bhattercharjee, Ph.D.

Mrinal Bhattercharjee Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Research: Biochemistry
Education: Ph.D., Biochemistry, Ohio State University, Jamaica, NY
Phone: 718-488-1048 ; Fax: 718-488-1465; E-mail: mrinal.battercharjee@liu.edu

1. My research involves the study of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans (Aa), a periodontal pathogen implicated in localized juvenile periodontitis and other human infections including endocarditis. So people, such as those having heart murmur, who are prone to infection of the heart valve by Aa and other oral bacteria, are advised by doctors to take antibiotics before undergoing any dental work. I am working on development of methods for making mutations in the bacteria which allows me to study the genes involved in virulence.

2. My research includes study of the spread of antibiotic resistance genes by conjugative transfer of plasmid DNA between bacteria. In the past I have investigated the mechanism of conjugative transfer of the broad host range plasmid, RSF1010. We have now discovered a novel plasmid from a clinical isolate of Salmonella. Currently we are characterizing this new plasmid and plan to study the genes in the plasmid.

Edward J. Donahue, Ph.D.

Edward J. Donahue, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Research: Material Science
Education: Ph.D., Inorganic Chemistry, Polytechnic University, Brooklyn, NY
Phone: 718-488-1664; Fax: 718-488-1465; E-mail: edonahue@liu.edu

Synthesis and characterization of novel materials for electronic, electromagnetic and biological applications. Materials are synthesized through either gas-phase chemical vapor deposition (CVD) reactions or solution based sol-gel condensation. Based upon the envisioned applications, materials may be characterized by X-ray diffraction, infra-red spectroscopy, thermal analysis, fluorescence spectroscopy and magnetic susceptibility. Novel organo-metallic precursor are also developed and analyzed by nuclear magnetic resonance, infra-red spectroscopy and thermal analysis

Jonathan Gough, Ph.D.

Jonathan Gough, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Research: Organic Chemistry
Education: Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
Phone: 718-488-1208 ; Fax: 718-488-1465; E-mail: jgough@liu.edu

With the sequencing of the human genome, advances in biological research have grown exponentially.  The use of genetic knockouts, RNA interference, and site-directed mutagenesis to understand the roles of genes and gene products is now becoming commonplace. Fundamentally these methods perturb protein expression at the genetic or transcriptional level. Although these new tools have significantly advanced our understanding of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, many intractable questions still remain. Through the use of chemical genetics, biologically active compounds are now being used as another means to address difficult biological questions. A powerful example of Chemical Genetics is the use of biologically active natural products for elucidating protein function.

Glen Lawrence, Ph.D.

Glen Lawrence, Ph.D.
Professor
Research: Biochemistry
Education: Ph.D., Biochemistry, Utah State University, Logan, UT
Phone: 718-488-1052; Fax: 718-488-1465; E-mail: glen.lawrence@liu.edu

My interests have recently shifted to searching the scientific literature for the toxic effects of uranium. This interest arose from following the work of peace activists who have been trying to have depleted uranium banned from military munitions. The research began from a passing curiosity, but as I learned more about the toxic effects of uranium, my conscience has led me to continue with this research and to try to inform others of not only the health consequences of depleted uranium munitions, but of the cover up by the U.S. military and U.S. government regarding these health effects on U.S. citizens, as well as the effects on innocent citizens in the lands that we attack.

My laboratory research interests have been quite broad and varied. They are concerned primarily with two areas: oxy radical reactions with molecules of biological significance and biomedical analysis. It turns out that uranium is both a radioligical toxin as well as a chemical toxin. The toxic effects of this metal are mediated, in many cases, through free radicals generated by both the radioactivity and by the chemical properties of uranium ions in solution.

The earlier work on oxygen radical reactions yielded papers on free radical mediated production of benzene (a supposed carcinogen, although most studies failed to show it to be carcinogenic) from benzoic acid (a common food preservative that is usually added as the sodium salt, sodium benzoate) and free radical mediated production of benzaldehyde (a common flavoring agent for foods) from the artificial sweetener, aspartame. The work on products of aspartame attack by oxy radicals was terminated after an extraordinary review of a manuscript submitted for publication was rejected. It was felt that it would be more productive to abandon the project than to attempt to battle the powers that be (i.e., industry). That paper identified products that may be potentially toxic, especially to the nervous system.

Work in the area of biomedical analysis centered around development of improved methods for analysis of drugs in biological fluids or in complex dosage forms. The development of an improved method for atropine analysis proved beneficial to the FDA when it was called upon to analyze stockpiled autoinjectors that were being distributed as antidotes for chemical warfare agents that were suspected of being in the Iraqi arsenal in the 1991 Gulf War. There was never any evidence that neurotoxins were deliberately used by Iraq in that war, although the U.S. military bombed a site that is believed to have contained chemical warfare agents.

A major goal of these research projects has been to train students in performing research as well as learning modern and useful analytical techniques.

Hannia Luján-Upton, Ph.D.

Hannia Luján-Upton, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Research: Polymer Chemistry
Education: Ph.D., Polymer and Organic Chemistry, Polytechnic University, Brooklyn, NY
Phone: 718-488-1448; Fax: 718-488-1465; E-mail: hlujanup@liu.edu

Plastics (polymers) have made their way into our everyday lives although most were introduced into the mainstream post World War II. Most polymer’s physical properties have been optimized for the envisioned application in the 60’s and 70’s. However, with the advent of newer technology such as microwaves, cell phones, computers, etc. a re-evaluation of many materials’ performance over time has become necessary. An example would be the concerns that have arisen from microwaving of plastic baby bottles clearly marked as “microwave safe” due to the release of BPA (bis-phenol A), a harmful carcinogenic chemical. Our lab has undertaken the research of testing common household items such as plastic and acrylic cups, take-out containers, plates, bowls, etc. and measuring the rheological changes that occur upon constant exposure/use of microwaves. The instrumentation used in our study are infra-red, real-time infra red measure on volatiles in the solid state, nuclear magnetic resonance, differential scanning calorimetry, thermal analysis, and optical microscopy. Degradation mimicking sun exposure over time will also be evaluated on these materials using ultra violet exposure with a spectrometer.

Wayne Schnatter, Ph.D.

Wayne Schnatter, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Research: Organic Chemistry
Education: Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Phone: 718-488-1453; Fax: 718-488-1465; E-mail: wayne.schnatter@liu.edu

My research interests fall within the area of organometallic chemistry, specifically as applied to organic synthesis. Currently there are two major areas:1) The discovery of new reactions of iron complexes in the preparation of highly substituted compounds. Our results have been published in Tetrahedron Letters, 2006, 47, 963-966 and Tetrahedron Letters 2009, 50, 930-932. Other results in this area have been submitted for publication. Basically, the iron allows complex transformations to occur to provide molecules that would be difficult to synthesize using other methodology. 2) The use of organometallic reactions to prepare molecules that will serve as single molecule diodes for the dramatic improvement of computational power density. We have synthesized the "first-generation" targets and are beginning studies of the "second" and "third" generation molecules. We hope to gain insight into the pathways through which conduction of electrons occurs on the single molecule scale.

Samuel Watson, Ph.D.

Samuel Watson, Ph.D.
Professor
Research:Organic Chemistry
Education: Education Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Phone: 718-488-1027; Fax: 718-488-1465; E-mail: swatson@liu.edu

There are currently two research projects underway in my laboratory in the area of organic synthesis.

Both of these projects involve the synthesis of biologically active molecules that have the potential to become new drug candidates. Students working on these projects will gain familiarity with the synthesis and purification of small organic molecules and their characterization using a variety of instrumental techniques such as infrared (IR) spectroscopy, gas chromatography/mass (GC/MS) spectrometry, and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.

The first project involves the synthesis of pyrrolo[2,3]xanthone systems as pictured below 1 . This is a novel ring system whose synthesis is at a level that is applicable to undergraduate research work. New derivatives are being synthesized as potential Topoisomerase inhibitors 2 . These compounds may have potential as anti-tumor agents.

Topoisomerase inhibitors2


The second project is the synthesis of potential inhibitors of ornithine decarboxylase3 as potential chemotherapeutic agents for the treatment of African Sleeping Sickness. It is well established that analogues of the natural ornithine decarboxylase substrate, ornithine, can act as suicide inhibitors of the enzyme and thereby selectively target the tyrpanosoma organisms that are the causative agents of African Sleeping Sickness.4 Molecular modeling studies have identified bi-substrate molecules based on the Schiff base adduct of pyridoxal and ornithine, as shown below, may have the potential to be competitive inhibitors of the enzyme.

ornithine decarboxylase3


References

  1. (a) Watson, S. E. “Synthesis of 4-Methyl Pyrrolo[2,3-b]xanthone, a Novel Ring System”, Synthetic Communications, 2005, 35, 2695 – 2701. (b) Rewcastle, G. W., Atwell, G. J., Baguley, B. C., Calveley, S. B., Denny, W. A. J. Med. Chem., 1989, 793- 799. (c) Pickert, M., Frahm, A. W. Arch. Pharm. Pharm. Med. Chem., 1998, 331, 177 – 192. (d) Sousa, M. E., Pinto, M. M. M. Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2005, 12, 2447 – 2479 and references therein.
  2. (a) Liu, L. F. Annu. Rev. Biochem. 1989, 58, 351 – 375. (b) Wang, J. C. Annu. Rev. Biochem. 1996, 65, 635 – 692 and references therein.
  3. (a) McCann, P. P., Pegg, A. E. Pharmac. Ther.1992, 54, 195 – 215. (b) eisenthal, R., Cornish-Bowden, A. J. Bio. Chem. 1998, 273, 5500 -5505. (c) Barrett, M. P., Mottram, J. C., Coombs, G. H. Trends in Microbiology 1999, 7, 82 – 88. (c) Bacchi, C. J., Garofalo, J., Ciminelli, M., Rattendi, D., Goldberg, B., McCann, P. P., Yarlett, N. Biochemical Pharmcology 1993, 46, 471 – 481.
  4. 4. (a) Grishin, N. A., Osterman, A. L., Brooks, H. B., Phillips, M. A., Goldsmith, E. Biochemistry1999, 38, 15174 – 15184. (b) Brooks, H. B., Phillips, M. A. Biochemistry 1997, 36, 15147 – 15155. (c) Rapp, M. Haubrich, T. A., Perrault, J., Mackey, Z. B.; McKerrow, J. H., Chiang, P. K., Wunk, S. F. J. Med. Chem. 2006, 2096 – 2102 and references therin.

Nadarajah Vasanathan, Ph.D.

Nadarajah Vasanathan, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Research:Polymer Chemistry
Education: Ph.D., Polymer Chemistry, City University of New York, New York, NY
Phone: 718-488-1463; Fax: 718-488-1465; E-mail: nadarajah.vasanathan@liu.edu

Effect of Hydrogen Bonding in Fiber Formation of Polyamides
It is generally believed that hydrogen bonding makes polyamides important engineering plastics, because of the high strength it imparts. However, the interchain hydrogen bonds between amide groups are seen as a barrier to ultradrawing of high molecular weight polyamides and, therefore, to the achievement of high strength and high modulus fibers. The purpose of the proposed research is to develop a new method to spin and draw high strength fibers and films by suppressing the interchain amide group hydrogen bonding. There is evidence in the literature that hydrogen bond suppression can be achieved by Lewis Acid - Base complexation of polyamides, and this may provide a way to temporarily eliminate hydrogen bonding during drawing, allowing orientation to the desired degree, followed by reformation of the hydrogen bonds in the oriented state. We will investigate the influence of hydrogen bonding on fiber formation in low and high molecular weight polyamides, and examine morphological characteristics such as molecular orientation in the crystalline and noncrystalline regions, degree of crystallinity and crystallite size. We will also explore the Lewis acid - base complexation reactions of polyamides as a means of probing the nature of intermolecular hydrogen bonding in semicrystalline polymers. Another issue of commercial importance is that polyamide fibers, unlike polyester fibers, are difficult to heat-set, which often causes considerable processing problems in manufacturing polyamide textiles. It has been hypothesized that hydrogen bonding in polyamides is primarily responsible, and the proposed study will permit a systematic examination of this question. The complexation of polypeptides and proteins (nylon-2s) would be additional amide bond containing polymers worthy of study, because of the higher concentration of amide groups in their backbone bonds and because in their crystals the amide bonds may form either interchain (beta-sheets) or intrachain (alpha-helices) hydrogen bonds.

Piezoelectric Polymeric Films and Fibers for Tissue Regeneration and Cell Growth
Many studies have looked at the effects of a piezoelectric polymer substrate on the growth of different types of living cells. Most of these studies have used polarized poly(vinylidene fluoride) (PVDF) films or films of its copolymer with trifluoroethylene (PVDF/TrFE). Both of these polymers can be ferroelectric; however, they exhibit no piezoelectric activity until they are placed in an electric field which reorients the polar chains in the randomly oriented polar crystalline regions and imparts to the material a remanent polarization determined by the polarity of the crystals and the magnitude and direction of the applied field. For PVDF, the film must first be permanently stretched to a draw ratio (initial length to final length) of > 3:1 in order to change its crystal structure from centrosymmetric (non-ferroelectric or piezoelectric, with chains having a TGTG’ conformation) to non-centrosymmetric (ferroelectric and piezoelectric) with chains having an all trans, TTTT, conformation. In this ferroelectric state, films can be polarized by the application of an external electric field. The films are now piezoelectric. The piezoelectric response of the films depends on the magnitude of the applied field and the degree of chain orientation and, before use in biomedical experiments, should have well characterized values for their electroactive response. PVDF/TrFE directly crystallizes into a ferroelectric crystal form and may be polarized without stretching; however, since reorientation of chains in these polar crystals occurs by rotation about the molecular stems, this polymer is also stretched before poling in order to enhance its remanent polarization.

Poly(lactic acid) (PLLA) has traditionally found applications in the biomedical area for sutures, implants and drug release, owing to its biocompatibity with human tissue and its biodegradability. In order to prevent surgical insertion of bimedical implants, biodegradable and biocompartible polymers could be favored. These polymers can be degraded either enzymetically or non enzymetically or both to produce biocompatible safe by-products. These by products can be eliminated by normal metabolic pathways. Porous biodegradable PLA scaffols have been studied for the application as three-dimentional template for initial cell attachment and subsequent tissue regeneration. Recent advances in the fermentation of dextrose from corn starch has reduced the cost of manufacturing the lactic acid monomer required to produce PLA, so that its application in a much wider range of products is now commercially viable.

Recent results have shown that uniaxially drawn poly(L-Lactic Acid) (PLLA) films exhibit classic ferroelectric D-E behavior at temperatures in the 80-90C range. In addition, the remanent polarization of these PLLA films are ~ 90 mC/m2, on the order of that obtained from the copolymer of vinylidene fluoride and trifluoroethylene [p(VDF/TrFE)], until now, the highest values obtained in ferroelectric polymers. This represents two important opportunities with respect to PLLA. The first is to determine the relationships between structure/electro-processing (draw ratio, poling conditions, etc.)/electroactive properties relationships of this new ferroelectric material. Second, PLLA, along with other piezoelectric polymers have shown an ability to enhance nerve cell growth. Therefore, we will examine the relationships between remanent polarization and piezoelectric response, the property that is associated the enhancement of cell growth. The importance of PLLA is that it is the only biodegradable piezoelectric polymer to exhibit such properties. We will also examine the differences between uniaxially oriented PLLA films, which are naturally piezoelectric, with films that have been subjected to ferroelectric switching. Previous studies of cell growth on PLLA films have only looked at the effects of the naturally occurring piezoelectricity.

Andreas Zavitsas, Ph.D.

Andreas Zavitsas, Ph.D.
Professor
Research: Physical Organic Chemistry
Education: Ph.D., Physical Organic Chemistry, Columbia University, New York, NY
Phone: 718-488-1208; Fax: 718-488-1465; E-mail: azavitsas@liu.edu

I am studying the properties of water solutions.

Water solutions are generally considered to be “non-ideal”, meaning that experimental measurements do not support our theoretical expectations regarding freezing point depressions, vapor pressures, etc. Either our theories are wrong or we are not applying them correctly. Evidence is being gathered to show that the theories are correct, but have been misinterpreted and misapplied for over 100 years.

Viscosities of water solutions of large, non-electrolytes are currently understood in terms in terms of Einstein’s viscosity theories of 1906. However, the behavior of viscosities of electrolyte solutions is poorly understood. There have been no reasonable explanations for their behavior. We are gathering evidence to explain their behavior.