Chemistry & Biochemistry Department
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One of our unique resources is the Blue Heron, a research vessel on Lake Superior that UMD faculty and students use to conduct important research.
The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is committed to excellence in cutting-edge interdisciplinary research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. With our dedicated faculty and state-of-the-art facilities, our Department offers a unique environment for our students to excel in research, new discoveries, and a culture of life-long learning.
What makes our research program unique is the close working relationship between students and faculty and our commitment to one-on-one mentoring. Our areas of expertise span a wide range of topics in biological, organic, inorganic, analytical, and physical chemistry.
Inorganic & Bio-Inorganic Chemistry
Inorganic elements, such as metal ions, play important roles in biological systems. Department members are interested in the roles of iron porphyrins in oxidation chemistry, copper in natural oxidoreductase enzymes, calcium in protein signaling events, and iodine compounds as redox reagents.
Membrane and Cellular Biophysics
The complex, heterogeneous, and dynamic nature of biomembranes play an important role in cellular processes such as cell signaling, protein trafficking, and cell communications. Model membranes, for example, are being used to investigate the underlying thermodynamics of membrane-protein interactions and calcium protein activation. Researchers are also trying to understand the role of lipid-cholesterol-protein interactions in lipid domain formations and IgE receptor signaling in mast cells.
Disease Mechanisms and Signaling Pathways
The properties, preferred substrates, and inhibitors of a protease family are being investigated due to their implication in Alzheimer’s disease. Factors that influence the reduction potential and substrate binding ability of an important class of hormone synthesizing dinuclear copper enzymes is being modeled using protein design techniques. We are also interested in the molecular underpinning of the allergic response in mast cells, with particular emphasis of protein-protein interactions and nanostructural changes in the plasma membrane associated with IgE receptor signaling. We are examining the mechanism of inhibition of cellular proteases by a class of designed inhibitory drugs. Energy metabolism and mitochondrial activities in healthy and diseased cells are also being investigated using natural coenzymes as biomarkers.
The social and economic impacts of diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and bacterial infection dictate a need for new drug discoveries and new basic knowledge concerning structure-function relationship of cellular proteins and enzymes. Our organic chemists are actively creating new classes of drug molecules for targeted diseases as well as to emulate natural products with biological activity.
The Minnesota Supercomputing Institute is regularly used by our faculty to investigate a number of chemical problems such as electron orbital energies, structures, and spectroscopies of numerous porphyrin based systems for potential light harvesting and protein–based systems for understanding biological processes. Using the same computational approaches, the physical chemistry of solids and gases are being investigated using Monte Carlo simulation. Boron-containing compounds are also being investigated using molecular dynamics calculations for potential applications in the LED field and cell imaging.
Analytical chemistry addresses practical problems in the detection and quantification of chemicals and their effects. Our faculty are developing new sensors to detect frozen water on bridges and roads, a safety issue in our Minnesota climate as well as investigating the properties of plastics as manufactured and after environmental weathering.
Environmental and Aquatic Chemistry
UMD is located on Lake Superior, the largest body of fresh water in the world. This provides a unique opportunity for our researchers who are interested in the environmental impact of carbon and other elements. We use cutting-edge mass spectrometry and other state-of-the-art techniques to track carbon through its natural cycles in aquatic systems as a probe for environmental changes that may impact our daily lives.
Organometallic porphyrins and their analogues hold a great promise for molecular electronics, light-harvesting and bio-sensing devices. Faculty are working toward improving the performance of Organic Photovoltaic devices and dye-sensitized solar cells towards sustainable energy production.
Dr. Robert Carlson (Advanced Materials Center, Director)
Dr. Prashanth Poddutoori