The Department of Chemistry welcomes its undergraduates to participate in ongoing research projects in faculty research laboratories. Research opportunities in biochemistry, analytical, organic, inorganic, physical, and polymer chemistry are available. 

Current Research Projects

Below are sample faculty-led research projects in which undergraduates can participate:

  • Olof Ramstrom, Ph.D.

    Area 1: Antibiofilm Materials Based on Chitosan


    Antimicrobial resistance is of critical concern in the healthcare sector, as the number of multidrug-resistant pathogens is increasing. Some bacterial strains can protect themselves from common antibiotics through biofilm formation. For example, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus epidermidis are known to form heavy biofilms, permitting them to survive under stringent conditions and develop more resistance. To address this, we are studying drug delivery approaches that can significantly reduce or eradicate bacterial biofilms. For example, chitosan is a polycationic biocompatible polymer with intrinsic antibacterial properties that can be used as a drug delivery material. However, functionalization of the chitosan chains can potentially lead to better activity and broader applicability of these matrices. One such modification is to introduce new functionalities, such as chatechols, through the free amine groups of chitosan. Specific agents can then be used to reversibly crosslink the chitosan chains into nanoparticles or surface coatings, while concurrently encapsulating other antibiotic agents. This project involves the preparation and evaluation of these crosslinked materials for pathogen inhibition, and to study the antibiofilm activity.

    Area 2: Dynamer Turn-Off/On Fluorescence


    Dynamic covalent polymers (Dynamers), in which the repeating units are connected by dynamic covalent bonds, are of great importance for studying complex dynamic systems and developing novel materials. Several reversible covalent reactions are used to synthesize dynamers, among which the nitroaldol reaction is particularly important since it can produce dynamic C–C bonds. Therefore, nitroaldol reaction-based dynamers have many advantages. For example, we have found that the polymerization of certain building blocks can yield dynamers with strong, tunable fluorescence under UV light. Since the dynamer chain also contains several coordinating groups, the materials can interact with specific metal ions that can lead to intriguing property changes. Preliminary results have shown that certain metal ions can reduce or enhance the fluorescence of the dynamers, but a more thorough investigation of this phenomenon is needed. This study will, therefore, offer a better understanding of dynamer-metal ion interaction and expand the application range of this type of dynamers.

  • Manos Gkikas, Ph.D.


    Area 1 - Contrast Agents for Medical Imaging

    The Gkikas Lab in the Department of Chemistry is seeking motivated undergrads to assist in the synthesis and development of X-ray contrast agents for breast cancer detection, arthritis, and/or lung inflammation.


    Area 2 – Polymeric Nanomaterials that Target Hidden Wounds

    The researcher’s responsibilities include: organic/polymer synthesis of the materials, chemical characterization, (bio)conjugation strategies for incorporating cell recognition ligands, cell culture and studies for material biocompatibility or affinity.

  • James Reuther, Ph.D.

    Dynamic Nanoparticle Networks (DNNs) as Tunable Platforms for Regenerable Water Purification Systems

    The global availability of clean drinking water has reached crisis levels, especially in underdeveloped parts of the world with an estimated 844 million people lacking access to safe drinking water. Novel, sustainable approaches to water purification are now critical to combat this global issue. Traditionally, natural raw water is processed to decrease the concentration of natural and man-made pollutants to legal limits at centralized municipal plants, at private well sources and/or by the users at the point-of-use. Both centralized and point-of-use treatment rely on same physicochemical principles to remove suspended and soluble constituents of the pollutants. One of the main premises of water treatment is concentrating pollutants on highly charged, high surface area solid surfaces (e.g., activated carbon, membrane, ion exchange resin). Since these sorptive materials have a certain removal capacity, they exhaust their treatment ability in time. However, regeneration and reuse can provide a green approach to minimize the cost and environmental impact of water treatment. The overarching objective of this project is to develop dynamically crosslinked, polymer nanoparticle networks for applications as water purification adsorbent materials that can be effectively regenerated using network dissociation and reformation.

    The described synthetic approach combines photo-controlled atom transfer radical polymerization induced self-assembly (PhotoATR-PISA) with alkyne functional initiators and copper-catalyzed “click” chemistry with dynamic covalent (DC), bis-azide crosslinkers to form Dynamic Nanoparticle Networks (DNNs). Furthermore, PhotoATR-PISA with disulfide functional initiators results in in situ fabrication of DNNs with multi-responsive disulfide crosslinks between nanoparticles. These DNN adsorbent materials are inherently tunable in nanostructured morphologies (via altering molecular weight in PISA synthesis), chemical composition (through core modification of nanoparticles) and dynamicity (through utilization of different DC bonds) providing a divergent synthetic approach for forming regenerable adsorbent materials. These various factors will be studied systematically to not only investigate the overall regeneration capabilities of the described adsorbent materials but also the potential for chemically targeted adsorption of high-priority pollutants through targeted intermolecular interactions. Furthermore, we plan to investigate different types of regeneration mechanisms via installation of different DC bonding groups for low temperature thermal regeneration in boiling water (via dynamic Diels-Alder reactions of furans and maleimides and disulfide exchange) and UV-regeneration (via dynamic disulfide exchange reactions).


  • Image of nanoscience research and materials

    Michael B. Ross, Ph.D.

    Nanoscience Research for Photonics, Energy, and Environmental Science

    Metal nanoparticles strongly absorb visible light, enabling applications in chemical and biomedical detection, energy storage and production, and new kinds of optical electronics. Understanding how to control their size, shape, and light absorption is essential for progress. Projects are available focusing on nanoparticle synthesis, characterization, and analysis. There are also opportunities available related to environmental detection, catalysis, and detection. Successful undergraduate researchers will commit 10-15 hours per week and perform research over multiple academic semesters and years. Further information can be found on the Ross Research Group website

  • 3D representation of RNA oligonucleotide molecule binding to electrodes to measure its electrical properties

    Juan Artes Vivancos, Ph.D.

    Single-molecule electrical measurements for biophysics and biosensing applications

    The fundamental understanding of diverse processes in biology requires bridging the gaps between studies at different levels; organisms, tissues, cells, biomolecular complexes, and, ultimately, individual biomolecules. To this end, biophysical characterization studies require new experimental approaches leading to a complete quantitative picture containing various perspectives: spatial resolution at the nanoscale, thermodynamics, and kinetics of the processes. The field of single-molecule biophysics has experienced a boom in the last decades. Not only the developments in optical microscopy have allowed researchers to study biological details of fundamental processes with a high spatial and temporal resolution, but nanoscience tools such as Scanning Probe Microscopies (SPM) have led to biophysical studies at the single-molecule level.

     We use SPM and molecular electronics for the study of different biological systems. We are now further developing these methods to apply them to:

    • The study of RNA, proteins, and biomolecular interactions
    • The development of biosensors for human health and environmental monitoring
  • Matthew Gage, Ph.D.


    Titin is the largest known protein encoded for in the genome and is the third most abundant protein in muscle. It plays a critical role in passive tension as well as being a critical component in determining sarcomeric organization. The Gage lab uses a range of biophysical and molecular techniques to probe how the structure of various sections of titin contribute to titin’s function in the muscle. There are a range of types of projects possible in the Gage lab from biophysical studies characterizing titin function to big data analysis of gene expression patterns in muscle. 

    Molecular characterization projects are currently focused on understanding the function of a signaling hub in titin, in a region called N2A. This included binding studies between various proteins that bind this region and how this region binds to the thin filament in the muscle. Transcriptomics-based projects include exploring the gene expression patterns in muscles that are undergoing repair and exploring changes in the gene expression pattern in muscle as an organism becomes older. These projects provide students with an opportunity to learn a range of skills and techniques that will help prepare them for future careers in industry and for graduate school.


Students interested in obtaining academic credit for research must enroll in courses such as CHEM.2800L (Undergraduate Independent Study) or CHEM.4070/4080 (Undergraduate Thesis I and II). 

CHEM.4070/4080 are only open to chemistry majors in their final semesters of study and both courses must be taken as a sequence with no more than six credits applied toward meeting degree requirements. Written progress reports are required, as well as the preparation and presentation of a written thesis. Permission of the Department Chairperson and of the faculty member who will be supervising the research is required.

Credit for courses CHEM.4070/4080 may be used by chemistry majors for credit and as a chemistry elective only when the thesis is under the direction and direct supervision of a member of the chemistry department faculty. Interdisciplinary research may be used for chemistry credit only when the thesis is under the direct supervision of a member of the chemistry faculty, with the second department involved in an advisory role or supportive role.  

Follow the link for more information on the Center for Advanced Materials.