Student Research Opportunities
Chemistry majors experiment in college!
Every undergraduate Chemistry major has the opportunity to conduct research with a faculty mentor, as it is built into the prescribed Chemistry curriculum at the University of South Alabama through Directed Studies (CH 394/494). It is also a possibility to work in a lab as a paid student assistant or as a UCUR Undergraduate Research fellow.
Below is a list of faculty mentors and a synopsis of his/her research project. These projects can be utilized and/or expanded upon to pursue your own area of research interest. If you have any questions or would like to speak to a faculty mentor regarding a research opportunity, please establish contact using the information listed on his/her individual faculty webpage. In order to enroll in CH 394/494 Directed Studies, students must complete the Directed Studies Authorization Form available online.
For more information on the University of South Alabama Undergraduate Research program, please visit the UCUR Program site.
Traps and lures, using attractant pheromones, are used across the United States to identify and monitor invasive insect species. The Battiste group works together with Dr. David Forbes and Dr. Jason Coym to develop analytical methods for the verification, confirmation and quantitation of lure and trap active ingredients for two invasive insects attacking pine and spruce trees.
Two main analytical chemistry projects of this program are to develop and apply analytical methods for the extraction, separation and quantitation of the components of the (1) Spruce Blend Lure and the (2) Chalcographus Lure. The Spruce Blend Lure, which has been shown to attract Tetropium fuscum (F.) and Tetropium castaneum (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae), simulates five (5) mono-terpenes that are emitted from red spruce trees; α-Pinene, β-Pinene, 3-Carene, Limonene and α -Terpinolene. The Chalcographus Lure is composed of Chalcogran and methyl-2,4-decadienoate, two maleproduced pheromones emitted by Pityogenes chalcographus, as well as 2-methyl-3-buten-2-ol, a major volatile found in pine trees which is an attractant for other similar bark beetle species.
Synthesis of Trimedlure
The synthetic organic chemistry target for the group is the active ingredient of the Mediterranean fruit fly pheromone, t-butyl-2-methyl-4- chlorocyclohexanecarboxylate. This compound is one of four (4) possible isomers produced by the current synthetic route to commercial Trimedlure. Our primary goal is to apply synthetic methods, reported in the literature, to provide a sufficient quantity of this compound to our sponsor, to have an independent standard. A secondary goal is to develop an improved synthetic method to produce a larger quantity of the correct active isomer.
We investigate intermolecular processes that occur in the separation column. These include examination of retention mechanism—is retention by adsorption, partitioning, or a combination of these? What types of interactions occur between a solute, the stationary phase, and the mobile phase? How does changing experimental variables, such as temperature, stationary phase type, or mobile phase type, affect solute retention or separation selectivity? We employ van’t Hoff analysis to elucidate the thermodynamics of the retention process, as well as linear solvation energy relationships to examine the types of intermolecular interactions occurring when a solute is retained.
The first is in the area of “task-specific” ionic liquids (TSILs), a subgroup of ionic liquids first described by us in 1999 and first referred to as TSILs in 2000. TSIL – type ionic liquids may be distinguished from more “conventional” ionic liquids in that the anion, cation or both of the salt contains within its structure a “functional group” which (by design) imbues the salt with a specific chemical attribute.
The second general area of ionic liquids development by our group concerns the identification of recognizably non-toxic ions for evaluation in the formulation of ionic liquids. While the overwhelming focus of most IL research worldwide has to date centered on their eventual use as inductrial solvents, we believe that appropriately non-toxic ionic liquids are tremendously promising materials for use in consumer products. By in large, our energies in this effort have been focused on the identification of anions which might be suitable for IL formulation but which do not contain fluorine, a common component of most IL-anions.
Most recently our attention has turned to examining the use of a long-neglected boron-centered cation type – the “boronium ion” –in creating new ionic liquids.
The first area is basic research. We are exploring the fundamental nature of ionic liquids and the question of what makes an ionic liquid a liquid? This research involves the synthesis of various ionic liquids, then analyzing the interactions between the cation and anion that lead to their unique properties. In our group, the analysis of the interaction is performed through thermal characterization by differential scanning calorimetry, thermal gravimetric analysis, crystallographic analysis (when the ILS are crystalline), variable temperature Raman spectroscopy (with collaborators at U.S. Naval Academy), and computational methods. These techniques combined provide an understanding of the complex interaction that produces an ionic liquid with a lower melting point.
The applications section of our research focuses on converting biopolymers, such as cellulose and chitin, into feedstock chemicals to replace petroleum based feedstocks. Ionic liquids have proven to be excellent solvents for the dissolution of various biopolymers, such as silk, cellulose, and chitin to name a few. Once dissolved the polymer chains are now more reactive to various chemical reactions. Our goal is to develop an IL acid catalyst that can depolymerize the biomass to its monomer unit, either glucose for cellulose or N-acetyl-D-glucosamine for chitin. This project involves the synthesis of new IL based acid catalysts utilizing several different reaction paths, some new, and characterizing the catalysts by simple organic reaction and by depolymerization of the biomass. This work is currently supported by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
Mixtures too complex to be fractionated into individual components are relatively common in nature. Humic substances (the condensation and degradation products of dead and decaying plant and animal matter) are one such example. Humics are ubiquitous in nature and of great agricultural and environmental importance. More recently biomedical uses for these compounds (particularly as antiviral agents) have also been identified.
In this research group we are using chromatography and mass spectrometry to characterize humic substances on the molecular level. Research goals involve the development of pre-fractionation methods that reduce the overall complexity of humic mixtures; identification of structural components for individual humic molecules through tandem MS techniques; and mimicking of humic substances through synthetic standards.
One active area of research in my lab is the construction of functional f-element coordination polymers. A common impediment in lanthanide ion systems is that direct absorption of the f−f excited states is very inefficient. However, light harvesting ligands can be used to enhance the emission from the metal cation site. Ligands used for such applications usually have strong absorbance in the UV or visible regions and transfer their excited energy to the acceptor species (Ln cation). Chromophoric ligands that photosensitize lanthanide ion luminescence are of intense current interest. Such complexes are used in technological applications such as fluoroimmunoassays, cellular imaging, chemosensors, optical communications, and optoelectronic devices. A number of compounds have been studied that illustrate photosensitization of various f-elements. One of our main research aims is to prepare compounds that contain multiple donor groups for lanthanide sensitization.
Independently we are pursuing research in the area of surface science chemistry. Using both theoretical and experimental approaches, we are investigating structural and energetic aspects of adsorbate/surface interactions. On the theoretical side of this project, we are developing and applying new quantum chemistry models for the description of adsorption/desorption of atoms, small molecules, and macromolecules on crystal surfaces. We are using various experimental techniques, including crystal growth, polarized light microscopy and cryomicroscopy, scanning electron microscopy, single crystal x-ray crystallography and atomic force microscopy, to elucidate the adsorbate-crystal interactions that lead to control over crystal growth. These adsorbate-crystal interaction investigations involve, in particular, interactions between antifreeze proteins and ice crystals, polypeptide interactions with inorganic surfaces, design of inhibitors of kidney stones and inhibitors of arthritic degenerative calcification of joints in humans. Our interest in materials science also involves biomimetics and properties of magnetic materials with the emphasis on magnetic thin films.