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Rensselaer Catalog 2008-2009 [Archived Catalog]

Chemistry and Chemical Biology

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Head: Linda B. McGown

Associate Head: Ronald A. Bailey

Undergraduate Program Contact: Joseph T. Warden

Graduate Program Contact: Elizabeth McGraw

Department Home Page:

The Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology provides courses and programs of study that reflect the central role of chemistry in the science and technology of tomorrow. In addition to a strong focus in the traditional areas of chemistry, including analytical, biological, inorganic, organic, and physical, the department offers courses and research programs in the rapidly developing frontiers of modern science. These areas include biochemistry, biophysics and biotechnology, materials and polymer chemistry, nanotechnology and medicinal chemistry. The department offers programs leading to the B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry, as well as a minor in chemistry.

Chemistry instruction is delivered in Walker Laboratory, which houses state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories, and in Cogswell Laboratory, the site of the majority of the department’s research activities. Undergraduate laboratories provide students with hands-on experience with equipment similar to that found in industrial and research laboratories. Chemistry research laboratories are found in the Cogswell Laboratory, the Materials Research Center, the New York State Center for Polymer Synthesis, the nearby Science Center, and, the recently completed Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies Center.

Research Innovations and Initiatives

Analytical Chemistry

Research in the broadly defined area of analytical chemistry includes new approaches to chemical and biological separation, detection and quantitation.   Projects include: protein and DNA analysis that extends to genomics, proteomics and biomarker discovery, characterization of novel materials for applications in biotechnology and nanotechnology, and molecular probe techniques for studying molecular conformation, interactions and self assembly. Techniques employed in the various projects include an array of mass spectrometric techniques, spectroscopic techniques including fluorescence, absorption and circular dichroism, imaging techniques such as AFM, STM, SEM, TEM and confocal fluorescence microscopy, and separation techniques including HPLC and capillary electrophoresis.

Biochemistry, Biophysical Chemistry, and Biotechnology
Pathways on the primitive earth for the origin of RNA are under investigation as part of the activities of the New York State Center for Studies on the Origins of Life. The goal of this research is to determine if the RNA formed by proposed prebiotic pathways has catalytic activity, a requisite for the first life on earth. Photosynthetic electron transport and biological energy transduction for the mechanisms are studied by electron spin resonance and time-resolved optical and electroabsorption spectroscopies. Biochemical and biophysical research also focuses on the mechanisms of protein folding and aggregation, protein folding defects related to human diseases, and the molecular structures of proteins, including amino acid sequence determination and identification of protein post-translational modifications. Carbohydrate biochemistry and glycobiology are used to understand disease processes and to develop new therapeutic agents. The biochemical aspects of biotechnology including biocatalysis and metabolic engineering are being explored. The methodologies used include kinetic and spectroscopic analysis (NMR, fluorescence, circular dichroism, surface plasma resonance (SPR) and FTIR of protein conformational changes), molecular modeling, computational graphics, and molecular mechanics calculations on peptides and proteins. New methods for the separation of biopolymers are being developed. A new initiative in carbohydrate chemistry is centered on the computer design and organic synthesis of carbohydrates with novel functionalities and non-natural architectures.

Inorganic Chemistry and Solid-State Chemistry
Inorganic chemistry involves the preparation and investigation of substances that include coordination complexes, metalloenzymes, organometallic compounds, anion-sequestering agents, and inorganic solids with extended network structures. Materials and solid-state chemistry focuses on the application of both inorganic and organic substances as structural, optical, and electronic materials, and include theoretical studies on the defect structures of inorganic solids. Syntheses of organometallic compounds and inorganic polymers provide sources of novel solid-state materials, both as molecular solids and as precursors for the pyrolytic preparation of inorganic solids, such as aluminum nitride and silicon carbide.

Organic Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry, and Organometallic Chemistry
Active areas of synthetic organic and medicinal chemistry research include the design and synthesis of novel agents to treat cocaine addiction and carbohydrate-based cardiovascular anti-infection and anti-cancer agents. Research in the areas of transition organometallic chemistry and homogeneous catalysis focuses on synthetic and mechanistic studies of organometallic complexes applicable to the conversion of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide into organic molecules. The development of molecular modeling programs that evaluate intermolecular electrostatics may result in the deeper understanding of enzyme-substrate interactions.

Mechanistic and synthetic photochemistry are areas of major emphasis. Investigations involve the photochemical transformations of heterocycles, carbonyl containing compounds, and naturally occurring materials. The atmospheric chemistry of Jupiter and Titan (Saturn’s largest moon), and the role of photochemical reactions in the origins of life also are under investigation. Photosynthesis and rearrangement of heterocyclic purines and photochemical reactions of possible prebiotic gases are being studied to elucidate the role of photochemistry in transformations that led to biological molecules on the primitive earth. Photochemical processes used for the generation of polymer thin films, for the photoimaging of lithographic resists, and for novel polymerization processes are also being developed.

Polymer Chemistry and Materials Chemistry
Synthetic and development efforts are under way in the field of high-performance thermally stable polymers, conductive polymer membranes for fuel cell applications, liquid crystalline polymers, block copolymers, and photosensitive thermosets and thermoplastics. Novel synthetic and biorenewable-monomers and methods for their synthesis are being studied. New approaches to polymer preparation, including photochemical, photo-electroinitiated, transition metal catalyzed, and vapor-deposition polymerization are also under study. Development of biologically compatible polymers that can serve as scaffolding for tissue regeneration is an area of recent interest. Polymers are characterized by means of gel permeation chromatography, viscometry, differential scanning calorimetry, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, low-angle light, X-ray, and neutron scattering and mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF and ESI). Surface interactions between immiscible crystallizable polymers are being studied using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, polarized light microscopy, electron microprobe methods, and Raman spectroscopy. Properties of multiphase polymer alloys and solutions are being investigated in shear, electric, and magnetic fields. Polymerization processes are being investigated from the aspect of mechanistic organic chemistry. Coordination complexes and organometallic compounds are being considered as inorganic polymers and as precursors for the pyrolytic preparation of inorganic solidstate materials.

Surface Science
Topics of current research interest include the study of surface interfacial tensions of liquids and liquid-liquid systems with and without surface-active solutes present. Molecular structure and orientation of liquid and solid surfaces and surface films are being studied through state-of-the-art laser spectrographic techniques. Structure and composition of films with environmental importance on lake and ocean surfaces are also under investigation by direct and remote sensing methods.

Computational Chemistry and Spectroscopy
Computational chemistry and molecular modeling are being developed and used to understand the relationships between molecular structures and their properties. Specialized electron density reconstruction methods, such as the Transferable Atom Equivalent (TAE) technique, have permitted the construction of predictive models that allow good estimates of the properties of new compounds to be synthesized, as well as predicting the behavior of protein displacers in the biotechnological chromatography of fermentation products. These techniques, together with novel machine learning and drug delivery modeling algorithms, have been developed as part of the NSF Project DDASSL,. The Rensselaer Exploratory Center for Cheminformatics Research is dedicated to advancing the field of Cheminformatics and increasing the availability of new methods within the Cheminformatics user community through development of new multi-objective machine learning methods, high information-content descriptors, data fusion techniques and infrastructure for extending the reliability and applicability of informatics-based prediction techniques. Other theoretical chemistry projects under way emphasize understanding nonlinear optical properties of polymers. Spectroscopic research is directed particularly toward structure and properties problems of a wide range of compounds, with emphasis on vibrational (infrared and Raman), linear and nonlinear laser and microwave spectroscopy, NMR spectroscopy, electronic spectroscopy, and X-ray diffraction. Solid-state NMR spectroscopy is used extensively in materials and polymer chemistry research, and in the characterization of catalysts.

Research Facilities and Equipment

Department research facilities include the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, Cogswell Laboratory, the New York State Center for Polymer Synthesis, the Science Center, and the Materials Research Center. A variety of modern instruments is available in individual laboratories and in the department’s Major Instrument Facility, which provides state-of-the-art equipment for nuclear magnetic resonance (both solution and solid state), proteomic applications (MALDI-TOF/TOF, triple quadrupole, FTMS), and other techniques. This equipment, serviced and operated by a professional staff, is available to all researchers in the department. The central mass spectrometry facility includes GC-MS, MALDI-TOF for macromolecular analysis, and LC-MS(ion trap) equipment. Other instruments available for research include NIR, visible, UV, fluorescence, atomic absorption, surface plasma resonance and FTIR spectrophotometers, G.C. and HPLC equipment, electrochemical equipment, ESR spectrometers, DSC, DTA, TGA, and TMA instruments for thermal studies, and X-ray fluorescence and diffraction instruments. A molecular modeling laboratory contains computer workstations and a variety of sophisticated computer programs for molecular modeling, conformational analysis, energy calculation, and synthesis design.

Undergraduate Programs

The Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology offers a variety of opportunities to undergraduate students, ranging from four-year and accelerated degree programs to dual majors, minors, and specialization programs.

Dual Major Programs

Students interested in both chemistry and another field may use the elective course options in one program to take the required courses from another discipline to qualify for a dual degree. Examples are a B.S. in chemistry and biology, or chemistry and physics, or chemistry and economics. Combinations with any other science or H&SS discipline are usually easy to arrange, but students should seek counsel from their advisers.

Special Undergraduate Opportunities

Accelerated Programs
Students may elect to complete their B.S. degree in three years instead of four. To achieve this, they must take courses during the summer semesters and additional electives. Students with advanced placement standing in some courses are especially well situated for such arrangements. It is also possible for those not wishing to remain in Troy over the summer to take equivalent courses elsewhere and receive transfer credit.

An additional option is completion of the requirements in three and a half years. With advanced placement credit and additional courses during some academic semesters, summer work may be minimal.

B.S.-M.S. and B.S.-Ph.D. Programs
A student who is within 18 credit hours of the B.S. can apply for admission to the graduate program. With advanced placement credit, extra courses, and by starting research while still an undergraduate, the time required for the advanced degree can be reduced by a year or more. Students who enter the Chemistry graduate program through the 18-hour rule may be eligible for graduate teaching or research assistantship support.

Highly motivated students who carry out significant research as undergraduates may apply this toward their graduation thesis in a mentored program that can lead to the Ph.D. degree three years after the B.S. degree.

Students contemplating an accelerated program must consult with their adviser early in their careers.

Undergraduate Research Programs
Chemistry majors at all levels are encouraged to participate in the research program of the department. Research may be taken for credit or supported financially through the Institute URP program and from faculty research funds. Participation may be during academic semesters or in the summer. A senior research experience is required of all majors.

Graduate Programs

The Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology offers two graduate degrees—the Master of Science, and the Doctor of Philosophy. The M.S. and the Ph.D. require research and a thesis.

Graduate students are expected to show basic knowledge in the areas of analytical, inorganic, organic, physical, and bio-chemistry through placement examinations or courses. Each student’s course requirements are determined individually by the results of the placement examinations, background, and area of interest. Common course requirements for all students in the first year are Perspective in Chemistry, Introduction to Mass Spectrometry, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Chemical Literature, and if supported by a teaching assistantship, Chemistry Teaching Seminar. In consultation with the adviser, students may select a number of specialized advanced-level courses in chemistry as well as offerings that meet their needs in other departments as they plan a program to meet individual professional goals.

The department has well-developed research programs not only in the traditional areas of chemistry, but also in interdisciplinary areas that transcend traditional boundaries and that foster collaborative work with other departments. There are extensive collaborations among Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Materials Science and Engineering in the areas of polymers/bio/nano/materials, and collaborative programs with Biology, Computer Science, Physics, and Mathematical Sciences Departments, and the School of Engineering and the Center for Integrated Electronics. These, and off-campus collaborations which include Albany Medical College, the University at Albany, and the New York State Wadsworth Laboratories provide essential connections between Chemistry and other areas vital to modern society. Cooperative programs with industry, national laboratories, and other universities are also part of the department’s research activities. Faculty members, visiting scholars, postdoctoral associates, graduate students, and undergraduates all participate in the research efforts of the department.

Supplementing courses and research projects are weekly seminars and colloquia in the various areas of chemistry. Scientists of national and international renown participate in these seminars.

Most first-year graduate students receive support as teaching assistants, usually participating in undergraduate chemistry courses under the direction of a faculty member. After they have chosen a research adviser graduate students are eligible for support as research assistants.

Master’s Programs

Master of Science
Students must complete 30 credit hours of research and course work, 15 of which must be at the 6000–9990 level. In addition, these students must submit a research thesis.

Doctoral Programs

To complete the Ph.D., students must meet institutional and departmental requirements including an oral candidacy examination and a final defense of the doctoral thesis and accumulate 90 credit hours (60 beyond the M.S. degree) of research and course work. For any Ph.D. degree, the courses required will be specified based on the student’s background and research needs.

Minor Programs

The department offers a number of minor options for both chemistry and nonchemistry majors. In addition to the science minors detailed in this catalog, chemistry majors may minor in other disciplines through programs offered within other departments.

Course Descriptions

Courses directly related to all Chemistry curricula are described in the Course Description section of this catalog under the department code CHEM.



Bailey, R.A.—Ph.D. (McGill University); coordination chemistry and chemistry of molten salts.

Benicewicz, B.C.—Ph.D. (University of Connecticut); polymer chemistry.

Breneman, C.M.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara); physical organic chemistry.

Crivello, J.V.—Ph.D. (University of Notre Dame); polymer chemistry.

Cutler, A.R.—Ph.D. (Brandeis University); organometallic chemistry.

Interrante, L.V.—Ph.D. (University of Illinois); inorganic and solid-state materials synthesis.

Korenowski, G.M.—Ph.D. (Cornell University); laser spectroscopy, surface science.

Linhardt, R.T.—Ph.D. (John Hopkins University); carbohydrate chemistry, medicinal chemistry and biocatalysis.

McGown, L.B.—Ph.D. (University of Washington); analytical and bioanalytical chemistry.

Moore, J.A.—Ph.D. (Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn); synthesis and reactions of polymers.

Wait, S.C., Jr.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); spectroscopy, vibrational and electronic spectroscopy.

Warden, J.T.—Ph.D. (University of Minnesota); ESR spectroscopy, biophysical chemistry.

Wentland, M.P.—Ph.D. (Rice University); medicinal chemistry.

Research Professors

Ferris, J.P.—Ph.D. (Indiana University); prebiotic chemistry, origins of life.

Wiedemeier, H.A.—D.Sc. (University of Munster); high-temperature and solid-state chemistry, computational analysis of defect structures in solids.

Associate Professors 

Colon, W.—Ph.D. (Texas A&M University); biophysical chemistry.

Ryu, C.Y.—Ph.D. (University of Minnesota); polymer physical and materials chemistry.

Assistant Professors

Akpalu, Y.—Ph.D. (University of Massachusetts, Amherst); polymer physical and macromolecular chemistry.

Barquera, B.—Ph.D. (National Autonomous University of Mexico); (joint appointment with Biology); bioenergetics, sodium metabolism, biochemisty/biophysics.

Dinolfo, P.— Ph.D. (Northwestern University): inorganic chemistry, materials chemistry, physical chemistry.

Kempf, J.—Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology); biophysical chemistry, NMR spectroscopy, biodynamics.

Lakshmi, K.— Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): biophysical chemistry; energy and signal transduction, pulsed EPR and solids NMR spectroscopy.

Platt, M — Ph.D. (University of Virginia) bioanalytical chemistry, mass spectrometry, proteomics.

Wang, C.—Ph.D. (Cornell University); (joint appointment with Biology) NMR spectroscopy, neuroscience and aging.

Research Assistant Professors

Sukumar, N. — Ph.D. (State University of New York, Stoney Brook) computational chemistry.

Adjunct Faculty

Bello, S.C.—M.D. (SUNY Downstate Medical Center); general chemistry, biochemistry.

Ding, X.—Ph.D. (University of Michigan); molecular genetics.

McIntyre S.—Ph.D. (Duke Univeristy); analytical. 

Sprague, E.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytecynic Institute); physical chemistry.

* Departmental faculty listings are accurate as of the date generated for inclusion in this catalog. For the most up-to-date listing of faculty positions, including end-of-year promotions, please refer to the Faculty Roster section of this catalog, which is current as of the May 2008 Board of Trustees meeting.

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