Jul 23, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2013-2014 
Rensselaer Catalog 2013-2014 [Archived Catalog]

Chemistry and Chemical Biology

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Head: Curt M. Breneman

Associate Head: Ronald A. Bailey

Undergraduate Program Contact: Gerald M. Korenowski

Graduate Program Contact: Peter Dinolfo or Sharon Gardner

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 New York State Center for Polymer Synthesis, the nearby Science Center, and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.

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, glycomics, metabolomics, biomarker discovery and abiotic routes to the molecules of early life on earth; chemical and chiral separations; characterization of novel materials for applications in biotechnology and nanotechnology; characterization of novel organized media formed by molecular self-assembly; molecular probe techniques for studying molecular conformation and interactions; non-traditional approaches to discovery of aptamers and related affinity reagents. Techniques employed in the various projects include mass spectrometry, spectroscopic techniques including fluorescence, absorption and circular dichroism, surface plasmon resonance,  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 Center for Astrobiology. 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 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 chemoenzymatic synthesis, biocatalysis, and metabolic engineering are being explored. The methodologies used include kinetic and spectroscopic analysis (NMR, fluorescence, circular dichroism, surface plasmon 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 and inorganic solids with extended network structures. Projects include synthesis and characterization of molecular catalysts for artificial photosynthesis, synthesis and growth of thin film materials for molecular based solar cells and nanochemistry involving the synthesis and study of metallic and ceramic nanoparticles.

Organic Chemistry and Medicinal Chemistry
Active areas of synthetic organic and medicinal chemistry research include the design and synthesis of novel agents to treat cocaine addiction, carbohydrate-based cardiovascular anti-infection and anti-cancer agents, and novel anticoagulant and antithrombotic drugs. The development of molecular modeling programs that evaluate intermolecular electrostatics may result in the deeper understanding of enzyme-substrate interactions.

Studies of the systems involved in photosynthesis carried out as part of the activities of the Baruch ‘60 Center for Biochemical Solar Energy Research are providing exciting insights into possible bio-solar energy production mechanisms. The atmospheric chemistry of Jupiter and Titan (Saturn’s largest moon), and the role of photochemical reactions of purines and 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 sustainable polymers, high-performance thermally stable polymers, fuel cell polymer membranes, block copolymers, and photosensitive thermosets and thermoplastics. Novel synthetic and biorenewable-monomers and methods for their synthesis are being studied with an emphasis of green chemistry. New approaches to polymer preparation and modification, including photochemical, photo-electroinitiated, transition metal catalyzed, and vapor-deposition polymerization and recyclable catalysts are also under study. Other studies include electrospinning of nanofiber polymer composites as electrical components and for biomedical and controlled release applications and natural polymers including polysaccharides in materials applications. Polymers are characterized by means of gel permeation chromatography, viscometry, differential scanning calorimetry, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, and confocal Raman microscopy. Polymerization processes are being investigated from the aspect of mechanistic organic chemistry.

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.

Cheminformatics, Computational Chemistry, and Molecular Modeling
New methods of computational chemistry are being developed at Rensselaer to better elucidate the relationships between the structure of molecules and materials and their observable properties. Specialized methods such as the Transferable Atom Equivalent (TAE) and PESD techniques have allow predictive models to be created that are capable of making accurate predictions of the properties of new compounds or materials prior to their synthesis. These techniques have been developed using novel machine learning techniques (Multiple-Instance Ranking) as part of the Rensselaer Exploratory Center for Cheminformatics Research (RECCR), which is dedicated to advancing the field of Cheminformatics and increasing the availability of new methods to the Cheminformatics, Materials Informatics and Medicinal Chemistry user communities.  

Research Facilities and Equipment
Department research facilities are housed in Cogswell Laboratory and the attached New York State Center for Polymer Synthesis, with other laboratories in the nearby Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) and the Science 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 and other techniques. This equipment, serviced and operated by a professional staff, is available to all researchers in the department. Other instruments available for research include NIR, visible, UV, fluorescence, atomic absorption, surface plasmon resonance and FTIR spectrophotometers, GC and HPLC equipment, electrochemical equipment, ESR spectrometers, DSC, DTA, TGA, and TMA instruments for thermal studies, and X-ray fluorescence and diffraction instruments. Researchers also may have access to the extensive CBIS instrument facilities.


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 HASS 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

The co-terminal B.S.-M.S. program allows students in the spring of the junior or fall of the senior year to apply for admission into a program that continues undergraduate support for a fifth year, at the end of which they can receive both the B.S. and M.S. degrees. Because the M.S. degree in Chemistry requires a research thesis, this is most practical for students who already have a strong undergraduate research background.

The accelerated B.S.-Ph.D. program of the School of Science allows highly motivated students who carry out significant research as undergraduates to 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 Perspectives in Chemistry, Introduction to Mass Spectrometry, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, 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 72 credit hours (42 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.



Bae, C.—Ph.D (Universty of Southern California); organic and polymer chemistry.

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

Adjunct Faculty

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

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

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 2013 Board of Trustees meeting.

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