Jul 18, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2024-2025 
Rensselaer Catalog 2024-2025

Chemistry and Chemical Biology

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Head: Wilfredo Colón

Associate Head: Peter H. Dinolfo

Undergraduate Program Contact: Gerald M. Korenowski

Graduate Program Contacts: Jacob Shelley or Sharon Gardner

Department Home Page: https://science.rpi.edu/chemistry

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, 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: development of hardware and software tools for mass spectroscopy, including ambient pressure ionization sources for in situ analysis; protein and DNA analysis that extends to genomics, proteomics, glycomics, metabolomics, 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
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 proteomics-level identification of hyperstable proteins and exploring their biological and pathological roles. Carbohydrate biochemistry and glycobiology are used to understand disease processes and to develop new therapeutic agents. Proteins are being engineered by rational computational methods for improved stability and activity. The biochemical aspects of biotechnology including chemoenzymatic synthesis, biocatalysis, and metabolic engineering are providing new sustainable routes for chemical synthesis. Examples include the biosynthesis of peptides, biosurfactants, 3-D cellulose nano-matrices, polyesters and more. The methodologies used to study proteins and biochemical processes include kinetic and spectroscopic analysis (NMR, fluorescence, circular dichroism, and surface plasmon resonance, computational molecular modeling, 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
Inorganic chemistry involves the preparation and investigation of substances that include coordination complexes, metalloenzymes active sites, organometallic compounds, and metal-based nanoparticles. Projects include synthesis and characterization of molecular catalysts for artificial photosynthesis and photo-initiated hydrosilation, synthesis and growth of thin film materials for molecular-based solar cells and electrochemical devices, and nanoparticles/macromoleculaes for diagnostic imaging and applications.

Organic Chemistry and Medicinal Chemistry
Active areas of synthetic organic and medicinal chemistry research include the design and synthesis of orally bioavailable agents to treat ocular diseases, novel analgesics to treat neuropathic pain that do not involve the opioid pathway, and antiviral drugs to combat COVID-19. Additional areas of research include carbohydrate-based cardiovascular anti-infection and anti-cancer agents, and novel anticoagulant and antithrombotic drugs.  Furthermore, naturally derived lipopeptides and glycolipids are being molecularly engineered to provide new anti-cancer, anti-viral and antimicrobial therapeutics.  The development of molecular and docking modeling programs that evaluate intermolecular electrostatics may result in the deeper understanding of enzyme-substrate interactions and assist with drug design.

Electronic absorption and emission studies are being conducted on molecular donor‒acceptor systems related to artificial photosynthesis. Additionally, electroabsorption and electroemission (Stark spectroscopy) is being used to characterize charge transfer in these systems and explore how electric fields modulate charge transfer efficiency. 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. In addition, innovative photochemical technologies are being developed with industrial partnership with intent to increase the impact of discoveries in the laboratory. New light-activated platinum catalysts substituted with “light antennas” are being designed, synthesized, and evaluated for their performance as UV-Vis cure catalysts for the silicone paper release coatings industry.

Polymer Chemistry and Materials Chemistry
Synthetic and development efforts are under way in the field of sustainable naturally derived and bio-based polymers, high-performance thermally stable polymers, fuel cell polymer membranes, block copolymers, and photosensitive materials and resins for dye-sensitized solar cell and 3D printing. 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 modification, photo-initiated crosslinking, enzyme-triggered crosslinking, ionization and layer-by-layer assembly are also under study.  Also, polymers are being designed so that, after use, they can be chemically or enzymatically recycled to value added products. 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 and ultimate mechanical and thermos-physical properties of polymers.

CheminformaticsComputational 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 allowed 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). A variety of modern instruments covering magnetic and spin resonance, spectroscopic/spectrometric, chromatographic, electrochemical, thermal and X-ray diffraction methods is available in individual laboratories and in the department’s instrument laboratories. Researchers also 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. Three tracks to the B.S. in Chemistry are available: a traditional Chemistry track, a Chemical Biology track, and an Industrial Chemistry track. Chemistry majors have four unique laboratory courses (Experimental Chemistry I-IV) that emphasize hands-on use of research grade instruments.

Undergraduate Research Programs
Participation in undergraduate research, or independent projects, is an integral component of the program, concluding with the CHEM 4950  Culminating Research Experience course in the senior year. Research may be taken for credit or supported financially through the Institute URP program, department research fellowships, or from faculty research funds. Participation may be during academic semesters or in the summer. Students with exceptional research progress are encouraged to complete an undergraduate research thesis.


BS Chemistry Program Outcomes:

Students who successfully complete this program will be able to:


•     Demonstrate a broad background in chemical principles and in-depth study of chemistry or chemistry-related areas, including all the sub-disciplines.

•     Demonstrate proficient knowledge of chemical measurements, data analysis and problem solving.

•     Communicate technical material effectively, using appropriate technical terminology.

•     Apply their chemical knowledge to plan, carry out and evaluate the results of a scientifically sound research project using modern chemical techniques.

•     Discuss standard practices of safety, ethics, environmental awareness, social responsivities, and professional expectations in the field of chemistry.

•     Work effectively in a collaborative environment.

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 assigned academic adviser.

Special Undergraduate Opportunities

Semester Away
The semester away in the junior year provides numerous opportunities such as international experience, industrial internship and Coop, research experience in another university or government lab, service experience in the U.S. or abroad, and other experiences that provide a unique opportunity for personal or professional growth.

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 extends the student’s financial aid 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.


Graduate Programs

The Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology offers two graduate degrees—the Master of Science, and the Doctor of Philosophy. The Ph.D. degree requires a thesis. The M.S. degree has two options, one track requiring research and a thesis, and project track that incorporates some research and more classwork.

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 Introduction to Research, 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
Completion of the M.S. requires 30 credits of graduate work, including a minimum of 21 credits of course work. A minimum of 15 course credits in Chemistry must be at the 6000 level. One of these courses can be replaced by a course in another department with the approval of the Chemistry Graduate Committee. M.S. students may apply only one semester of CHEM 6900  Chemistry Seminar towards the 30 credit minimum. The master’s degree also requires some credits of research, which may culminate in a formally presented thesis (6 to 9 credits of CHEM 6990  Master’s Thesis) or a research project (3 credits of CHEM 6970  Master’s Project).

Doctoral Programs

To complete the Ph.D., students must meet institutional and departmental requirements including an oral candidacy examination, a final defense of the doctoral thesis, and accumulate 72 credit hours (42 beyond the M.S. degree) of research and course work.

Specific Course Requirements:

  • CHEM 6950  – 3 credits taken over the first two semesters of the Ph.D. program. (Not required for Rensselaer undergraduates transitioning directly to graduate program as part of Accelerated B.S.-Ph.D. program.)
  • CHEM 6900  – Minimum of five semesters required, including the semester in which the student presents their departmental seminar (typically 3rd or 4th year).
  • CHEM 6910  – Required one time for new Teaching Assistants.
  • Five additional CHEM courses at the 6000 level (minimum of 15 credits). One of these courses can be replaced by a course in another department with the approval of the Chemistry Graduate Standings Committee.


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.

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

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

Gross, R.—Ph.D. (Polytechnic University); biopolymers, enzymes.

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

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

Montelione, G.T.—Ph.D. (Cornell University); structural proteomics and bioinformatics.


Associate Professors 

Bonitatibus, P. J.—Ph.D. (Boston College); inorganic/organometallic chemistry, materials chemistry, nanotechnology.

Cioffi, C.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); organic chemistry, drug discovery, medicinal chemistry.

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

Shelley, J. T.—Ph.D. (Indiana University); analytical chemistry, mass spectrometry.


Assistant Professors

Johnson-Finn, K. N. —Ph.D. (Arizona State University); organic chemistry, geocatalysis.


Senior Lecturers

Ma, A. C.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); materials chemistry.

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



Baldansuren, A.—Ph.D. (University of Stuttgart); physical chemistry.

Kirova-Snover, M.—Ph.D. (Wayne State University); organic chemistry.

Platts, N.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); environmental chemistry.

Totsingan, F.—Ph.D. (University of Palma); organic chemistry.

Tysoe, S. A.—Ph.D. (City University of New York); inorganic chemistry.


Affiliated Faculty: Joint Appointment in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Barquera, B.—Associate Professor, Department of Biology: biochemistry.

Makhatadze, G.—Constellation Professor of Biocomputation and Bioinformatics, Department of Biology: biophysical, structural biology.

Royer, C.—Constellation Professor of Biocomputation and Bioinformatics, Department of Biology: biochemistry, protein folding.

Wagner, S.—Assistant Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences: biogeochemistry.

Wang, C.— Professor, Department of Biology: biochemistry, protein NMR.


*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.


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