Research Themes

The Chemistry FAST Program encompasses the following five interdisciplinary research themes:

(i) Biological Systems and Medicinal Application (BSMA)

(ii) Catalysis, Energy and Sustainability (CES)

(iii) Materials Design and Application (MDA)

(iv) Nano- and Quantum-Scale Technologies (NQST)

(iv) Sensing, Imaging and Diagnostics (SID).

Each theme is specifically grouped to encompass faculty, science and technologies that represent each component of function, application, structure and theory (FAST). Each participant will first choose a theme and then select from projects offered by any of the faculty listed. Each theme is designed to offer research opportunities in all chemical disciplines (analytical, biological, inorganic, organic, physical and theoretical chemistry) while emphasizing how the different disciplines work together to address broader scientific problems. This will provide a cadre of students with focused interests, within the larger group with broader interests. While students concentrate on a single research project, we expect them to gain a broad perspective on the chemical sciences by participating in the dynamic, interdisciplinary research and learning environment of the Institute. They will have access to a huge inventory of research-grade facilities and tremendous intellectual capital (in the form of faculty, research scientists, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students).


from the Biological Systems and Medicinal Application (BSMA) thematic area:

*Mechanisms of heme trafficking and signaling – Professor Amit R. Reddi

Professor Amit R. Reddi’s group focuses on elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying heme trafficking and signaling. Heme is an essential cofactor and signaling molecule required for virtually all aerobic life. While the factors regulating the concentration of heme are very well understood, including heme biosynthetic and degradation pathways, the molecules and mechanisms regulating heme bioavailability are comparatively less well understood. The Reddi lab has developed genetically encoded florescent sensors for heme in order to identify the factors underlying heme mobilization for trafficking and signaling and its spatio-temporal dynamics.  Former REU students have made significant contributions towards developing new insights into heme trafficking and signaling. During the summer of 2016, REU participant Aaliyah Ward (Alabama State University) was involved in a project using the heme sensors to characterize the role of Dap1/PGRMC1 on heme trafficking. In summer 2017 REU participant Lauren Love (Georgia Southern University) was involved in a project to synthesize azido-heme analogs that can be used to enrich and identify novel hemoproteins. Her research resulted in exciting new data that was the basis of a new NIH grant proposal that is pending and a manuscript that is being prepared.

from the Materials Design and Application (MDA) thematic area:

*Click Chemistry in the Development of Functional Materials – Professor M.G. Finn

Professor Finn’s group develops and uses highly reliable bond-forming reactions (click chemistry) to construct a wide variety of materials and nanoparticles for applications in immunology, drug delivery, antimicrobial coatings, adhesives, membrane separations, and catalysis. FAST students are fully integrated into all facets of the work, from chemical synthesis, to functional derivatization of the tubing, to characterization of their surface and bulk properties, to the measurement and optimization of their antimicrobial function. The molecular linkage reaction most commonly used in these types of applications is the copper(I)-mediated azide-alkyne cycloaddition (CuAAC) process. Summer 2017 participant, Emma Stowell (Monmouth U.) was involved in the identification of peptide-based ligands that could accelerate this reaction. She is currently enrolled in the Chemistry Graduate Program at the University of Florida.

from the Catalysis, Energy, and Sustainability (CES) thematic area:

*Development of Catalytic Methods for Organic Synthesis- Professor Stefan France

FAST participants in Professor Stefan France’s group will work on organic chemistry projects that center on the development of catalytic and/or sustainable methods for the chemical synthesis of useful small molecules and natural products. These methods include forays into C-H bond functionalization, ring-opening cyclizations, and preparation of chemical libraries of bioactive molecules. For example, summer 2016 REU participant Jaelah Wright-Keely (Jackson State U) worked on the synthesis of bromophycolide A, a bioactive marine natural product.

 from the Nano- and Quantum-Scale Technology (NQST) thematic area:

*Electronic Structure Theory – Professor C. David Sherrill

REU students working in the group of Professor Sherrill have the opportunity to pursue projects in electronic structure theory. A typical project involves the application of theoretical methods (e.g., coupled-cluster theory, symmetry-adapted perturbation theory, density functional theory) to a prototype chemical system that exhibits unusual or unexplained behavior. The group offers a unique summer experience by instructing students in the theory that lies beneath the software packages, and by giving experience in the computer programming tools that implement the theories. Sherrill’s group is interested in the fundamental forces of molecular recognition such as pi-stacking, cation-pi interactions, and hydrogen bonding. Students may also participate in the testing of new theoretical methods to answer questions that were previously inaccessible to theory. For example, REU participant Sam Chill (U. of Tennessee, Chattanooga) developed a mixed quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics approach to model the binding of intercalators into DNA that is explored experimentally in the group of Professor Hud. Sam’s work resulted in a publication in J. Chem. Theory Comput.; he is now enrolled in the graduate program at UT-Austin. The REU work of Michelle Figgs (U. of Maryland – Baltimore Co.) who went on to graduate study at the University of Texas at Austin was published in J. Phys. Chem. A; Anastasia Senenko completed a project at the intersection of bioinformatics and electronic structure theory published in Protein Science; and Trent Parker (St. Louis U.) who presented his work on energy component analysis of DNA at an ACS meeting, was a coauthor of a J. Am. Chem. Soc. and went on to graduate school. Future students will expand on these studies by testing more advanced models (e.g., polarizable force fields instead of point-charge models) and by examining other DNA sequences and intercalators. Alden Ryno (North Georgia College) extended the development of the underlaying theory in summer 2012. He presented his work at an ACS meeting and was coauthor on a paper in J. Chem. Phys.  Dominic Sirianni (Edinboro University of Pennsylvania) compared different ways to obtain high-quality benchmark interaction energies in small van der Waals dimers, using advanced techniques such as focal-point analysis and explicitly correlated methods; this work was published in J. Chem. Theory Comput. Dominic ultimately enrolled at Georgia Tech for his PhD (with Prof. Sherrill) and successfully defended his dissertation in 2020.

from the Materials Design and Application (MDA) thematic area:

*Organic electronics – Professor John Reynolds

REU students working in the Professor John Reynolds’ lab will be conducting research in the field of organic electronics, in areas ranging from solar cells to color-changing electrochromics. The Reynolds group is known for designing families of materials with subtle structural changes, in order to understand the structure-property relationships that impact the performance of a material. Because of this focus on both fundamentals and application, students will have the unique opportunity to participate in many aspects of materials development, from the design and synthesis of conjugated small molecules and polymers, to full characterization of their electronic and optical properties, and finally to building and evaluating the material’s performance in prototype devices. Additionally, students will have access to a large breadth of instrumentation, such as those pertaining to materials characterization (e.g. FTIR, TGA, DSC, GPC, etc.), to those related to thin film coating (e.g. spray coating, blade coating, wire-bar coating), as well as instrumentation related more specifically to organic electronics (e.g. electrochemical techniques, impedance, spectrophotometry, atomic force microscopy, etc.). Previous REU students have been able to find fields of research well-suited to their interests and worked well with their mentors to rapidly make an impact. One of our most recent REU summer students, David Wheeler (U of North Georgia) is currently graduate student at Boston U, embodied this full scientific experience that we envision above. He spent a summer with a senior graduate student synthesizing a family of novel conjugated materials that sought to combine optical properties of small molecules with materials properties of polymers. David then made use of quantum chemical calculations, as well as electrochemical and spectroelectrochemical techniques to understand how the color-changing performance of these materials related to their structural differences. The thoroughness of this work culminated in a publication in Polymer Chemistry.

from the Sensors, Imaging, and Diagnostics (SID) thematic area:

*Mass Spectrometry-Based Protein Analysis – Professor Ronghu Wu

Professor Wu’s lab develops new and effective mass spectrometry (MS)-based methods to globally analyze proteins and their modifications, especially glycosylation, and applied the methods for biological and biomedical research. Protein glycosylation is essential for cell survival, and it determines protein folding, trafficking and stability. Nearly every extracellular event is regulated by protein glycosylation. Comprehensive and quantitative analysis of protein glycosylation will result in a better understanding of glycoprotein functions and the molecular mechanisms of diseases, and the identification of glycoproteins as effective biomarkers for disease detection and as drug targets for disease treatment. Currently MS-based proteomics provides us a unique opportunity to globally analyze protein modifications. However, due to the heterogeneity of glycans and the low abundance of many glycoproteins, it is extraordinarily challenging to globally analyze protein glycosylation. REU students in the Wu lab are well-trained in the multi-disciplinary research field, including analytical chemistry, chemical biology, instrumentation, database search and large-scale data analysis, which is very helpful for their career advancement. Summer 2017 participant Andrew Andre (Xavier U of Louisiana) studied the effect of the peptide reduction and alkylation on the identification of glycopeptides with MS. He is currently enrolled in medical school. Summer 2016 participant, Julie Leong (Queensborough Community College), investigated protein abundance changes in cells with the inhibition of protein N-glycosylation. Yeast cells (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) were treated with a potent inhibitor (tunicamycin) of protein N-glycosylation, and without N-glycosylation many proteins cannot properly fold. Then cells responded to the treatment through the synthesis of more chaperone proteins and lowering overall protein synthesis. She orally presented the results at an ACS meeting.