Student Research


Because the chemistry faculty are actively involved in research, interested students have plenty of opportunities to do research; these opportunities range from summer internships as part of the John S. Rogers Summer Science Research Program to senior honors thesis projects. Many of these research projects have culminated in articles published in scientific journals.

Faculty research interests are quite diverse as highlighted by the descriptions below, so every student should be able to find a project of interest. In some cases, more details can be found on the web pages of the faculty member leading the research project.

Research Projects

Barb Balko

Physical Chemistry

Research in our group involves environmentally relevant electrochemical reactions; currently we are examining the effect that clay has on the oxidation of iron metal.  This work has applications to the improvement of iron permeable reactive barriers used for the degradation of groundwater contaminants as well as the corrosion of iron structures in soils (e.g. nuclear waste containers).  In our research, we coat iron electrodes with a clay suspension.  We then use electrochemical techniques (linear sweep voltammatry and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy) to determine how the presence of the clay affects the iron oxide film on the iron and the corrosion of the underlying iron metal. 

Anne Bentley

Inorganic Materials Chemistry

Research in our group focuses on the study of nanoparticle surface functionalization and the incorporation of nanoparticles into metal oxide thin films for use in energy storage applications.  The stability of a colloidal solution of nanoparticles is highly dependent on the nanoparticles’ surface treatment.  We use dynamic light scattering, zeta potential, and transmission electron microscopy to measure nanoparticle stability in solution.  Thin films are produced via electrodeposition and characterized via scanning electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction.  Our recent work has focused on studying the electrochemical capacitance and oxygen-evolving ability of manganese oxide and cobalt oxide thin films, respectively.

Julio de Paula

Physical Chemistry | Environmental Chemistry | Analytical Chemistry

Current research projects in our group include:

  • Assembly and characterization of nanowires that conduct electricity when activated by solar radiation. Our hope is that these wires can form the basis for a new generation of solar energy conversion devices, such as environmental sensors, solar cells, solar paint, and optical computers.
  • Design and construction of inexpensive, solar-powered devices for water purification. Our goal is to provide point-of-use water purification stations to struggling families without access to electricity.
  • Characterization of artifacts from archaeological sites. Working with collaborators at the University of Portland and the University of Barcelona, we are investigating soil, bones, and artifacts recovered from the ancient Roman city of Pollentia, just outside the current city of Alcudia, in Mallorca, Spain.
Louis Kuo

Biochemistry of RNA Enzymes | Aqueous Organometallic Chemistry

Our research examines metal complexes and nanoparticles that promote the catalytic hydrolysis of neurotoxins in aqueous media.  In a prior NSF-supported work, we found the organometallic compound bis(cyclopentadienyl)molybdenum(IV) dichloride (Cp2 MoCl2) selectively hydrolyzed O,S-diethyl phenylphosphonothioate (DEPP) with selective P-S scission under mild aqueous conditions.  The compound DEPP mimics several toxic phosphonothioates including the chemical warfare agent VX.  P-S scission is the desirable degradation pathway as P-O scission yields a compound almost as toxic as the original phosphonothioate.  This discovery, which led to a patent award in January 2011, is the first example of an organometallic compound that carries out this useful transformation.  However, the thiophilic nature of the molybdocene compound meant the hydrolysis was only stoichiometric.  In the current NSF-RUI supported project, we use nanoparticles and other molybdenum organometallic complexes to turn this stoichiometric transformation into a catalytic one.  Along this process, we also seek to find the mechanism of how metal complexes hydrolyze sulfur-containing organophosphates.

Nikolaus Loening

Biophysical Chemistry

The main focus of research in the Loening lab is the development of new methods for nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and the application this technique to a variety of chemical and biological problems. Most recently, this work has focused on using NMR to study the structures and functions of spider venom peptides (many of which are neurotoxins). The long-term goal of this research is to identify compounds that can act as highly-specific painkillers or environmentally-friendly insecticides.