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2022 CheMIE REU Research Opportunities


The CheMIE REU research faculty mentors are extensively experienced in the mentoring of undergraduate students, and represent a broad range of extramurally-supported research chemistry and biochemistry. This section presents details about the 2022 REU researcher projects in these groups.

CheMIE REU Core Preceptors

Dr. Tania Betancourt

Dr. Tania Betancourt

Associate Professor, Materials Chemistry

https://betancourtresearchlaboratory.wp.txstate.edu/

The Betancourt Lab will not have a CheMIE REU researcher position available for the 2022 program, but will be back in 2023!

Dr. William Brittain

Dr. Bill Brittain

Regents’ Professor and Department Chair, Physical Organic and Materials Chemistry

https://www.txstate.edu/chemistry/About-the-Department/Faculty-Profiles/brittain.html

Our research is focused on the interaction of light with molecules.  Light chemistry is at the core of solar energy but also finds applications in targeted cancer therapy and cloaking technology.  We study the fundamentals of light-molecule interactions by synthesizing and characterizing new organic molecules. Students will learn the laboratory skills of organic synthesis, nuclear magnetic resonance, UV-Vis spectroscopy, chromatographic purification and ab initio computations.

Dr. Todd Hudnall

Dr. Todd Hudnall

Professor, Main Group Organometallic and Physical Organic Chemistry

https://hudnallresearch.wp.txstate.edu/

A 2022 CheMIE REU student will join our group’s long-standing efforts to develop novel architectures of π-acidic carbenes, which we utilize as ligands for the stabilization of reactive main group species, in materials science applications, and more recently in catalysis. A major thrust of our work in 2022 will be to demonstrate that these particularly electrophilic carbene ligands can enhance catalytic activity at main group elements such as sulfur, selenium, and tellurium when compared to better known nucleophilic carbenes. Additionally, our research seeks to challenge what is currently taught in chemistry textbooks with regards to stability and chemical bonding involving main group p-block elements. In addition to synthesis, our research also involves extensive use of modern characterization techniques including multinuclear NMR and EPR spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, electrochemistry and computational methods (DFT, NBO, AIM)

Dr. Jennifer Irvin

Dr. Jennifer Irvin

Associate Professor, Organic and Polymer Chemistry

https://irvinresearch.wp.txstate.edu/

Research in the Irvin Research Group is centered on electroactive polymers, that is, polymers that change their properties (color, shape, conductivity, etc.) in the presence of an electric field. These polymers are useful for applications including alternative energy, sensors, drug delivery, static dissipation, corrosion inhibition, actuators, water purification, and electrochromics. In 2022, a CheMIE REU researcher will focus on preparing “graft copolymers”, which will combine the mechanical properties of a high molecular weight, inexpensive polymer with the interesting electronic properties of electroactive polymers. First, a CheMIE REU student will modify a polymer, such as poly(vinyl chloride), to incorporate electroactive heterocycles such as functionalized thiophenes and pyrroles. The student will create nanofibers of these polymers by electrospinning and then polymerize the nanofibers to create the graft copolymers. The graft copolymers will be measured for electroactivity, conductivity, thermal stability, and glass transition temperature, as well as changes in solubility, infrared spectrum, and contact angle of the nanofiber surfaces. A CheMIE REU student will have the opportunity to gain experience in synthesis of novel organic molecules, polymerization, standard small molecule and polymer characterization techniques, electrochemical characterization, polymer processing, and device fabrication and testing.

Dr. Sean Kerwin

Dr. Sean Kerwin

Professor, Organic and Biochemistry

http://kerwinlab.com/

A CheMIE REU student in the Kerwin lab will investigate the synthesis and chemistry of a relatively unexplored class of N-substituted alkynes, the N-alkynylazoles, in which an acetylene group is bonded to the nitrogen atom of a five-membered heteroaromatic ring. In analogy to ynamides, N-alkynylazoles display polarization of the carbon-carbon triple bond leading to powerful regioselective addition and cyclization reactions that will enable new strategies for the construction of a wide range of compounds. In carrying out this work, a CheMIE REU student will learn synthetic chemistry techniques ranging from traditional batch reactions to flow reactions and microwave-assisted reactions. Students will optimize cross-coupling reactions between alkyne and azole precursors to efficiently prepare various N-alkynylazoles. They will then convert these to 1,x-dialkynylazoles and study the aza-Bergman rearrangement of these compounds by trapping and kinetic experiments using flow chemistry, mass spectrometry, and HPLC as well as computational studies.  As a result, CheMIE REU students in the Kerwin lab will gain a broad exposure to aspects of synthetic, physical, and analytical chemistry by employing innovative techniques.

 
Dr. Alexander Kornienko

Dr. Alexander Kornienko

Professor, Synthetic Organic Chemistry

https://kornienkoresearchgroup.wp.txstate.edu/

Most chemotherapeutic agents work by inducing a form of cell death known as apoptosis. However, a number of human malignancies, such as glioma, melanoma, non-small cell lung and pancreatic cancer, are resistant to apoptosis induction and, thus, associated with dismal prognoses. To address this important clinical need, projects in Dr. Kornienko’s group are aimed at identification of natural and synthetic molecules combatting cancer cells through alternative non-apoptotic mechanisms. The work involves natural product isolation, synthetic chemistry and biological evaluation in vitro in cancer cell lines with subsequent testing in mouse models of human cancer. One specific project capitalizes on the unique antiproliferative effects of the alkaloid lycorine on apoptosis resistant cancers. One potential Summer 2022 CheMIE REU project will be to prepare specific analogues of lycorine, which will be evaluated against a panel of apoptosis-resistant cancer cells with the goal of identifying derivatives with enhanced antiproliferative potencies and improved drug-like properties compared with lycorine.

Dr. Karen Lewis

Dr. Karen Lewis

Associate Professor, Biochemistry and Biophysics

https://lewiskalab.wp.txstate.edu

The Lewis Lab seeks to understand the mechanics that drive specific interactions between biological molecules, especially those that determine protein structure and function. Currently, several projects in the lab are focused on the role of intrinsically disordered domains in the eukaryotic mRNA-binding protein LaRP6, which regulates protein synthesis and expression. While LaRP6 is widely conserved cross multicellular eukaryotes, its biological roles are still being identified. In 2022, a CheMIE REU student will recombinantly express and purify at least one mutant of the LaRP6 protein that we predict has altered structure and RNA binding activity. The CheMIE researcher will analyze the structural stability and the RNA binding activity of the mutant(s), using circular dichroism spectroscopy, gel shift assays, and protein denaturation assays. By comparing the behavior of the mutant(s) to the wildtype form of LaRP6 and other previously-characterized mutants in the lab, this project will contribute to the emerging functional model for the intrinsically-disordered domains in LaRP6.
Dr. Luxford

Dr. Cynthia Luxford

Assistant Professor, Chemical Education

https://luxford.wp.txstate.edu/

The current focus of the Luxford research program is centered on increasing student learning in chemistry courses, including the role of student misconceptions of intermolecular forces, approaches to visualizations electron movement in mechanisms using computer-aided eye-tracking, and measuring the evolution of study habits and problem-solving strategies in general and organic chemistry. In 2022, CheMIE REU students will be able to choose between either a qualitative or quantitative data analysis project. For the qualitative projects, a CheMIE REU student will explore patterns within eye tracking data or use grounded theory and the constant comparative method for analyzing  open responses or interview data. On the quantitative project, a CheMIE REU student will work with large datasets of survey responses and/or student demographic data to explore trends using both parametric and nonparametric statistics.

Dr. Ryan Peterson

Dr. Ryan Peterson

Assistant Professor, Bioinorganic Chemistry

https://rlpetersongroup.wp.txstate.edu/

The research in the Peterson laboratory is centered on describing transition metal-ion trafficking pathways and reactive oxygen species metabolism occurring at the host-pathogen interface. Our current research efforts are directed at characterizing the Cu- and Fe-metal ion uptake pathways in the fungal pathogen Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), which, is responsible for white-nose syndrome disease (WNS) in bats. In 2022, CheMIE REU students will assist in characterizing the active site design of a family of secreted copper transport proteins with homology to Cryptococcus neoformans BIM1 protein. Students will generate plasmids for the expression of Pd BIM1-like proteins (BLPs) to drive recombinant protein expression in E. coli and yeast. They will then purify recombinant wild-type and active site variant proteins for biochemical assays to help construct structure-function relationships. The goal of this research is to understand how protein active site design impacts Cu-metal binding affinity and trafficking efficiency. While performing this research undergraduates will gain hands-on training in the areas of molecular biology, bio-inorganic chemistry, and physical biochemistry.  For more information about the Peterson research group and other projects in the lab please visit the Peterson Group website.

Dr. Rhodes

Dr. Chris Rhodes

Associate Professor, Physical and Materials Chemistry

https://rhodes.wp.txstate.edu/

Research in the Rhodes group is aimed at understanding relationships between structure, activity, and stability within bimetallic nanostructured transition metal oxides for electrochemical energy storage and conversion, including batteries, fuel cells, and water electrolyzers. In 2022, CheMIE REU students will investigate the synthesis, structure and electrochemical properties of bimetallic nanostructured transition metal oxides and hydroxides. This work will include learning a variety of experimental methods including (i) solution-phase and high energy ball milling synthesis of nanostructured bimetallic oxides, (ii) characterization using x-ray diffraction (XRD), N2 porosimetry, (iii) electronic conductivity measurements, and (iv) electrochemistry (cyclic voltammetry and oxygen evolution activity measurements).  In 2022, the research efforts of REU students will be particularly aimed at understanding the effects of composition and synthesis conditions on the structure, electronic conductivity and electrochemistry of nanostructured bimetallic oxides used as electrocatalyst for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.


CheMIE REU Affiliate Preceptors

Dr. Liqin Du

Liqin Du  

Associate Professor, Biochemistry and Cancer Biology 

https://dulab.wp.txstate.edu 

The Du lab studies neuroblastoma, one of the most aggressive types of pediatric cancers, with an emphasis on differentiation therapy, a therapeutic approach to induce the differentiation of malignant cells and thereby leading to tumor growth arrest. Differentiation therapy plays a critical role in treating childhood cancers, including neuroblastoma. A 2022 CheMIE REU student will have the opportunity to choose a research project in one of the two directions of work in the lab: (A) to discover new differentiation agents from various sources of anti-cancer drugs, including microRNA mimics, natural products and synthetic small molecule compounds, and (B) to identify novel targetable genes that control neuroblastoma cell differentiation.  that goes to one of the two directions. In carrying out the project, a CheMIE REU student will learn the following techniques: (1) mammalian cell culture, (2) automated microscopy to measure neurite outgrowth, (3) assay for determining the function of candidate gene in modulating cancer cell survival, (4) cell viability assay and IC50 analysis for determining the anti-cancer activity of a drug candidate or the function of a candidate gene, and (4) colony formation assay for determining the effect/function of a drug or gene candidate on cancer cell proliferation.  

 
Dr. Chang Ji

Dr. Chang Ji

Associate Professor, Analytical Chemistry

https://www.txstate.edu/chemistry/About-the-Department/Faculty-Profiles/ji.html

The Ji Group will not have a CheMIE REU researcher position available for the 2022 program, but will be back in 2023!

 

Dr. Martin

Dr. Ben Martin

Associate Professor, Inorganic Chemistry

https://www.txstate.edu/chemistry/About-the-Department/Faculty-Profiles/martin.html

Project details are coming soon, watch this space!

Dr. Steve Whitten

Dr. Steven Whitten

Associate Professor, Biochemistry and Biophysics

https://whitten.wp.txstate.edu/home/

The Whitten Group investigates the thermodynamics of protein macromolecules to develop molecular descriptions of biological activity. Using a combination of experimental and computational methods, current projects are focused on developing predictive models of phase separation by intrinsically disordered protein sequences. The most recent model, ParSe, has identified several potentially phase-separating proteins in the human genome that are currently being used for studies of both the mechanisms of phase separation by intrinsically-disordered sequences and the role of phase separation in biological signaling and regulatory pathways.  A 2022 CheMIE REU student will recombinantly express and purify one of these prospective phase-separating proteins, and then quantitatively measure the phase-separation behavior and structural properties of the purified protein. 

Dr. Xiaoyu Xue

Dr. Xiaoyu Xue

Assistant Professor, Biochemistry and Genetics

https://xuelab.wp.txstate.edu

A 2022 CheMIE REU student in the Xue lab will investigate the sumoylation mechanism mediated by the Smc5/Smc6 complex in budding yeast. Sumoylation is a protein modification that can control the functions of many substrate proteins. Among these are the DNA repair proteins which maintain the genome stability through different DNA repair pathways. We have recently found that the budding yeast Holliday junction dissolution complex, Sgs1-Top3-Rmi1 (STR), is SUMOylated by the Smc5/6 complex. The Smc5/6 complex is composed of Smc5, Smc6 and Nse1-6 proteins, while Nse2 is one of SUMO E3 ligases. The CheMIE REU student will express and purify several different Nse subcomplexes. The student will also be involved in analyzing the mechanism how these different components of Smc5/6 complex regulate the SUMO E3 ligase function, using in vitro sumoylation and western blotting assays.  In conclusion, CheMIE REU students will not only enhance hands-on research experience in protein biochemistry, in vitro biochemical assay and genetics, but also advance the scientific understanding of how SUMOylation efficiency and specificity can be achieved in a variety of cellular contexts and organisms.