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Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate Research

An undergraduate research project is an exciting and rewarding experience. Undergraduate research can help you acquire a spirit of inquiry, initiative, independence, sound judgment, patience, persistence, alertness, and the ability to use the chemical literature. The Department strongly endorses undergraduate research as one of the potentially most rewarding aspects of your undergraduate experience.

Although successful completion of an undergraduate research project is a requirement for graduation with Honors or Highest Honors, it is not necessary to be a participant in the honors program to undertake a research project. Visit the Office for Undegraduate Research to learn where "your curiosity can lead you."


The Ashby Group

The Ashby Group

Our focus in the Ashby Group is the synthesis of functional shape memory materials for biomedical applications. We have recently reported the topological control of mesenchymal stem cells by responsive poly(ε-caprolactone) surfaces in which we engineered a biocompatible shape memory surface to mechanically alter stem cell topology.

Group members are also developing scaffolds for nitric oxide release in collaboration with the Schoenfisch Group, and are working towards the synthesis of new iodinated polyesters for use in X-ray computed tomography.


Ivy Carroll ACS Fellow

Dr. F. Ivy Carroll, member of Carolina Chemistry's External Advisory Board, has been recognized by the American Chemical Society as a 2014 ACS Fellow. He is honored for his contributions to science, including the design and development of a diagnostic agent for Parkinson's disease and compounds as potential treatments for cocaine and nicotine addictions and other central nervous system disorders. He is also recognized for his long service to ACS.

Dr. Ivy Carroll

Dr. Carroll is a Distinguished Fellow in medicinal chemistry with RTI International, which he joined in 1960. He has published more than 440 peer-reviewed publications, 34 book chapters, 43 patents, and more than 20 current patent applications. Among his many awards and recognitions are the 2010 North Carolina Award for Science, and the 2010 National Institute on Drug Abuse Public Service Award for Significant Achievement.


Black wins Young Scientist Award

William Black, a graduate student in the Ramsey Group, received the Csaba Horváth Young Scientist Award presented at the 41st International Symposium on High Performance Liquid Phase Separations and Related Techniques, HPLC 2014. The purpose of the award is to honor the memory of Csaba Horváth and recognize his contributions to HPLC, including his interest in fostering the careers of young people in separations science and engineering.

William Black

Oral presenters less than 35 years of age are eligible for the award and thus candidates include graduate students, postdocs, and assistant professors. Will was selected from over 50 applicants as one of eight finalists and presented his research on "Integrating Solid Phase Extraction with Microchip Capillary Electrophoresis-Electrospray Ionization." The award includes an invitation to speak at the HPLC 2015 symposium in Geneva Switzerland, a grant to support travel to that meeting, and a trophy engraved with his name. This award has been presented annually at the HPLC meeting starting in 2006. Will kept the award on UNC-CH turf as last years award winner was James Grinias, presently a graduate student working in the Jorgenson Group.



New advances enable long-term organotypic culture of colonic epithelial stem cells that develop into structures known as colonoids. Colonoids represent a primary tissue source acting as a potential starting material for development of an in vitro model of the colon. Key features of colonic crypt isolation and subsequent colonoid culture have not been systematically optimized compromising efficiency and reproducibility. Research from the Allbritton Group, published in the Journal of Biological Engineering, show how murine crypt isolation yield and quality can be optimized, and colonoid culture efficiency measured in microfabricated culture devices.

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Improved crypt isolation and 3-D colonoid culture, along with an understanding of colonic epithelial cell behavior in the presence of microfabrication substrates will support development of "organ-on-a-chip" approaches for studies using primary colonic epithelium.


Protein Stability in Living Cells

The intracellular milieu differs from the dilute conditions in which most biophysical and biochemical studies are performed. This difference has led both experimentalists and theoreticians to tackle the challenging task of understanding how the intracellular environment affects the properties of biopolymers. Despite a growing number of in-cell studies, there is a lack of quantitative, residue-level information about equilibrium thermodynamic protein stability under nonperturbing conditions.

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William Monteith and Professor Gary Pielak, published in PNAS, report the use of NMR-detected hydrogen–deuterium exchange of quenched cell lysates to measure individual opening free energies of the 56-aa B1 domain of protein G (GB1) in living Escherichia coli cells without adding destabilizing cosolutes or heat. Comparisons to dilute solution data, pH 7.6 and 37 °C, show that opening free energies increase by as much as 1.14 ± 0.05 kcal/mol in cells. Importantly, this research also shows that homogeneous protein crowders destabilize GB1, highlighting the challenge of recreating the cellular interior. William and Gary discuss their findings in terms of hard-core excluded volume effects, charge–charge GB1-crowder interactions, and other factors. The quenched lysate method identifies the residues most important for folding GB1 in cells, and should prove useful for quantifying the stability of other globular proteins in cells to gain a more complete understanding of the effects of the intracellular environment on protein chemistry.


Improved Diesel Process

Typically, diesel fuel is made from crude oil, but scientists can make high-grade diesel from coal, natural gas, plants or even agricultural waste, using a process called Fischer-Tropsch, or FT. Just about any carbon source is an option. FT Diesel is the ideal liquid transportation fuel for automobiles, trucks and jets. It's much cleaner burning than conventional diesel, and much more energy efficient than gasoline. But, FT Diesel is expensive to make and generates lots of waste.

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With support from the National Science Foundation, NSF, and its Center for Enabling New Technologies Through Catalysis, CENTC, chemists from around the United States, including professor Maurice Brookhart from Carolina, are working together to improve the cost and energy efficiency of alternative fuels. CENTC scientists have invented and patented, and are bringing toward commercialization, catalysts that will convert light hydrocarbons into FT Diesel, improving the process, whether it's diesel made from traditional sources, such as oil, or alternative sources, such as biomass.

NSF: Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent; Ann Kellan, Science Nation Producer


Controlling Molecular Weight

Molecular weight, MW, its distribution and dispersity, PDI, of polymers are possibly the most important characteristics that distinguish polymers from small organic molecules. Conjugated polymers are no exception to this. For polymer solar cells, a high MW is usually desirable. For example, high MW polymers have good viscosity desirable for thin films coating. More importantly, it appears that a high MW is beneficial for a higher current of solar cells. However, a number of questions had still remained to be answered, such as: Is there any appropriate MW for conjugated polymers used for solar cells? If so, can we control the MW? What about PDI?

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Published in Advanced Materials, the You Group offers some insights towards these outstanding issues concerning MW. Taking their well-acclaimed conjugated polymer, PBnDT-FTAZ, as the model system, they created a set of polymers with precisely controlled MW by adjusting stoichiometric ratio of two monomers, following the classic Carothers question. In collaboration with the Ade Group at NCSU, the You Group carefully investigated this set of PBnDT-FTAZ with different MW and discovered that the MW significantly influences the morphology and structural order of PBnDT-FTAZ in its bulk heterojunction solar cells, with highest efficiency, over 7%, resulting with use of a MW of 40 kg/mol. Additionally, by recreating a 40 kg/mol polymer with a higher PDI of 3.2 than the pristine 40 kg/mol polymer, PDI of 2.2, they showed that the dispersity,PDI, though largely neglected in the past, might play a role in affecting the device performance of polymer solar cells.



At the Department of Chemistry, we feel strongly that diversity is crucial to our pursuit of academic excellence, and we are deeply committed to creating a diverse and inclusive community. We support UNC's policy, which states that "the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is committed to equality of opportunity and pledges that it will not practice or permit discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin, age, religion, creed, disability, veteran's status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression."