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 Weeks Laboratory invents novel chemical microscopes for understanding the structure and functions of RNA and then applies these unique technologies to leading, and previously intractable, problems in biology. Current projects investigate the basic science of RNA chemistry; meld molecular chemistries with genome-scale readouts of RNA structure; focus on the genome structure and biology of human viruses, especially HIV; and create new therapeutics directed against viruses and human genetic disease. Most projects in the laboratory span fundamental chemistry or technology development and ultimately lead to practical applications in virology, next-generation structure analysis, or understanding biological processes in living cells. Collectively, this work has led to extensive recognition of student and postdoctoral colleagues in the laboratory.
Work entirely designed, implemented, and interpreted by UNC undergraduates has been published in Biochemistry and is highlighted on the journal web page. Many viruses encode their genetic information in RNA molecules and these RNAs can have complex structures that are essential for efficient replication. The all-undergraduate team developed a model for the genome of the satellite tobacco mosaic virus, which is roughly the "hydrogen atom" of RNA viruses.
The UNC undergraduates discovered that the RNA genome has a complex higher-order structure with three domains, each of which corresponds to an essential viral function. This work is likely to broadly inform our understanding of the role of genome structure in the infectivity and pathogenesis of many RNA viruses, including those that infect humans.
The work was carried out as part of the UNC Undergraduate Transcriptome Project, an NSF-funded program developed in the Weeks Laboratory, designed to help undergraduates explore their potential for independent creativity, to fuel their passion for science, and to be a model for engaging undergraduates in a research university.
Undergraduate proficiency exams will be given on
Monday, August 19, 2013
Follow this link for more information about the exam, beginning at 08:30 am in Venable/Murray Hall G202.
Most cellular RNA molecules function properly only when they fold into the correct three-dimensional shape. RNA folding is facilitated by helper molecules called chaperones. Chaperones cause some RNAs interact faster, induce other RNAs to change conformation, and work simultaneously across large distances. It was not clear how chaperones could have such wide-ranging molecular properties.
RNA structures contain base pairs, mostly involving guanosine-cytosine and adenosine-uridine pairs, that are stabilized by three versus two hydrogen bonds, respectively. Sometimes, due to the three bonds, the stronger guanosine-cytosine pairs get "stuck" when an RNA folds. Using chemical microscope technologies, invented in the Weeks laboratory, graduate student Jake Grohman discovered that RNA chaperones simply weaken stable three-bond pairs containing guanosine. In this way, RNA chaperones smooth out folding rough spots.
Because of its simplicity and potential universality, this mechanism has broad implications for understanding nucleic acid structure and RNA folding. The work is currently available online and will be published by the journal Science.
Margaret Radack, an undergraduate chemistry major in the You Group, has been selected to receive the Gertrude Elion Undergraduate Scholarship Award by the North Carolina section of the American Chemical Society. The award is in memory of Gertrude B. Elion, 1988 Nobel Laureate in Medicine, and honors her interest in fostering the research careers of students, and particularly women.
Margaret, who will begin her senior year this fall, is currently doing her summer research program in the You Group, focusing on the development of new strategies to increase the light absorption width of conjugated polymers. Such polymers can more effectively harvest the solar spectrum, with a great potential to increase the current of these polymers based solar cells. Congratulations, Maggie!
Researchers in the Papanikolas Group, in collaboration with colleagues in the Cahoon Group, both here at Carolina Chemistry, have developed a pump–probe microscope capable of exciting a single semiconductor nanostructure in one location and probing it in another with both high spatial and temporal resolution. Their findings are published in NanoLetters.
Experiments performed on Si nanowires enable a direct visualization of the charge cloud produced by photoexcitation at a localized spot as it spreads along the nanowire axis. The time-resolved images show clear evidence of rapid diffusional spreading and recombination of the free carriers, which is consistent with ambipolar diffusion and a surface recombination velocity of 104 cm/s. The free carrier dynamics are followed by trap carrier migration on slower time scales.
Catalytic transformations of C1 feedstocks are a key foundation of the chemical industry. Formic acid is a C1 species that is especially difficult to convert to more valuable products. Formic acid is also readily produced from renewable resources such as CO2 or biomass. New transformations of formic acid are therefore needed to promote development of renewable C1 chemistry; conversion to methanol would represent a renewable route to a major commodity chemical and high energy density fuel. In 1911, Sabatier and Mailhe reported that some dimethoxymethane was produced upon thermolysis of formic acid over thorium oxide, thereby providing indirect evidence of methanol production. Given the great interest in the facile interconversion of various C1 chemicals, it is remarkable that one hundred years have passed without further reports on this matter.
A team of investigators, including the Miller Group, has set out to uncover new routes to methanol as part of the NSF Center for Enabling New Technologies Through Catalysis (CENTC). Published in Angewandte Chemie, that team now reports that a molecular iridium species catalyzes the disproportionation of formic acid to methanol, water, and CO2. This study represents the first well-defined example of such a reaction mode of formic acid. Methanol is produced under mild, aqueous conditions, without the use of any organic solvents or hydrogen gas.