Department of Chemistry
Custom Search


The Lawrence Group

The Lawrence Group

The Lawrence Group works at the interface between organic synthesis and cell biology. In fact, half the group resides in Chemistry's Kenan Labs and the other half can be found in the newly opened multidisciplinary Genetic Medicine Building in the medical school complex. The lab focuses on the design, synthesis, characterization, and application of probes of intracellular chemistry. Research interests include new diagnostic strategies for cancer, sensors of signaling pathways, mitochondrial proteomics, the molecular basis of memory and learning, and the control of gene expression in living animals.


The Gagné Group

The Gagné Group

The Gagné Lab is interested in the development of new synthetic methods for complex bond constructions. To mimic sterol biosynthesis, we have developed several "carbophilic" late metal catalysts (Pd, Pt, and Au) for alkene and allene activation, while in other projects we seek new catalysts for glycosidic C-O bond activation. The goal in this latter project is to use polysaccharides as renewable feedstocks for complex molecule synthesis. A third major thrust is in dynamic combinatorial chemistry (DCC), a dynamic templating strategy that selects for new receptors under competitive binding conditions. This strategy is additionally being used for new catalyst discovery.


Meyer Wins Samson Award

As announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on October 6th, Arey Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Thomas Meyer, is one of two winners of the 2014 Eric and Sheila Samson Prime Minister's Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels for Transportation. Professor Meyer is recognized as a world leader in solar fuel research.

Professor Thomas Meyer

The $1 million prize is awarded for breakthrough work into converting solar energy into electricity capable of powering transportation. "We are making a major multi-year effort so that we will not be dependent on fluctuations in the price of oil," Netanyahu said. "This prize gives the researchers true appreciation for their efforts." The Eric and Sheila Samson Prize, totaling $1 million, is the world’s largest monetary prize awarded in the field of alternative fuels, and is granted to scientists who have made critical advancements."

Congratulations to Dr. Meyer on receiving such a prestigious international honor," said UNC Chancellor Carol L. Folt. "Dr. Meyer is a superb example of the kind of innovation we champion here at UNC, using research to solve the world's most pressing problems. By pairing a basic scientific knowledge of photosynthesis with the latest advances in nanotechnology, Dr. Meyer and his team are bringing the world closer than ever to making solar energy a practical, reliable power source."


Cahoon Receives Packard Fellowship

We congratulate Assistant Professor James Cahoon as being one of eighteen national recipients of a David and Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship. James was elected as one of the nation's most innovative early-career scientists and engineers receiving a 2014 Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering. Each Fellow will receive a grant of $875,000 over five years to pursue their research.

James Cahoon

"The Packard Fellowships are an investment in an elite group of scientists and engineers who have demonstrated vision for the future of their fields and for the betterment of our society," said Lynn Orr, Keleen and Carlton Beal Professor at Stanford University, and Chairman of the Packard Fellowships Advisory Panel. "Through the Fellowships program, we are able to provide these talented individuals with the tools and resources they need to take risks, explore new frontiers and follow uncharted paths."


Waveguide Scattering Microscopy

Dark-field microscopy, DFM, is widely used to optically image and spectroscopically analyze nanoscale objects. In a typical DFM configuration, a sample is illuminated at oblique angles and an objective lens collects light scattered by the sample at a range of lower angles. As demonstrated in an article published as the cover of ACS Photonics, researchers in the Cahoon Group have developed waveguide scattering microscopy, WSM, as an alternative technique to image and analyze photonic nanostructures. WSM uses an incoherent white-light source coupled to a dielectric slab waveguide to generate an evanescent field that illuminates objects located within several hundred nanometers of the waveguide surface.

Research Image

Using standard microscope slides or coverslips as the waveguide, the group demonstrate high-contrast dark-field imaging of nanophotonic and plasmonic structures such as Si nanowires, Au nanorods, and Ag nanoholes. Scattering spectra collected in the WSM configuration show excellent signal-to-noise with minimal background signal compared to conventional DFM. In addition, the polarization of the incident field is controlled by the direction of the propagating wave, providing a straightforward route to excite specific optical modes in anisotropic nanostructures by selecting the appropriate input wavevector. Considering the facile integration of WSM with standard microscopy equipment, the Cahoon Group scientists anticipate it will become a versatile tool for characterizing photonic nanostructures.


DeSimone in all National Academies

Chancellor's Eminent Professor of Chemistry, Joseph DeSimone, has been elected to the Institute of Medicine, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine a U. S. scientist can receive. His election to Institute of Medicine represents the third time he has been named a member of a U. S. National Academy. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2005 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2012. Fewer than 20 people in history have achieved election to all three U. S. National Academies, and he is the first individual in the state of North Carolina to be named to all three U. S. National Academies.

Joseph DeSimone

"DeSimone is a renaissance scientist," said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. "He was the first to successfully adapt manufacturing techniques from the computer industry to make advances in medicine, including next-generation approaches to cancer treatment and diagnosis. He provides a beautiful example of how transcending disciplines can revolutionize science and open up entirely new fields of study. We are very proud of what Professor DeSimone and his students have accomplished. He is a gifted and talented teacher and amazing University citizen."


RNA Structure in 3D

RNA molecules function as the central conduit of information transfer in biology. To do this, they encode information both in their sequences and in their higher-order structures. Understanding the higher-order structure of RNA remains challenging and slow. In work reported in PNAS and highlighted in Science, Phil Homan in the Weeks Lab led a collaboration that devised a simple, experimentally concise, and accurate approach for examining higher-order RNA structure.

Research Image

The researchers used massively parallel sequencing to invent an easily implemented single-molecule experiment for detecting through-space interactions and multiple conformations in RNA. This strategy, called RING-MaP, can be used to analyze higher-order RNA structure, detect biologically important hidden states, and refine accurate three-dimensional structure models.


Caitlin wins ACS Organic Fellowship

Caitlin McMahon, a fourth year graduate student in the Alexanian Group, has been selected by the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry to receive a 2014-2015 Graduate Fellowship. Awardees for this highly competitive award are selected by an independent committee, and evidence of research accomplishments is an important factor in the selection process. Caitlin will travel to the 2015 National Organic Symposium to present a poster of her research.

Caitlin McMahon

Caitlin's research focuses on the development of metal-catalyzed organic reactions, with the goal of discovering new ways to form carbon-carbon bonds and expanding the methodology available to synthesize organic building blocks. More specifically, she has developed a palladium-catalyzed, intermolecular Heck-type reaction using alkyl electrophiles - significantly expanding the scope of the widely-utilized Heck reaction. She is currently studying carbonylative metal-catalyzed reactions, building functionalized organic molecules by forming two carbon-carbon bonds in one step under mild conditions.



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."