The Weeks laboratory is inventing high-throughput technologies for analyzing the structure of RNA. In one recent result, the lab has reported the architecture and secondary structure of an entire HIV genome. Ongoing work focuses on creating new RNA chemistries, on drug discovery, and on analyzing RNA structure-function relationships inside viruses and cells.
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.
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.
"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."
A p-type metal oxide with high surface area and good charge carrier mobility is of paramount importance for development of tandem solar fuel and dye-sensitized solar cell, DSSC, devices. Published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry, researchers in the Cahoon Group report the synthesis, hierarchical morphology, electrical properties, and DSSC performance of mesoscale p-type NiO platelets.
This material, which exhibits lateral dimensions of 100 nm but thicknesses less than 10 nm, can be controllably functionalized with a high-density array of vertical pores 4–6, 5–9, or 7–23 nm in diameter depending on exact synthetic conditions. Thin films of this porous but still quasi-two-dimensional material retain a high surface area and exhibit electrical mobilities more than 10-fold higher than comparable films of spherical particles with similar doping levels. These advantages lead to a modest, 20–30% improvement in the performance of DSSC devices under simulated 1-sun illumination. The capability to rationally control morphology provides a route for continued development of NiO as a high-efficiency material for tandem solar energy devices.
Chemists have long sought new ways to create energy-rich fuels - ideally via reactions powered by a renewable resource such as the sun. But scientists still have a lot to learn about solar-powered reactions, and a new study by Thomas Eisenhart and Jillian Dempsey sheds light on how they occur. The proton-coupled electron transfer reaction, PCET, is a key light-driven step in the conversion of small molecules into energy-rich fuels. Although prior research has provided a basic understanding of PCET reactions between molecules in their ground states, much less is known about the reactions between electronically excited molecules.
In the article, which made the cover of JACS, and was also featured in JACS Spotlights, the team reports results from a mechanistic study of excited-state PCET reactions between two small molecules, acridine orange and tri-tert-butylphenol. The step-by-step process by which the reaction occurs has not been determined previously, but since each of the reaction components has a unique spectroscopic signature, the researchers can monitor each step with transient absorption spectroscopy. The results help explain the intimate coupling of light absorption with both proton and electron transfer, which the authors say will help pave the way for new avenues in solar fuel production.
Christine Herman, Ph.D., JACS
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.
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."
In the perspective paper published in Computing in Science and Engineering’s special topic issue on Advances in Leadership Computing, researchers in the Kanai Group and his collaborators at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory describe the state-of-the-art computational method for simulating quantum dynamics of electrons in complex materials using supercomputers.
They discuss a new first-principles computational method for simulating quantum dynamics of electrons in complex materials by propagating time-dependent wavefunctions. The method is designed to take advantage of a large number of processing cores in today’s supercomputers by utilizing multiple levels of different parallelization schemes. They demonstrate a strong scaling of the computational method over 1 million processing cores on an IBM supercomputer. As an example of how new material properties can be investigated using this state-of-the-art method, non-equilibrium energy transfer rate from a fast proton to the electronic excitation in bulk gold was calculated and compared to available experimental data. Importantly, the computer simulation provides detail information on how the electronic excitation is induced by the fast proton. This new first-principles quantum dynamics method enables theoretical investigations into various non-equilibrium phenomena of electrons in large complex systems.
Francis Preston Venable Professor of Chemistry, Joseph Templeton, is the recipient of this year's Thomas Jefferson award, which was presented to him by Chancellor Folt at a recent Faculty Council meeting. "I would just like to add from my own chance to work so closely with Professor Templeton the last year how deserving and wonderful this award is," said Chancellor Folt.
The Thomas Jefferson Award was established in 1961 by the Robert Earll McConnell Foundation. It is presented annually to "that member of the academic community who through personal influence and performance of duty in teaching, writing, and scholarship has best exemplified the ideals and objectives of Thomas Jefferson." This award is, according to Department Chair, Professor Valerie Ashby, "a well-deserved honor for Professor Templeton that recognizes the many forms of his contributions to the university throughout his career."
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."