Nicholas Pinkin, Dennis Ashford, Sophie Liu, Travis LaJoie, Njamkou Noucti, Matt Smola, Mary Aiken and Robert Sharpe, from left to right, are this year's recipients of grants from the The National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program, (GRFP).
Mary's research in the Redinbo Group involves how the nuclear receptor superfamily of proteins respond to a wide range of ligands and regulate gene expression for numerous biological processes. The Pregnane Xenobiotic Receptor (PXR) is the master regulator of xenobiotic and endobiotic metabolism in humans. Mary aims to characterize the structure and molecular interactions of PXR with ligands, coregulatory proteins and DNA to understand how PXR regulates transcription.
Dennis's research in the Templeton and Meyer groups focuses on solar fuels production. In solar fuels production, as in natural photosynthesis, a key is the integration of visible light absorption with sequential redox evens that can drive component half reactions; water oxidation to molecular oxygen and protons and carbon dioxide reduction to oxygenates like CO or hydrocarbons. To develop molecular, light-driven water oxidation catalysts, an approach that is being explored in these laboratories involves molecular assemblies that combine both light absorption (chromophore) and catalysis. Dennis has focused on the synthesis, characterization, and spectroscopic analysis of these chromophore-catalyst molecular assemblies.
Travis's research project in the You Group involves molecular electronics and spintronics. He is studying electron transport and magnetotransport across monolayers of small molecules and across conjugated polymer brushes in order to fundamentally understand the relevant processes in the field of spintronics. This research has promising applications for use in technology in future generation computer storage.
Sophie Liu is an undergraduate B.S. candidate in chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She works under the direction of Professor Wenbin Lin in the development of MOFs for asymmetric catalysis and chiral sensing. She will begin her graduate studies in chemistry in Fall 2012.
The efficient enantioselective synthesis of small to medium sized carbocycles is a current challenge in synthesis that has greatly limited the field of drug development and discovery. Current approaches rely mainly on lengthy, step-wise bond constructions, leading to inefficient and often expensive synthetic routes. Multicomponent methods, whereby simple starting materials react to give complex carbocycles, present an improved alternative to current methods. The ultimate goal of this project is the development of general multicomponent synthetic strategies for the enantioselective preparation of complex carbocycles that are difficult or impossible to access using current methods. Specifically, cycloaddition reactions using simple alkene π-systems have the potential to generate stereochemically dense, complex carbocycles in one synthetic transformation. Njamkou's research in the Alexanian Groupwill focus on the development of catalytic, asymmetric [2+2+2] and [2+2] cycloaddition reactions using multiple alkene components for the synthesis of complex medium ring systems.
Nicholas's research in the Waters Group focuses on using Dynamic Combinatorial Chemistry (DCC) to discover receptors for various post-translational modifications (PTMs). PTMs within the histone are dynamic and have a large impact on transcriptional regulation. Nicholas aims to design small molecule receptors that recognize specific PTMs through non-covalent interactions and then use these receptors to study the roles of the modifications.
Robert, who is in the Johnson Group, is investigating new reactivity and methodology en route to an expeditious total synthesis of the natural product Pactamycin. The sterically congested environment around the 5-membered cyclic core renders numerous common methods of incorporating new functionality ineffective; as a result, new intermolecular and intramolecular strategies for building molecular complexity are currently being investigated for constructing the target molecule in an efficient manner with minimal use of protecting groups, redox transformations, and functional group manipulations.
Matthew's research in the Weeks Group focuses on a small, pathogenic RNA viroid that infects plants. Unlike viruses, viroids do not encode any proteins of their own and rely entirely on host cell machinery in order to replicate and spread. Using chemical probing techniques developed in the Weeks lab, Matthews is studying the base-pairing pattern and three dimensional structure of an archetypical viroid in an effort to understand how viroid structure facilitates the pathogenicity of these unique RNAs.