Research Opportunities

This page describes some of the research opportunities available to graduate students entering our graduate program. For more information, please visit the faculty member's website and contact them directly.


The primary research focus of Dr. Mohan Babu's laboratory is to characterize the comprehensive networks of physical (protein-protein) and functional (gene-gene, or genetic) interaction maps that underlie major cellular processes in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. The resulting physical and functional interaction maps will be integrated to organize protein complexes into higher order pathways that mediate and coordinate major bioprocesses in the cell. The knowledge gained from these interaction maps will not only enhance the fundamental understanding of the molecular wiring of proteins in the cells, but also provide mechanistic insights that could be potentially exploited for identifying novel therapeutic targets as well as therapies for the treatment of human diseases. (E-mail)

Dr. Tanya Dahms and her research group are primarily interested in studying membrane proteins and cell surface structure using biochemistry, and a battery of biophysical techniques such as atomic force- (AFM), confocal and near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM). Studies of the opioid receptor in model membranes and whole cells have been initiated, with the ultimate goal of tracking receptor number and localization as a function of cell development and drug action. Collaborative efforts are being pursued to develop high throughput screening assays for opioid receptor drugs. Fungus is a second major system studied by this laboratory. A combination of TEM, cryoSEM, AFM and NSOM are being used to examine the cell surface structure to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that initiate their growth and branching. (E-mail, Group Website)

Dr. Omar El-Halfawy's research group is actively working towards solutions for the current antibiotic crisis by uncovering novel antibiotic resistance and microbial virulence mechanisms, and discovering new antimicrobial strategies. We are engaged in interdisciplinary studies using microbiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, chemical biology and chemogenomics approaches towards the following goals: 1. Uncovering novel virulence and antibiotic resistance determinants uniquely expressed under host relevant conditions; 2. Characterizing interbacterial interactions, and determining their influence on bacterial fitness and response to antibiotics; 3. Defining the chemical resistome: Uncovering how small molecules that may be encountered by bacteria influence bacterial physiology and modulate bacterial adaptation and survival in response to antibiotics and other stress conditions; 4. Discovery of novel antimicrobial strategies, including antivirulence agents and inhibitors of antibiotic resistance mechanisms, by high throughput screening, with applications in human and veterinary medicine. (Email, Group Website)

Dr. Dae-yeon Suh's current research interests center on the biosynthesis of natural products. Different plants and microorganisms synthesize a variety of secondary metabolites from simple building blocks such as acetic acid for regulation, communication and defense. Our group seeks to elucidate the biosynthetic pathways and to understand their individual enzyme mechanisms. Various research approaches in biochemistry (enzyme purification and characterization, kinetics, and inhibitors), molecular biology (cloning, expression, and mutagenesis), and organic chemistry (synthesis of labeled intermediates and substrates) are employed. Students will also have an opportunity to study protein structure, enzyme evolution, and natural products chemistry. (E-mail, Group Website)


Dr. Allan East's research interests are in the development and application of theoretical/computational methods to explore the structures, strengths, and effects of weak bonds in chemistry. One set of applications is in understanding catalytic mechanisms of petroleum refining and CO2 capture, to aid in catalyst design for improved and greener processes.  Another is the development of a theory of electrical conductivity of molten salts, ionic liquids, and partially-ionized liquids molten salts (with potential application to solar/wind power storage in large batteries).  Calculations are performed on a 420-core-CPU supercomputer in the Ad Hum building. (E-mail, Group Website)

Dr. Marc MacKinnon's research group is focused on the synthesis and study of novel aromatic systems and carbon nanomaterials. These include molecules with non-benzenoid ring systems, non-planar polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heteroatom-embedded PAHs, and luminescent molecular liquids. We will leverage modern synthetic methods and develop new methodologies with the goal of gaining easier and scalable access to brand-new PAH systems. These materials attract considerable research interest due to their excellent (and often tunable) electronic and optical properties which can be exploited in materials science and teach us more about the nature of aromaticity. Students in this research group will have to opportunity to develop valuable synthetic skills while being involved in the imaginative process of developing novel aromatic targets to make in the lab. Students will also have the opportunity to present their work at national and international conference enabling them to participate in the larger synthetic community. (E-mail, Group Website)

Dr. Lynn Mihichuk's research interests include a study of seven coordinate tungsten complexes, including synthesis, X-ray structural studies, NMR studies (1H, 13C, 31P, 183W) and computational studies. In addition, he is pursuing catalytic applications of seven coordinate tungsten complexes in the ring opening metathesis polymerization reactions (E-mail)

Dr. Scott Murphy's research program has focused on the synthesis and incorporation of amphiphilic photochromic compounds in lipid vesicles as a strategy for controlling their permeability with light.  The resulting photoresponsive systems are currently being developed for their potential applications in photoregulated drug delivery and the development of new photochromic materials. (E-mail, Group Website)

Dr. Renata Raina-Fulton's research interests include (a) studies on the atmospheric transport and transformation of pesticides in soil and air and (b) the analysis of lead and other trace metals in groundwater. Present research includes examining the feasibility of filtration in lead analysis of groundwater samples containing colloidal material and sediments; and studies of the variability of trace metals and pesticides in soil and air samples from forested and agricultural sites. Research efforts also include examining processes of transformation of pesticides including development of chromatographic methods. (E-mail, Trace Analysis Facility Website)

Research in Dr. Brian Sterenberg's group is focused on inducing unusual reactivity by using transition metal complexes to put atoms into unusual environments. We have two main research areas: the transtition metal chemistry of phosphorus and metal templated synthesis. Transition metal coodination can be used to stabilize reactive phosphorus groups such as phosphido (PR2-) and phosphinidene (PR). These metal-coordinated fragments show unique reactivity, including bond insertion reactions and cycloadditions, which have potential applications to organophosphorus sythesis. Metal templated synthesis is the use of metal coordination to pre-arrange reactive substrates. We use metal templation to control alkyne cycloaddition reactions, and apply this methodology to the construction of novel ring systems. (E-mail)

In the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Lab (Dr. Cory Widdifield), we develop tools that can be used to perform various tasks related to establishing chemical structures using NMR data (‘NMR crystallography’). This research has important applications in several areas, including pharmaceuticals and antimicrobials/antibiotics. Some examples of NMR crystallography tasks include: structure refinement, structure verification, structure selection, and structure determination. Students in this research group will learn how to perform NMR experiments, use line shape and spin dynamics simulation software, perform quantum chemistry calculations with state-of-the-art supercomputing resources, and develop productivity-enhancing scripts and software. Their work will be presented at various national and international conferences, and published in peer-reviewed journals. (E-mail, Group Website)