Our Chemistry department offers students the chance to study the world on the most microscopic level so that we might better understand God and His process of creation. We encourage intellectual curiosity about the way the world works, both growing an understand to better ourselves and to use this miracle of science to better aid our neighbors.
Figure 1: Molecular Tweezers
Figure 2: Chemotherapy Drug in DNA
Reversible Capsules: Proteins are macromolecules that perform cellular tasks such as transport and catalysis of chemical reactions. A protein that catalyzes a chemical reaction in a biological system is an enzyme. Enzymes have a high affinity for the substrates needed for a chemical reaction, bringing them together in the correct orientation and allowing the chemical reaction to occur followed by the release of the product. In a similar fashion, a self-assembling reversible capsule can bring two substrates together, perform a chemical reaction and then release the product acting as an artificial enzyme. A reversible capsule could also transport smaller molecules for drug delivery. Micelles are real world examples of how small molecules and vaccines can be delivered into a person and enhance treatments. A synthetic capsule could perform the same task safely and effectively.
Figure 3: Reversible Molecular Capsule Cartoon
Dr. Harris is working to understand how nanoparticle's physicochemical parameters such as size, shape, method of synthesis, and surface alterations influence the material's chemical, photochemical, and antibacterial properties. The group works with ZnO and NiO and enhances the nanoparticle's antibacterial properties by incorporating extracts from plants with historically shown antibacterial properties. The project seeks to determine how the plant extracts used during synthesis influence the composition, size, shape, and chemical reactivity of the nanoparticles and determine how the incorporation of plant extracts alters the Minimum Inhibitory Concentrations (MIC) and IC50 values of the materials against a panel of bacteria. The nanoparticles are typically prepared by alkali precipitation, as described by the equation 1.
[Zn(O2CCH3)2(extract)2](aq) + 2 NaOH(aq) ZnO(s) + extract(aq) + 2 NaO2CCH3 (aq) + H2O Eq. 1
Examples of some of the ZnO nanoparticles prepared by the group are shown in the figure below.
Figure 1. ZnO nanoparticles prepared by alkali precipitation.
The students synthesize and then characterize the nanomaterials using several analytical techniques, including UV-Vis and IR spectroscopy, TGA, XRD, and TEM. The students learn chemistry laboratory synthesis techniques and increase their skills using chemistry instrumentation. The students also determine MIC and IC50 values for both the nanomaterials and the pure plant extracts against a panel of bacteria, including Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Bacillus subtilis, and Staphylococcus aureus.
As part of the research experience, the students present their results at regional and national conferences, including but not limited to ICUR, INBRE, and Murdock regional conferences and the national American Chemical Society conference.