CLEMSON – Over 150 people gathered on Saturday, March 10 to share in the department of chemistry’s 3rd Annual Chemistry Research Symposium held in the Hendrix Student Center.

Graduate and undergraduate students participating in research in the department were in attendance to present their latest findings in the form of a poster session, providing the opportunity for prospective graduate students to learn about all the department of chemistry has to offer.

trang pointing at poster

Trang researches how to better separate proteins from cell culture.
Image Credit: College of Science

Hung Trang, a graduate student in professor Ken Marcus’ group, was one of the presenters at the symposium.  Trang’s research utilizes the experimental technique of chromatography to separate specific proteins from cells in a procedure that has benefits in the pharmaceutical area of drug development. The goal of his research is to optimize this method by chemically modifying the surface of a nylon polymer to more accurately separate proteins rich in histidine, an amino acid.

“People often do genetic modification to mass produce proteins, but it’s very hard to separate protein from cell culture,” Trang said. “If we can modify the protein produced by the cell, we can use this stationary phase to provide a more efficient and better way to separate the product from the cell culture.”

Manjula Senanayake – a graduate student who studies polymer chemistry and physics in professor Dvora Perahia’s group – was also in attendance for the poster session. In his research, Senanayake analyzes polymers and complex fluids for use in clean energy applications. His latest project tracks under what conditions an ionic copolymer becomes soluble, or dissolvable.

“This polymer has the tendency to be used in fuel cell membranes,” Senanayake said. “The problem here is that people still don’t know what kind of solvent is suitable to use with this polymer.”

Fuel cells are power sources that convert chemical energy from fuel into electricity. The particular type of fuel cell that is of interest in Senanayake’s research could power electric grids, generators, cars and even cell phones.

pair point at poster

Lex (left) and Spritzky research hypervalent iodine chemistry.
Image Credit: College of Science

Monica Spritzky and Timothy Lex, two students from professor Daniel Whitehead’s research group, presented their research on hypervalent iodine chemistry, a field of chemistry that employs compounds that are less toxic to humans and the environment than chemical reactions involving metals, such as lead and mercury.

The pair is specifically interested in how to improve chemical reactions to yield particular enantiomers, which are compounds that have the same chemical formula but different arrangements of molecules.

“You can think of enantiomers like your hands. You have a left hand and a right hand, and they match up, but you can never put one on top of the other and get the same arrangement,” Lex said. “The same is true for R- and S-enantiomers. When it comes to drugs, enantioselectivity is important because the wrong enantiomer could make people sick. For instance, there used to be a drug for morning sickness where women could overcome morning sickness if they took the R-enantiomer of the drug. But if they took the S-enantiomer, it caused birth defects for their babies.”

Ultimately, by exploiting hypervalent iodine chemistry, the pair hopes to synthesize an enantioselective product for use in pharmaceuticals

After a two-hour poster session, the symposium wrapped up with a keynote lecture given by Dr. Roger Wiens, a famed scientist from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

wiens lecturing

Wiens directed the development of the ChemCam laser on the Curiosity rover.
Image Credit: College of Science

Wiens’ lecture took the audience through the development of the ChemCam laser, an apparatus added onto the Curiosity rover that is able to detect the elemental composition of rocks on Mars. The Curiosity rover landed on Earth’s nearest neighbor on Aug. 6, 2012, and has since discovered evidence of long-gone rivers and lakes, chemical energy sources for microbes, and some essential elements for life, such as calcium, magnesium, oxygen and potassium.

At Los Alamos, Wiens directs the U.S. and French teams that operate the ChemCam, and he helps to interpret data gathered from the rover. He has been involved in other NASA robotic missions as well, including Stardust, Mars Odyssey, Lunar Prospector and Deep Space-One, which include missions to the moon, Mars and distant comets. He is also directing the development of a new laser instrument slated to replace the ChemCam in 2020, called the SuperCam.

The department of chemistry plans to hold the research symposium on an annual basis to keep the Clemson community updated on advancements in the department. For more information, contact professor of chemistry George Chumanov (