Industrial problem: Detecting and quantifying drug contaminants in water. Let’s build new compounds and analytical machines to detect medication contaminants in water sources!
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Research in our group comes under one of three main areas: molecular recognition, separations by ion chromatography and nanomaterials. Frontiers in chemical research are at the interface of what used to be separate disciplines. The areas of inorganic chemistry, bioinorganic chemistry, and materials can be applied to separations, molecular sensors, catalysts, and nanomaterials. Our group does research in areas that span multiple fields of chemistry.
Molecular binding and encapsulation
Separations chemistry and catalysis are just two of the many fields of chemistry that rely on molecular recognition. Separating compounds and selectively catalyzing a reaction occur due to binding between two molecules. The supramolecular interactions between a host molecule and a guest molecule allow for such interactions as selective binding, chiral recognition, and separation. Our introduction into the field of host-guest complexes came with the discovery in our group of a metal assembled capsule, consisting of two synthesized cup shaped molecules brought together by metal ions. Along with the capsules, we have formed metal-resorcinarene complexes with various metal ions such as iron, cobalt and copper. We are now pursuing with interest host molecules that will selectively bind one enantiomer preferentially over another. We are also exploring the synthesis and properties of larger host molecules and their ability to encapsulate water contaminants. Students working on this project learn to synthesize and characterize organic and inorganic compounds and use them to bind or encapsulate other molecules.
Separations using macrocyclic compounds
Another related area of research we are pursuing is the application of cavitands in separations. Small quantities of molecules are harmful to us as water contaminants or unwanted substances in our body. Students in our group use ion chromatography to detect and quantify anions, cations, pharmaceuticals and biological compounds. To do this they pack columns with cavitands and perform separations using an ion chromatography instrument. Students become experts in separation techniques and use their skills to analyze molecules in tap water, river water, and biological fluids.
Nanomaterial synthesis and properties
Materials with subunits in the nanometer range are being studied for their semiconductor and energy transfer properties. Members of our group synthesize nanoparticles, nanoprisms, and nanoplates made of ZnO and investigate their light absorption and emission properties, as well as gas adsorption. Students on this project synthesize new nanomaterials and while characterizing them, learn to operate many instruments, such as XRD, SEM, TEM, ICP, Uv-vis and NMR.