USRA Projects

USRA Projects Available in Chemistry

The following is a listing of supervisors who are offering projects for USRA students in Chemistry, along with project titles and descriptions. Students interested in applying for a USRA in Chemistry should refer to the application instructions for the Department of Chemistry.

Dr. Heather Andreas  -  Andreas Lab Website

Associate Professor of Chemistry

Increasing Charge Storage on Carbon Supercapacitors
Supercapacitors are environmentally friendly energy storage devices that can store the energy produced by solar panels and windmills. This project will explore chemical and electrochemical methods of increasing the amount of energy that can be stored on carbon electrodes in aqueous solutions. These systems will also be characterized by spectroscopy and microscopy.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
electrochemical methods, including supercapacitor/battery testing procedures; spectroscopic analysis of carbon surface functionalities (UV-Vis, Raman and X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy); wet chemical methods of changing the surface functionalities on carbon; a range of surface characterization techniques, including surface area measurements, and surface imaging techniques.

Dr. Stephen Bearne  -  Bearne Lab Website

Professor - Cross-appointed from Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Synthesis & Study of Inhibitors Targeting Enzymes of Therapeutic Interest
We are pursuing the synthesis of specific compounds for use in several enzymology projects: (i) transition state analogues for insertion into enzyme active sites to probe the role of binding determinants in catalysis; (ii) amino acid analogues as inhibitors of racemases; and (iii) purine analogues as enzyme-specific labels.  The interaction of these novel compounds with specific enzymes will be studied using a variety of assay techniques.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
Organic synthesis and protein chemistry, physical organic chemistry laboratory techniques, enzyme kinetics, molecular biology & microbiology techniques, methods of protein purification and characterization, and spectroscopy (NMR, CD, UV)

Dr. Saurabh S. Chitnis - Chitnis Lab Website

Assistant Professor of Chemistry

1. Cationic Nanobubbles: Making and Studying Liquids with Permanent Porous Cavities
This project will involve making and studying the properties of a new phase of dissolved material known as cationic nanobubbles. Such solutions have not been prepared before and their potential for application in dissolving, sensing, and separating different gases remains undiscovered. Their synthesis and properties assessment will be the main component of this project. Interested students will be exposed to a broad range of inorganic synthesis and spectroscopy techniques.

2. Cagey Polymers: Connecting Inorganic Cages to make Polymers
Most polymers contain a backbone of atoms or rings. The natural extension of this pattern is preparing polymers that contain a backbone of interconnected cages. Yet such materials have not been prepared before. The inorganic elements readily form molecular cages and participate in coordination chemistry. This project will involve the preparation of inorganic cages and connecting them together to make polymers with a 3-dimensional bead-like backbone. The physical and electronic properties of such polymers will be studied to discover potential applications.

Dr. Frances L. Cozens

Associate Professor of Chemistry

1.  Hydroxyl Radical Formation for the Degradation of Pollutants within Zeolites.
This project involves the generation of reactive HO* radicals inside zeolite host materials and determining their reactions with co-incorporated aromatics.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
environmental degradation of pollutants, zeolite sample preparation, diffuse reflective laser flash photolysis experiments and data analysis. 

2.  Study of the kinetics of the biologically relevant 1,2-diaryl-2-phosphatoxyethyl radical generated upon laser flash photolysis.
Initial work will focus on the synthesis of 2-(dimethoxyphosphoryloxy)-1,2-diphenylethyl acetate.  Once the synthesis is complete the 1,2-diaryl-2-phosphatoxyethyl radical will be generated upon laser flash photolysis of the acetate and the kinetic behavior of the radical will be studied in a variety of solvents and solvent mixtures.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
synthetic chemistry, transmission laser flash photolysis, sample preparation, kinetics, solution chemistry and data analysis.

Dr. Jeff R. Dahn  -  Dahn Lab Website

Professor, Canada Research Chair and NSERC/TESLA Canada Co. Industrial Research Chair - Cross-appointed from Physics

The Dahn group began its partnership with Tesla Motors and Tesla Energy in the summer of 2016.  If you have a passion for renewable energy and electric vehicles, consider joining the group. One example project: Work on cobalt-free high energy density positive electrode materials which will lead to cost reduction and energy density gains in Li-ion batteries .  Learn to synthesize and optimize state-of-the-art materials using a variety of methods and then test their performance in lithium-ion batteries.  Past summer students in the project area were Julie Inglis (McMaster - Two journal publications from her work) and Jamie Stark (Dalhousie - One journal publication and several more in preparation). 

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:

GC/MS, HPLC/MS, X-ray diffraction, electrochemical methods, Li-ion battery assembly and testing, high precision coulometry methods, oral and written communication, etc.

Dr. Mita Dasog  -  Dasog Lab Website

Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Project 1: Metal carbide and nitride nanoparticles for water-splitting application
This project will involve syntheses and characterization of metal carbide and nitride nanoparticles using solid-state chemistry. The nanoparticles will be characterized using various techniques including powder X-ray diffraction, transmission and scanning electron microscopy, Raman spectroscopy, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. The nanoparticles will be further tested as electrode materials for water splitting reactions.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
Students will learn nanomaterials synthesis, solid-state chemistry, operation of various instruments and data analysis, electrochemistry, and communication skills.

Project 2: Metal oxide nanoparticle inks for transparent conducting electrodes
This project will focus on synthesis and surface functionalization of metal oxide nanoparticles. The nanoparticles will be characterized using various techniques including infrared spectroscopy, transmission and scanning electron microscopy, Raman spectroscopy, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. The nanoparticles will be coated into thin films and their opto-electronic properties will be investigated.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
Students will learn nanomaterials synthesis, solid-state chemistry, operation of various instruments and data analysis, device fabrication, and communication skills.

Dr. Alan Doucette  -  Doucette Lab Website

Professor of Chemistry

1. Protein purification, separation and analysis by mass spectrometry
There has been a recent explosion in the development of protein-based pharmaceuticals.  Last year, over half of the new drugs approved by the FDA were antibody or peptide based compounds.  Analytical chemists are in high demand in industry – particularly those with skills in advanced instrumentation such as liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry.

Our lab works in the field called proteomics, which deals with the large scale analysis of proteins from biological sources.  We specialize in the development of improved analytical instruments and/or strategies to better characterize the samples.  Mass spectrometry (MS) is our detector, but we need many more pieces to be in place.  GELFrEE is a commercial device developed in my lab to separate proteins ahead of mass spectrometry (Google it to find out more!).

Right now, we’re working on a new strategy to purify proteins – a device we like to call Transmembrane Electrophoresis, or TME for short. TME uses electric fields to drive contaminants through a porous membrane, leaving the now clean proteins behind.  Our prototype design has already proven incredibly effective, but we think a re-design of this instrument would allow it to work even better. In particular, we’d like to couple TME, + GELFrEE + MS.  This all-in-one platform would have unprecedented ability to characterize proteins. But we can’t test it until we build it first.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
Bioanalytical Chemistry/ Proteomics / Electrophoresis/ Mass Spectrometry / Instrument Design/ Engineering / Research Communication.  Don’t worry if you don’t have experience with machining/ electronics.  You’ll have lots of help, and the whole point of this project is to learn new skills.

Dr. Michael S. Freund  -  Freund Lab Website

Professor of Chemistry

1.  Membranes for Artificial Photosynthetic Systems

Given the scale of projected energy needs as well as the rapid climate change associated with growing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, there is a major push by governments to increase the rate of innovation and discovery in the area of carbon-neutral solar fuel production.  For example, the US National Science Foundation has established a Solar Energy Initiative and the European Science Foundation has established the EuroSolarFuels program to support interdisciplinary efforts to address solar energy and solar fuels.  The US Department of Energy has made major investments to establish facilities (e.g., for testing and translating innovations in the field with a focus on scaling up and enabling.  Our group, which includes collaborators in Electrical and Computer Engineering, is focusing on the development of membranes that will likely play a key role in artificial photosynthetic systems.  This effort includes the design and synthesis of new materials as well as the study of their electronic properties and their integration with light absorbers and catalysts required for functional devices.  Read our recent review to learn more about the topic.  "Membranes for Artificial Photosynthesis" Energy Environ. Sci. (2017)

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
Electrochemistry, polymer science, semiconductors and catalysis.  There are a wide range of opportunities to get involved in various aspects of this research.    

2. Polymer-Based Electronics
The widespread focus on organic and molecular approaches to electronics has been driven by the promise that new mechanisms may overcome current limitations of silicon-based devices.  In particular, silicon devices based on capacitive and field effects are dominated by interfacial processes that are currently limited by defects and scaling issues.  However, molecular devices currently suffer from issues of reproducibility that are in part a result of the incorporation of organic materials into a fairly aggressive lithographic process.  Our research program explores well-defined mechanisms for redox-driven memory and electronics based on field-driven ion motion.  By designing molecular composite architectures that distribute charges within dopable systems we are opening up new approaches for the design of polymer-based electronics and memory.  Working with collaborators in Electrical and Computer Engineering and industry we are working on producing functional memory based on these new principles.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
Electrochemistry, electronic memory design and electronic testing.

3.  Integrated Circuit, Chemical Sensor Arrays
The invention of the CCD chip has revolutionized the interface between technology and its environment.  By pixilating optical images of its surroundings, devices can use sophisticated imaging processing and pattern recognition algorithms to perform increasingly sophisticated tasks associated with visual perception.  The creation of a chemically diverse sensor array chip that mimics the olfactory system could provide the next revolution in sensory input for technology.  In collaboration with groups in Electrical and Computer Engineering, we are working on CMOS circuitry design and new methods for creating large numbers of chemically diverse polymer sensing materials on the chips to significantly expand the ways in which technology interacts and functions.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
Electropolymerization, transistor operation and testing, and multidimensional data processing and machine learning.

Dr. David L. Jakeman  -  Jakeman Lab Website

Professor - Cross-appointed from Pharmacy
Example project 1. Chemical biology: discovery of new natural products with cytotoxic activity.
Students will learn sterile technique, learn to culture soil bacteria and how to induce secondary metabolite production. They will learn to analyse culture aliquots spectrophotometrically and by LC/MS/MS. Scale-up of cultures and the isolation of the natural products will be performed, providing experience in chromatography and NMR spectroscopy.
Eight-membered ring-containing jadomycins: implications for non-enzymatic natural products biosynthesis. Robertson, A.W.; Martinez-Farina, C.F.; Smithen, D.A.; Yin, H.; Monro, S.; Thompson, A.; McFarland, S.A.; Syvitski, R.T.; Jakeman, D.L., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2015, 137, 3271–3275.

Example project 2. Chemical biology: synthesis and evaluation of enzyme inhibitors as potential antibacterials.
Students will learn the fundamentals of any of the following: organic synthesis, enzyme kinetics, the basics of chromatography, operation of HPLC instrumentation, PCR, cloning, expression and site-directed mutagenesis.
α-Fluorophosphonates reveal how a phosphomutase conserves the protein transition state over hexose recognition in its two-step reaction Jin, Y.; Bhattasali, D.; Pellegrini, E.; Forget, S.M.; Baxter, N.J.; Cliff, M.J.; Bowler, M.W.; Jakeman, D.L.; Blackburn, G.M.; Waltho, J.P. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci USA. 2014, 111, 12384-12389.

Dr. Erin R. Johnson  -  Johnson group website
Associate Professor of Chemistry

Theoretical/Computational Chemistry
Research in the Johnson group focuses on use of density-functional theory to study problems across many areas of chemistry, with an emphasis on intermolecular interactions. Potential projects include molecular crystal structure prediction, studies of surface adsorption, phase transitions, and reaction mechanisms in organometallic chemistry. 
Please contact Prof. Johnson for additional information regarding URSA projects.

Dr. Aaron Kelly  -  Kelly group website
Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Energy transfer efficiency in biologically inspired light-harvesting networks.
Students will learn the fundamentals of molecular excitation energy transfer, and apply their knowledge to learn what factors control the efficiency of biologically inspired light-harvesting networks. The results of this research will help inspire new strategies for the design of artificial photosynthetic technologies.   

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
Photochemical dynamics, computer programming, molecular simulation tools, data analysis and visualization.

Dr. Randall Martin  -  Martin Lab Website

Professor - Cross-appointed from Physics

Satellite Observations of Atmospheric Pollution
An impressive suite of satellite instruments are now capable of observing atmospheric spectra to infer the concentrations of key trace species (CO2, O3, NO2, SO2, aerosols...) in the lower atmosphere. Projects exist for summer students to examine these data to understand pressing issues in climate and air quality.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
Atmospheric chemistry, satellite remote sensing, global modelling of the atmosphere, computer programming, data analysis, data visualization.

Dr. Mark Obrovac  -  Obrovac Lab Website

Professor of Chemistry - Cross-appointed with Physics

Metal-Ion Battery Materials Chemistry
The Obrovac lab designs and synthesizes highly engineered materials (nanostructured materials, core/shell particles, metallic glasses, etc.) for lithium-ion, sodium-ion and multivalent metal batteries for use in grid storage and electric vehicles. New metal-ion battery chemistries have the potential to store significantly more energy than conventional lithium-ion battery materials, at similar or even lower cost.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
Materials design, nanostructured materials synthesis, mechanochemical synthesis, mechanofusion, topotactic reactions, electron microscopy, x-ray diffractometry, Mössbauer spectroscopy, electrochemical methods, battery assembly and testing, electrolyte characterization.

Dr. Jan K. Rainey  -  Rainey Lab Website

Associate Professor - Cross-appointed from Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Peptide Synthesis, Protein Expression and Biophysical  Characterization
My laboratory works on both membrane proteins and extracellular matrix proteins with the long-term goals of developing the fundamental understanding of physiological processes and introducing new therapeutics. Summer projects involve preparation and purification of protein samples alongside characterization by NMR, circular dichroism or fluorescence spectroscopies or by scanning probe microscopy. 

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
solid-phase peptide synthesis; molecular biology based cloning and expression; high-performance liquid chromatography; aspects of NMR, CD and fluorescence spectroscopy and scanning probe microscopy.

Dr. Norman P. Schepp  -  Schepp Lab Website

Associate Professor of Chemistry

Development of Two-Photon Phototriggers
Two-photon absorption involving simultaneous absorption of two low energy photons has become an important tool with a wide range of applications, including data storage,  holography and photodynamic therapy.  This research project will involve investigating the two-photon chemistry of materials to be used in biological systems, such as photodynamic therapy.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
Femtosecond laser spectroscopy, organic synthesis and characterization techniques (UV-Vis, GC/MS, NMR).

Dr. Alex Speed  -  Speed Research Group
Assistant Professor of Chemistry

1. Development of Main Group Element Asymmetric Hydroamination Catalysts
Asymmetric hydroamination is a sought after reaction as it allows the preparation of chiral amines, which are prominent components in pharmaceuticals, with no chemical waste. This project will involve the design and synthesis of bifunctional compounds made from elements in the p-block of the periodic table, which we anticipate will activate amines. The activation of amines, and subsequent delivery of these amines to unsaturated functionality will be studied with the synthesized compound, and the observations will inform further modification of the bifunctional compounds to increase activity.

2. Development and Applications of Metal-Free Photoredox catalysis
Photoredox chemistry is currently one of the most active areas in organic synthesis, opening up opportunities to rapidly synthesize difficult synthetic targets. The most popular photoredox catalysts are currently made from compounds of the precious metals iridium and ruthenium. This proposed research involves developing photoredox catalysts where the active cores are based on compounds of phosphorus, nitrogen, and sulfur. These will access radicals with different selectivity patterns than existing radicals, allowing both the discovery of new chemistry, and replacement of existing precious metal catalysts.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
Organic synthesis, purification and characterization, including chromatography and 1 and 2 dimensional NMR spectroscopy; the synthesis and handling of main group compounds that are sensitive to air and moisture; the screening of catalysts and discovery of new reactivity.

Dr. Mark Stradiotto  -  Stradiotto Lab website
Professor of Chemistry

Homogeneous Catalyst Development for Organic Synthesis:
The Stradiotto group has made a number of important discoveries recently in this area, whereby new coordination complexes are designed, synthesized and characterized, and then applied as catalysts. This has led to our now-commercialized "DalPhos" based catalyst complexes that are used in pharmaceutical synthesis. This summer USRA project will involve exploring the way in which such catalysts operate (mechanism) as well as designing and preparing new and increasingly effective catalysts.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
the synthesis of organic and inorganic compounds; air-sensitive glove-box methods; compound purification protocols including column chromatography; and compound detection and characterization methods including gas chromatography and NMR spectroscopy.

Dr. Alison Thompson  -  Thompson Lab Website

Professor of Chemistry

Synthesis and Characterization of Pyrroles
This project will involve the preparation of pyrroles with the goal of incorporating these molecules into larger assemblies with potential applications in materials and pharmaceutical science. Undergraduate students will work in a team environment, and will ultimately be responsible for running reactions and characterizing the products.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
synthetic chemistry; isolation procedures such as distillation, chromatography and crystallization; characterization techniques including NMR spectroscopy and mass spectrometry.

Dr. Laura Turculet  -  Turculet Lab Website

Associate Professor of Chemistry

Synthesis and Reactivity of New Transition Metal Pincer Complexes
Research in the Turculet group is focused on the synthesis of new, highly reactive transition metal complexes supported by multidentate “pincer”-type ligands. These molecular pincers are specifically designed to grab a tight hold of the reactive metal center, binding via three sites in order to set up an optimum environment for chemical reactivity. This project will involve the synthesis of new classes of pincer ligands and their corresponding metal complexes. The structure and reactivity of new complexes will be investigated, with particular emphasis on exploring possible applications in catalysis.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
organic and inorganic synthesis; techniques for the manipulation of air-sensitive compounds (glove box, Schlenk line); crystallization; multi-nuclear and variable temperature NMR spectroscopy.

Dr. Peter D. Wentzell  -  Wentzell Lab Website

Professor of Chemistry

Chemometrics and Bioinformatics in Analytical Chemistry
The goal of our work is to extract meaningful chemical and biological information from complex chemical measurements using advanced mathematical, statistical and computer-based tools.  The problems take many forms and include exploration of complex relationships, classification of samples (pattern recognition), prediction of properties (multivariate calibration), and modeling of chemical and biological systems (curve resolution).  We attempt to develop new tools to address important real-world problems ranging from forensics to food adulteration to biology and medicine.  This work is well-suited to those who enjoy the challenge of applying math creatively to solve practical problems relevant to chemistry, and is a great fit for those in interdisciplinary programs involving math, statistics or computer science.  Some typical undergraduate projects include: the application of multivariate curve resolution to study feeding patterns of fish in the Gulf of Alaska; the application of projection pursuit methods to the classification of samples in forensics, agriculture and biology; and the application of chemometric methods in proteomics.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:

Multivariate data analysis, computer programming, statistics, chemometrics

Dr. Josef W. Zwanziger  -  Zwanziger Lab Website

Professor and Canada Research Chair - Cross-appointed with Physics

1. Broad-Band Optical Properties of Glass
In this project the student will work towards development of glass with flat stress response over the entire optical spectrum. The work will entail both preparation of glass samples and their measurement under stress in different optical spectrometers available in our laboratory. There may be some opportunity for work with NMR and Mossbauer spectroscopy as well.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
high temperature preparation of optical glass samples and various optical characterization methods (transmission, reflectance, birefringence).

2. Computational studies of solid materials
In this project the student will use first-principles computational methods to study solid materials, particularly their responses to experimental methods also ongoing in the lab, notably NMR, Mossbauer spectroscopy, and optical response. The student will execute existing codes to compute these properties on model systems and also correlate the results with experiment and chemical principles.

The successful USRA student will gain skills in:
solid-state physics and computational methods, familiarity with programming in Fortran 90 and Python.