Professor and student examining a burette

Research Programs

Department of Chemistry and Physics

Research Programs

Dr. Monty Fetterolf

Dr. Fetterolf’s research involves the broad topic of solute/solvent interactions. These interactions are investigated using probe solute molecules that respond spectroscopically to the solvent environments. A better understanding of solute/solvent interactions may lead to spectroscopic solute indicators of solvent properties that can be used during a chemical process when monitoring the solvent is important.

One group of research students worked with methylene violet and its analogs which display solvatochromism—the change in solution color as the solvent is changed. In these cases, the solvent can respond in a nonspecific manner to solvent change, seen as a correlation with solvent dielectric constant, or in a specific manner, seen as a correlation with the solvent’s Acceptor Number—a measure of lone electron pair sharing ability. The maximum in absorption measured with the Perkin Elmer Lambda-35 UV-Visible Absorption Spectrometer is used to monitor the color changes during solvatochromism. Students obtain wavelength maxima in different solvents and also investigate the temperature dependence of this phenomena. A collaboration with Dr. Rowe allows students to explore the use of computation as a tool in understanding solute/solvent interaction geometries.

A second group uses Raman vibrational spectroscopy to measure the specific interactions that the molecule ethyl-4-dimethylaminobenzoate (EDAB) and its analogs have with solvent. Several Raman spectroscopic peaks shift to different energies as a result of strong specific interactions of the ester functionality of EDAB with the various solvents. Presently, we are exploring structural analogs of EDAB to see what physical characteristics of the probe molecule lead to the greatest peak shifts in various solvents. Once the best probes have been selected, we plan to explore mixed solvent systems looking at how peaks respond to changes in solvent mole fraction.

Dr. Chad Leverette

Dr. Leverette and his students have been very successful in designing new sensor materials at the nanoscale using several methods of nanofabrication, including physical vapor deposition. The new sensor materials are used as substrates for surface-enhanced vibrational spectroscopy (i.e., SERS and SEIRA) to detect and differentiate trace amounts of various radioactive environmental contaminants at the Dept. of Energy Savannah River Site.

Dr. Nichloas Mashall

Our interdisciplinary research group develops new reactions and techniques for modifying materials. We work to generate new materials which contribute to solving real-world problems in energy, sensing, and consumer-facing products. Current projects in our lab involve (1) modifying metal-organic frameworks with conjugated polymers to generate potential new electronic materials, (2) developing techniques for growing covalently bound polymers from surfaces for photovoltaic and sensing applications and (3) synthesizing coated nanoparticles for antimicrobial and battery applications. Our students get trained in a combination of synthetic chemistry and state-of-the-art instrumental analysis, with a particular focus on organic synthesis and electrochemistry.

Dr. Kenneth Roberts

Dr. Roberts joined the Department of Chemistry and Physics in 2015 after completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. As a biochemist and enzymologist, he is interested in the underlying principles that govern the chemical reactions of enzymes, the little protein ‘machines’ that catalyze the many chemical reactions of the cell. His current projects are centered on understanding the reaction mechanism of the enzyme, 2,4’-dihydroxyacetophenone dioxygenase (DAD), which catalyzes a unique carbon-carbon bond cleavage. Dr. Roberts and his research students are currently investigating the steady-state kinetics (the steps and rates) of the DAD reaction. By varying the temperature or pH (acidity) of the reaction or by changing the atomic structure of the reactant, or even of DAD, the resulting changes in the kinetics of the reaction offer insight into the nature of the reaction. Due to the dual biological and chemical nature of biochemistry and the variety of experiments available for probing enzyme mechanisms, research students in Dr. Roberts’s lab gain experience across a variety of fields including biochemistry, analytical chemistry, organic chemistry, molecular biology, and microbiology. Hands-on experience includes (but is not limited to): bacterial culture, gene/protein mutagenesis, protein expression and purification, UV-visible absorbance spectroscopy, liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS), reaction kinetics analyses, kinetic and solvent isotope effects, and chemical synthesis of substrates and analogs.

Dr. Gerard Rowe

Dr. Rowe, joined the faculty in Fall 2010 after a post-doctoral fellowship at Brandeis University.  Dr. Rowe’s research interests include many aspects of inorganic chemistry, including bioinorganic model chemistry, metal-organic frameworks, the magnetic behavior of polymetallic clusters, and computational modeling of proteins and small molecules. Students in Dr. Rowe’s research lab can choose projects in either inorganic synthesis or computational modeling depending on their interests. Current projects include: QM/MM studies of the reaction mechanism of DAD (paralleling real-world experiments carried out in Dr. Roberts’ research lab); the development of new linker molecules for use as linkers in metal-organic frameworks; and quantum chemical studies of copper molecules that can activate carbon dioxide and convert it into other molecules.

Dr. Doug White

Dr. White joined the department in 2017.  Prior to that, he completed a post-doctoral fellowship at NASA Ames Research Center with the astrochemistry group there studying laboratory analogs of planetary ices. His research at UofSC Aiken involves examining various ice mixtures similar to those found on outer-planetary surfaces such as the Jovian and Saturnian satellites and Kuiper Belt objects. These ices are created in the laboratory, thermally processed, and their properties are documented through infrared absorption spectroscopy. This is accomplished using high-vacuum systems, a closed-cycle helium cryostat, and a Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometer. Studying theses ice mixtures provides a glimpse into the chemistry of the early Solar System.  His research allows students a unique opportunity to work hands-on in a field that overlaps with chemistry, physics, and astronomy.