Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tracy Huggins wins SMART award for summer research

Tracy Huggins, a double major in physics and mathematics, was awarded a summer SMART grant from IU South Bend to research matrix eigenvalues problems with Professor Marmorino, our physical chemist. Junior and senior chemistry majors might recognize the matrix shown as very similar to the ones used in Huckel Molecular Orbital (HMO) theory. 

In HMO theory the gamma parameter is replaced by the number one and each "1" indicates the energetic interaction of a carbon 2p-orbital with a parallel 2p-orbital on an adjacent carbon. The eigenvalues of an N-dimensional matrix approximate the energy levels of the conjugated electrons of a molecule with N carbons involved in alternating single and double bonds - when gamma equals one, that is. When gamma is zero, there is no cooperation between the double bonds and each acts like that of an independent ethene molecule.  

Huggins has been working with Marmorino to get explicit expressions for the eigenvalues of arbitrarily sized-matrices when gamma lies between zero and one - between the simple limits of no conjugation and complete conjugation. The plan is to use these eigenvalue expressions to relate the parameter gamma to the energy difference of an electronic transition - and thus wavelength of light. This wavelength can be measured spectroscopically and then gamma can be determined and insight into the amount of conjugation is gained. Marmorino hopes to incorporate the results of this research into a physical chemistry experiment for undergraduates to replace a traditional one in which the wavelength of the transition is used to estimate the length of the carbon chain by applying the particle-in-a-box quantum model.  

This research has given Huggins and Marmorino many surprises. It was relatively easy to obtain exact expressions for matrices of odd dimension, but we have found that the even dimensional matrices do not reveal exact solutions. It is quite interesting that the difficulty lies not in the size of the matrix, but rather where its dimension is even or odd. In the search for ways to approximate the elusive eigenvalues, Huggins has unearthed many mathematical theorems and delved into complex analysis.

Monday, July 21, 2014

New Course: N190 Crime Scene Science

In the past our department's contributions to the general education curriculum were limited mainly to environmental, health, and nutritional aspects of chemistry. No longer. This summer Professor Jake Plummer is teaching a brand new course to showcase the scientific analysis made famous in television shows like CSI. Plummer is pulling out all the stops and not limiting his course to chemical applications because, as he states: "...forensic science is a multidisciplinary science, [so] we will cover concepts from physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics."  His course includes a laboratory component where students get an introduction to exciting field topics such as fingerprinting and blood splatter analysis.  The photograph below shows Plummer ready to strike a "blood"-soaked sponge to create a splatter for analysis.  Our department is very excited about this new course and we can only guess that the students are rather excited as well.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Michiana Chemistry - Distillation Done Tastefully

Last weekend several IU South Bend scientists went on a field trip to view chemistry in action. After sampling the chemical fermentation products of several Michigan breweries, the intrepid explorers stopped by the Journeyman's Distillery in Three Oaks, MI. There, they saw industrial strength distillation in action. Shown here is a large distillation column. The group was gratified to see metric units being used throughout. The temperature of the vapor at the top of this column was a steady 80 degrees Celsius. The group confirmed through taste testing that the aging of whiskey in barrels affects the final attributes of the distillate.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thirty Years of Service from Connie Fox

Just a few weeks ago, Ms. Connie Fox was honored for her thirty years of service at IU South Bend.  She is responsible for nearly all of the chemicals and equipment used in our student laboratories and is director of the freshman labs. Though the freshman students receive different leadership in the lecture courses from fall to spring semesters, she is the rock in the laboratory courses, giving the prelab lectures both semesters and teaching lab sections as well. Fox remembers well what it is like to be a student at IU South Bend because this is where she earned her undergraduate chemistry degree before heading to Northwestern for graduate study.  As retirement looms in the future, it seems unlikely that we will be graced with another thirty years of service from Fox, but we will enjoy every year that she gives to our department.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Awards and Graduates

Once again it is time to say goodbye to another group of excellent students. This year our department awarded 2 chemistry (BS) and 6 biochemistry (BS) degrees. Some will continue their study of chemistry or biochemistry in graduate school, some will enter new fields of study such as pharmacy, and still others will bravely head into the workforce. We also want to recognize those students who were awarded departmental scholarships or awards this year. 

Zeider Excellence in Biochemistry Scholarship
   Jose Zelaya
Chemical Rubber Company Chemistry Achievement Award
   Anthony Sergio
Joseph H. Ross Seminar Award
   Ashley Compton (graduating)
Student Excellence Award in Biochemistry
   Ashley Compton (graduating)
Student Excellence Award in Chemistry
   Rachel Warrell (graduating)
Undergraduate Award in Organic Chemistry
   Rachel Warrell (graduating)

Additionally, biochemistry major Krista Schilling won the merit-based Gerkin Scholarship for next fall from our own College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Congratulations to you all for your excellent performance and have a wonderful summer!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Periodic Table for the Dinner Table

There are many different ways to present the periodic table and a quick image search on the internet or a look at the Wikipedia article Alternative Periodic Tables reveals many. But most scientists probably prefer an edible version like this one baked by biochemistry major (and soon to be graduate) Ashley Compton. Though her creation is quite impressive, the faculty feel obligated to make two remarks:

(1) The chocolate chip cookies suggest Ashley's preference for the plum-pudding model of the atom over the nuclear model. We will continue to support the latter model until we see more evidence - such as a plum pudding version of the periodic table.  

(2) Most of the elements are not radioactive, and yet, Ashley's cookies all disappeared rather quickly!

Our department actually hosts a number of cooks and this is not the first time an edible periodic table has crossed our path. Just yesterday, Professor Anderson baked rectangular cookies decorated as electrophoresis gels (below) and biochemistry student Jaq Miller (also graduating soon) routinely brings baked goods to share.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

More postgraduate plans

Graduates from our department certainly aren't limited in their career options. While many pursue advanced study in the field of chemistry or biochemistry (see link here), others students have different plans. Medical school and immediate employment are some of the more common pursuits, but this year Michelle Ross (left) and Joshua Strychalski (right) show us two more options.

Michelle Ross already has a job. She has been working since 2007 at DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc.,  (a Johnson & Johnson Company) in Warsaw where they test and manufacture artificial joints. Ross has been taking chemistry classes part-time to earn her B.S. Chemistry degree for which she will be promoted from Assistant Scientist to Scientist. In this semester's senior seminar capstone course, Ross showcased her specialized knowledge of the chemistry of artificial joints and made it clear that her promotion is well deserved.

Joshua Strychalski was the winner of last year's first Brian A. Zeider Excellence in Biochemistry Scholarship.  He has been working at Meijer's in-store pharmacy while finishing up his coursework and this year he graduates with a B.S. Biochemistry degree. He has already been accepted to Butler University's Doctor of Pharmacy program where he has another four years of study to complete. Fortunately his biochemistry degree makes him well prepared and we are confident he will succeed.

Good luck to both of you and to all our 2014 graduates!