Monday, August 17, 2015

Biochemistry Program Grows with Professor Rizk


The department eagerly welcomes its newest full-time tenure-track member: Assistant Professor Shahir Rizk. In fact, we welcome him back, because Rizk graduated from IU South Bend in 2000 with a B.S. in Biology. Rizk later received his PhD in Biochemistry from Duke University in 2006 for his thesis on rational design of biosensors and multi-sensor arrays.

Once the long, but necessary, period of education and training had ended, Rizk served as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health at the University of Chicago in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology where he worked on engineering antibodies and drug delivery in cancer. In 2012, he joined the faculty at the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame as a Research Assistant Professor and Director of External Programs at the Boler-Parseghian Center for Rare and Neglected Diseases. Rizk’s collaborations at the University of Notre Dame allowed him to apply his work in antibody engineering to study the pathogens that cause malaria and Ebola.

Rizk's research program at IU lies in the area of protein engineering, specifically the design of new antibodies that can recognize different conformations of the same protein. His seminar on this subject during his interview last year impressed both students and faculty. He is also working to develop biosensors for environmental pollutants. If Rizk has some free time, he might continue some of his non-academic interests such as painting and music; he plays both guitar and bass.

Rizk's position is the first [necessary] duplication in the department. For years we have had a single professor for the various sub-disciplines, but our growing biochemistry program demands more than one biochemist. We are very excited for this new addition to our faculty and are confident that Rizk will have an outstanding inaugural year.  Welcome "home" Rizk.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Chemistry Administration


The leadership skills of the chemistry faculty are remarkable.  Recently Bill Feighery (our inorganic chemist) chaired the Department of History and Doug McMillen (our organic chemist) served as Dean for the College of Health Sciences.  Both Feighery and McMillen have also served as assistant or associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. For the past six years, Gretchen Anderson (our biochemist) has chaired our department. These three professors make up half of the full-time faculty and their leadership is still desired across campus.  

For the 2015-2016 academic year McMillen will continue as one of three associate deans for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  Feighery takes the reins as chair of our department, though he is not a newcomer to the role of chair having lead us for many years before Anderson.  He is very excited to welcome our new hire, Shahir Rizk, as our second biochemist, who will help maintain and develop our growing biochemistry program. Feighery's immediate plans are to make curriculum changes to maintain our American Chemical Society accreditation under their new requirements and to find ways to attract new students to our programs.

Anderson embarks on a role new to her and new to the campus: Director of Science Initiatives. Her biggest task is probably the pursuit of new science programs such as nanoscience, pharmecutical science, and pharmacy. Anderson will make new connections with industry and arrange for collaborations and internships for all of the science departments. She will also continue to foster relationships with the IU Medical School, IU Cancer Center, and other medical centers - particularly in the area of scholarship and research opportunities.  Anderson is eager to work with physicist Jerry Hinnefeld who was named the Chancellor's Professor for 2015-2016 as they advance the Year of Science.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Professor Muna ReceivesTenure

Assistant Professor Grace Muna was recently promoted to Associate Professor and has also received tenure. Muna is known for her ability to take struggling students and motivate them to succeed. She is our only analytical chemist and is solely responsible for the two upper-level courses C-310 Analytical Chemistry and C-410 Instrumental Analysis which combine lecture and laboratory components. Muna is one of our most active researchers and routinely mentors undergraduate students in research. This summer she is working with SMART student Chris Warkentin


Their summer research involves testing the analytical performance of biometallic modified glassy electrodes in the hopes that they will offer improved analytic detection of aqueous steroid hormones over nickel modified electrodes. The metal combinations are Pt/Ni, Pd/Ni, and Pt/Pd.

In addition to her (1) ongoing research this summer, Muna is (2) teaching the summer section of our freshman general chemistry course C-106, (3) developing a new course for freshman students who are in the awkward position that they have placed out of, or already taken, C-101 but are not yet ready for C-105, and (4) preparing a proposal for her research sabbatical in the Spring 2017 semester. With a summer like this, she must be eager for the fall semester to begin.

Congratulation Professor Muna on your promotion and tenure!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

SMART Students!


Congratulations are due to our two SMART (Student Mentor Academic Research Team) award winners, Jared Larue (Biochemistry) and Chris Warkentin (Chemistry). The SMART awards have routinely provided financial support to our students for summer research.  Such an experience can be vital in securing enrollment in one's graduate school of choice.

The goal of Jared's work is to optimize the functionality of the arsenite oxidase enzyme to further research in potential decontamination methods. He will work with fellow student Cheri Stalcup (biochemistry) under the guidance of biochemist Dr. Gretchen Anderson.  They will begin by analyzing the DNA sequence obtained last summer for the large and small subunits of arsenite oxidase. If any mutations are found, they will use site-specific mutagenesis to correct them. Then they will vary the conditions in which E. coli are grown to optimize the production of active forms of arsenite oxidase. This won't be easy because both subunits contain weird cofactors (such as a molybdopterin cofactor, a 3Fe-4S cluster, and a Rieske-type 2Fe-2S cluster). The E. coli cells need to not only fold the proteins correctly and keep them solubilized, but also make and insert the appropriate metallo-cofactors. 

Chris's research will continue and build upon work done by analytical chemist Dr. Grace Muna, along with other IUSB students and alumni, on the development of nickel-modified glassy carbon electrodes (Ni-GCE) for the electrochemical detection of steroid hormones in local surface waters. He plans to explore whether the use of bimetallic nickel modified electrodes (Ni/Pt-GCE and Ni/Pd-GCE) will offer improved steroid hormone detection in terms of sensitivity and longer term electrode stability compared to Ni-GCEs. Chris is currently working on a BS Chemistry degree. After graduation, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in materials and nanoscience with applications in sustainable energy systems, specifically fuel cells, batteries, and photovoltaic cells. Further congratulations are due to Chris: a few months ago he was awarded an honorable mention in the prestigious 2015 Barry Goldwater Scholarhip and Excellence in Education Program.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Awards and Graduates 2015


Another proud group of chemistry and biochemistry graduates will be receiving their diplomas at tomorrow's graduation ceremony. They have worked long and hard for this reward and we hope they will be successful in their future endeavors.

Last Friday, our department held its own mini-celebration to acknowledge our graduates and also the accomplishments of some who have not yet graduated. Below is a list of the awards our department conferred this year.

Zeider Excellence in Biochemistry Scholarship
   Krista Schilling
Chemical Rubber Company Chemistry Achievement Award
   Anthony Hanner
George V. Nazaroff Scholarhip
   Voleta Black (pictured third)
Joseph H. Ross Seminar Award
   Geoffrey Taghon (pictured last)
Student Excellence Award in Biochemistry
   Angela Patterson (pictured first)
Undergraduate Award in Analytical Chemistry
   Carrington Boyd (pictured second)

Students Receive Off-Campus REUs


Janae Lee (chemistry) and Geoffrey Taghon (biochemistry) were both awarded REUs (Research Experience for Undergraduates) for this summer. Janae secured an NSF-funded opportunity at Notre Dame University for aspiring analytical chemists. The program is called Analytical Chemistry REU: Chemical Analysis for a Developing World and will give Janae experience in developing paper tests for counterfeit antibiotics. 

Geoffrey's REU is the result of a new IU South Bend award previously announced in this blog: the RC MedReview Fellowship. He is the first recipient of the award. Geoffrey will work with Dr. Robert Stahelin (of the Harper Cancer Research Institute) on the inhibition of reversibly-bound membrane proteins involved in cancer metastasis. Geoffrey is looking forward to continuing his study in osteopathic medical school next year.  

Congratulations to both students for securing these competitive research awards. We hope your experiences will be rewarding.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Adjunct Faculty Awarded for 10 Years of Instruction


Last week the Vice Chancellor honored Merilee Britt (pictured) and Jim Noffsinger for a decade of service to IU South Bend.  While we are very thankful for their loyalty, we are even more thankful for the excellent instruction they provide. Noffsinger, an application scientist at Bayer HealthCare, routinely teaches organic chemistry laboratories for the sophomore students while Britt, a science teacher at Penn High School, instructs freshman chemistry students in the laboratory. 

Adjunct faculty, like Britt and Noffsinger, are a vital part of our faculty and we could not teach all our students without them. Furthermore, evening hours (which full-time faculty usually don't enjoy) are just right for adjunct faculty looking for opportunities outside their standard profession - and this gives working students more flexibility to schedule classes. Thank you both for your dedication to IU South Bend.