Nobel Prize-winning chemist to speak at the Fargo Theater

Nobel Prize-winning chemist Dudley Herschbach is scheduled to present “Electrospray Wings for Molecular Elephants” on Wednesday, April 23, at 7 p.m. at the Fargo Theatre. The event, which is free and open to the public, is part of the NDSU College of Science and Mathematics’ Community Lectureship Series.

Herschbach is the Frank B. Baird Jr. professor of science emeritus at Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. He received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1986.  His talk will celebrate the career of fellow prizewinner John Fenn, creator of a revolutionary electrospray ionization method. Fenn’s expertise in jet propulsion and supersonic molecular flow led him to try a project many researchers considered impossible: develop a means to weigh, via mass spectroscopy, individual proteins or other macromolecules.

“In instruments, such as mass spectrometers, that measure the mass of molecules, it is important to get molecules ionized and into the gas phase,” said Greg Cook, NDSU professor and chair of chemistry and biochemistry, “this is extremely difficult with super large molecules like proteins as they don’t vaporize.”

Fenn developed an electrospray method that produces intact ions of very large molecules without fragmentation, enabling mass spectroscopy of remarkably high resolution and sensitivity.  “In essence, it ‘gives wings to elephants’ and makes them fly in the gas phase,” Cook said, referring to the talk’s title. “He is able to do this without blowing the ‘elephants’ apart.”  The method, related to the technique used to paint automobiles, enormously impacted the pharmaceutical industry, molecular biology and forensic analysis.  In 2002, Fenn received the Nobel Prize at age 85. Most of his electrospray work came after he was required to retire. Fenn died in 2010.

The event is sponsored by the NDSU College of Science and Mathematics.

For more information and special accommodation needs, contact Keri Drinka at 701-231-6131

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Frontiers in Biomedical Research Symposium

The NDSU Center for Protease Research is excited to announce an interdisciplinary research symposium to be held at the NDSU Memorial Union on May 30 and 31, 2014. Invited scientists from around the country will speak on broad aspects of biomedical research.
Esteemed Speakers Include:
  • Dr. Paul Bryce, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Dr. Adam Hoppe, South Dakota State University
  • Dr. Hirohito Kita, Mayo Clinic
  • Dr. Richard Kriwacki, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital
  • Dr. Ronald Mason, National Institutes of Health
  • Dr. Peter Nara, Biological Mimetics, Inc.
  • Dr. Mary O’Riordan, University of Michigan
  • Dr. Joyce Ohm, University of North Dakota
  • Dr. Floyd Romesberg, The Scripps Research Institute
  • Dr. Marsha Rosner, University of Chicago
  • Dr. Lee Zou, Harvard Medical School
  • Dr. Jeffrey Aube, University of Kansas
  • Dr. James McCarthy, University of Minnesota
  • Dr. Danny Welch, University of Kansas
All biomedical faculty, postdoctoral fellows, research staff, and students are invited to attend. There is no cost to attend, however advanced registration is required and includes meals and a poster session. Registration closes on May 9, 2014.
For more details and to register please visit our website:
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Kilina wins 2014 Sloan Fellowship

NDSU’s Svetlana Kilina has received a research fellowship for young scientists whose achievements identify them as the next generation of scientific leaders.

Kilina, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, received a 2014 Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Past recipients include some of the world’s best-known scientists and scholars, such as physicist Richard Feynman and game theorist John Nash.

Kilina is the first researcher at NDSU and at a North Dakota college or university to receive the honor, which includes $50,000 to advance her research.

She is one of 126 U.S. and Canadian researchers from 61 colleges and universities to receive the fellowship. Recipients are nominated by fellow scientists and selected by an independent panel of senior scholars. They are chosen on the basis of research accomplishments, creativity and potential to become a leader in their field.

Kilina’s research blends renewable energy, high-performance computing, nanotechnology and quantum chemistry and has the potential to help solve the world’s energy challenges.

She uses high-performance computing to numerically simulate chemical and physical processes when tiny materials called quantum dots absorb solar light. Quantum dots promise many benefits over conventional technology; however, how efficiently the light energy is converted into electric current is affected by interactions with different molecules on the surface of the quantum dot.

Kilina’s simulations help reveal the role that different surface molecules play on the energy conversion process in these technologically important materials. Her theoretical studies provide guidance for novel design strategies of nanomaterials that more efficiently convert solar energy to electric current.

“Developing alternative and more sustainable energy platforms represents a grand challenge and demands technological innovations in many related fields,” wrote Greg Cook, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at NDSU, in a nomination letter. “Dr. Kilina’s research program at NDSU is well positioned to address some of these key challenges.”

Undergraduate and graduate students are involved in Kilina’s research, gaining hands-on experience in her lab. Students she mentors have presented research at more than 25 local and national science meetings during the last three years, earning eight best poster/presentation awards. A North Dakota high school student co-wrote a scientific publication as the result of working with Kilina during a summer research program. “This demonstrates the high caliber of research in her group and strong professional preparation of her students,” Cook wrote.

Kilina also developed a new course in computational quantum chemistry at NDSU. The course gives science and engineering students the opportunity to apply molecular design methods, gain experience with widely used computational software and perform their own computational simulations. For this course, as well as for research at Kilina’s lab, students use supercomputers at NDSU’s Center for Computationally Assisted Science and Technology, or CCAST, to run calculations of very large molecular systems.

Other national honors Kilina has received include the 2014 OpenEye Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in Computational Chemistry from the American Chemistry Society. In 2012, she was selected for the highly competitive Department of Energy Earlier Career Research Award, which provided a five-year, $750,000 grant, award No. DE-SC0008446, to support her research. Sixty-eight of 850 researchers who applied received funding, and only 16 of the funded projects were theoretical/computational proposals like Kilina’s.

Kilina earned her doctorate in chemistry at the University of Washington, Seattle. She completed a two-year Director’s Postdoctoral fellowship at Los Alamos National Lab before joining NDSU in 2010. She continues to collaborate with the lab and serves as a visiting scientist there every summer. Several of her students also were awarded summer internships there in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation’s top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

(from NDSU News)

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New Admission – How NOT to apply to college? graduate school? research group?

As chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and as an active researcher, I often receive inquiries from students who would like to come to NDSU. Some are interested in our undergraduate B.S. degree. Some students are interested in our M.S. and Ph.D. programs. And often I get inquiries from recent Ph.D. graduates looking to join my research group as a postdoctoral fellow. I am always astonished that people who are seeking higher education experiences have no clue how to properly inquire about opportunities. Case in point – I recently received the following email:

It is not surprising that this email was relegated to my junk mail box. Nothing in this email would encourage me to consider this serious at all or even inspire a reply. However, I suspect this is a real student searching for some kind of opportunity. Let’s take a look at everything that is wrong here.

To: undisclosed-recipients:;

This sure makes me feel special and they are passionate about joining our program. Seriously – is this message sent to; (a) every faculty in the department? (b) every faculty at NDSU? (c) all universities in the US? (d) 7 billion people on the planet?


No capitalization? No salutation to anyone in particular?

Are You accepting New Admission..?

Well, there are some capitalized letters, but I’m not sure they realize where they belong. Doesn’t bode well for someone looking for an advanced degree. Further, they say nothing about themselves, what they are looking for, or even what degree they are seeking. Are they wanting to join our B.S. program? Or perhaps they are looking for a Ph.D.


Capitalization is lost again, but at least they are polite. Other than a cryptic name in the email address, there is no name on the email. I have no idea who I am receiving this from.

This email deserves no response as it contains no information and no indication someone is serious about coming to NDSU. However, I am tempted to reply with a simple message:

no – LOL

Note to potential students: Whenever you inquire about opportunities for anything in life you should do so with the utmost professionalism. First impressions mean everything. A proper email would have been individually addressed to a real person – me as the department chair, for example. Proper English, capitalization and punctuation matters in correspondence, even if it is a simple question. Some information about yourself and what you are seeking helps personalize you to the receiver. And, don’t forget to state what it is you are seeking information about. I can’t answer this email because I have no idea what degree or what level the writer asking about. Finally, a conclusion with name and contact information is always a good thing.

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Prof. Mukund Sibi receives Chamber of Commerce Award

Mukund Sibi, University Distinguished Professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has been selected as the recipient of the 2014 Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Faculty Service Award.

The prestigious award recognizes NDSU faculty members with the rank of full professor who have attained distinction in their profession. In evaluating nominees for the honor, the selection committee focuses on the nominees’ service contributions to the community and the region, in addition to their achievement as scholars, teachers or artists.

Sibi, who directs NDSU’s Center for Protease Research, is a renowned researcher in the area of organic chemistry. His pioneering work in developing new chemistry of radicals has gained worldwide attention during the past 25 years. With more than 170 papers in peer-review journals, Sibi is considered one of NDSU’s most prolific scientists. He has been principal investigator for more than $10 million in research grants.

His numerous honors include the College of Science and Mathematics Research Award, Fred Waldron Award for Research Excellence, Jordan A. Engberg Professorship, Dale Hogoboom Professorship and James A. Meier Professorship.

“I believe the service Mukund has rendered to the department, NDSU, Fargo-Moorhead and the scientific community is unparalleled,” wrote Gregory Cook, professor and chair, in a letter of nomination for Sibi. “His eye is always on the bigger picture in how he can impact economic development, bring notoriety to Fargo-Moorhead and North Dakota, and to better the lives of students, faculty and employees in the community.”

Cook said Sibi is a regular volunteer for the F-M Humane Society and is actively involved in the summer outreach program Parents Involvement in Children, Nurturing Intellectual Curiosity in Science, known as PICNICS.

“In addition to being a warm, charming and witty man, Muk is an economic engine at NDSU and within the F-M community responsible for millions of dollars spent in the area every year,” wrote Allan Ashworth, University Distinguished Professor of geology, in a letter of support.

Philip Boudjouk, professor of chemistry and biochemisty and former vice president for research and creative activity, said Sibi also has participated in the Governor’s School program and recently was one of the organizers of a Center for Health Disparities.

“His impact is both broad and deep and is felt most acutely by students here, in the region and around the globe,” Boudjouk wrote about Sibi.

Sibi, who joined the NDSU faculty in 1987, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Bangalore University, India, and his doctorate at City University of New York.

Sibi will be recognized at NDSU’s annual “Celebration of Faculty Excellence” in May.

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation’s top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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NDSU Crystallographers featured by the American Crystallographic Association

NDSU Crystallographers, Dr. Christopher Colbert and Dr. Sangita Sinha, are featured in RefleXions, the quarterly American Crystallographic Association (ACA) Fall newsletter ( for their work in protein crystallography presented at the 2013 annual ACA meeting.

Dr. Colbert’s research entitled “Structural Characterization of Pandoraea Pnomenusa B-356 Biphenyl Dioxygenase Reveals Features of a Potent PCB-Degrading enzyme” was highlighted in the BioMac Posters section.  In this study Dr. Colbert and his coauthors used information from multiple high-resolution structures to understand the mechanism and specificity of this enzyme and to construct a structure-based classification of this enzyme compared to other Rieske oxygenase proteins.  This study led to understanding the superior ability of some enzymes to degrade polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are important environmental pollutants.  Further, based on this information the authors were able to design mutations to improve the reactivity of biphenyl dioxygenase oward a wider variety of PCBs.  Dr. Sinha also contributed to this work, which is now published in the journal PLoS One: (

Dr. Sinha presented a seminar entitled “Targeting the g-herpesvirus mediated inhibition of autophagy” in the scientific session on Host Pathogen Interactions.  g-herpesviruses are cancer-causing viruses that also cause important human diseases like infectious mononucleosis.  Dr. Sinha’s work has elucidated the mechanism by which a protein encoded by the g-herpesvirus down-regulates autophagy, a critical cellular degradation pathway that protects the cell from pathogens.  This seminar reported recent results obtained by her graduate students Ms. Minfei Su and Ms. Yang Mei, wherein they combined information from cellular and biochemical experiments to develop and test a peptide that selectively inhibits g-herpesvirus down-regulation of autophagy, but does not interfere with normal cellular regulation.  The mechanism by which the peptide is bound by the viral protein was elucidated by determining the atomic structure of the viral protein-peptide complex. This peptide could provide a basis for the development of therapeutics targeting g-herpesvirus infections.  Dr. Colbert also contributed to this work, which is under review in the journal J. Biol. Chem.


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Graduate student received 2013 Ciba Travel Award in Green Chemistry

Jing Zhang, a NDSU doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has been chosen to receive a 2013 Ciba Travel Award in Green Chemistry. Jing is among four graduate students in the nation to receive this a

ward to recognize “significant ability to incorporate creative green chemistry solutions into their research that reduce waste, conserve energy and seek alternatives to toxic and nonrenewable substances”.

Administered by the American Chemical Society’s (ACS’) Green Chemistry Institute, this competitive award enables students with a research interest in green chemistry to travel to an ACS scientific conference with a significant green chemistry component. The award will cover up to $2,000 for Jing’s travel and conference expenses to the 247th ACS National Meeting, March 16-20, 2014, in Dallas. She will present research on greener methodologies for chemical synthesis using ruthenium-based catalysis.

Jing works with the research groups of Dr. Pinjing Zhao, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Her PhD thesis research focuses on the rational design of transition metal catalysts for energy-efficient and environmentally friendly methods in chemical synthesis. Her research achievements have led to several recent honors and awards including the ND EPSCoR Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, 2013 ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry Travel Award, and a poster award at the 17th IUPAC International Symposium on Organometallic Chemistry Directed towards Organic Synthesis (OMCOS17).

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Welcome to 2014: the International Year of Crystallography

by Jaime Jensen


Crystals under the microsope

The New Year marks the centenary of the development of one of the greatest techniques in modern science: x-ray crystallography. This field, while providing exponential contributions to such diverse disciplines as physics, medicine, and materials sciences, remains largely unrecognized by the general public. The declaration of 2014 as the International Year of Crystallography by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Union of Crystallography is an effort to raise awareness and support for this burgeoning field.[i]

In 1914, German physicist Max von Laue won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery that crystals diffract x-rays in mathematically predictable ways.[ii] The father-son team William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg only one year later shared the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics for expanding upon von Laue’s work; for their “services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of x-rays,”[iii] the Braggs provided the mathematical framework for accurately deducing the atomic structure of a crystal via analysis of the diffraction pattern produced by reflected x-rays.

Since the early work of the Braggs on simple crystalline compounds, namely, table salt and diamond, x-ray crystallographers have tackled increasingly complex systems in an effort to understand how the underlying atomic structure of a compound- a mineral, a drug, a protein, DNA, even viruses- determine how that compound functions or interacts with others. In fact, since the 1901 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen for the discovery of x-rays, 48 Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine have been awarded for scientific achievements associated with or directly involving the utilization of crystallographic techniques.[iv]

Contributions by crystallographers often fall under the realm of “basic research” instead of research that is strictly hypothesis-driven; however, increasingly, crystallography is a driving force behind applied research, as well, such as structure-based drug design, determination of enzymatic mechanisms, and elucidation of protein-protein interactions. The rise in high-throughout computational prediction of drug interactions would be impossible without crystal structures from fundamental crystallographic experiments. Crystallography is not the “be all, end all” technique, but the insights provided by structural analysis are invaluable in furthering scientific endeavors.

X-ray crystallography is alive and well at NDSU. The Materials Characterization Laboratory, managed by Dr. Angel Ugrinov, continues to provide area researchers with access to a Bruker Kappa Apex II Duo x-ray diffractometer and a Phillips X’pert MPD powder x-ray diffractometer for data collection for structure solution from single crystals or powders. In 2013, the labs of Dr. Christopher Colbert and Dr. Sangita Sinha determined and deposited into the Protein Data Bank the first high-resolution protein structures solved in North Dakota (publications forthcoming). These structures provide insights into the role of various proteins involved in signaling during brain injury (Dr. Colbert) and the regulation of autophagy, a cellular nutrient recycling pathway (Dr. Sinha).

More information concerning the International Year of Crystallography and various resources pertaining to crystallography may be found at:

Celebrating Crystallography video:

What Crystallography Can Do for You video:

The International Year of Crystallography:

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Faculty contributes to research published in Cell

Research performed by Dr. Sangita Sinha, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has been published in the major international science journal, Cell.

The research team, which included scientists from six institutions in the United States, has identified a new protein, Beclin 2, that is involved in autophagy and required for the degradation of several G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs).  In mammals, decreased levels of Beclin 2 results in decreased embryonic viability, increased levels of brain GPCRs such as the cannabinoid receptors, elevated food intake, obesity and insulin resistance.  This research is published in the August 2013 online issue of the journal Cell at

Autophagy, an essential cellular pathway, is responsible for the recycling of nutrients and generation of energy inside the cell by facilitating the clearance and degradation of macromolecular assemblies that are either damaged, harmful or no longer needed by the cell.  Autophagy occurs in all eukaryotic organisms, ranging from yeast to humans.  Several proteins, called autophagy effectors, are required to carry out this essential cellular process.  Beclin 2 is similar in amino acid sequence to another previously autophagy effector, Beclin 1, which is essential for the survival of all eukaryotic organisms.  However, Beclin 2 is found only in higher vertebrates like mammals, where it carries out additional functions that are required for the maintenance of more complex cells.

GPCRs are the largest family of cell-surface receptors encoded in the human genome, and constitute a key mechanism for controlling cellular responses to environmental cues.  Binding of different ligands to these receptors results in activation of various signaling pathways inside cells allowing the cell to respond to various environmental stimuli.  Ligand-bound, activated receptors are internalized by the cell.  Internalized GPCRs may be stripped of their ligands and returned to the surface, allowing the signaling process to be reactivated, or the GPCRs may be degraded resulting in a down-regulation of the signaling process.

The discovery of the role Beclin 2 plays in this process helps explain the mechanism by which GPCR signaling is down-regulated.  Key work done by Dr. Sinha helped identify regions of Beclin 2 that were different from Beclin 1.  This enabled the production of Beclin 2-specific antibodies that were critical for many of the experiments reported in the paper.  This information was also used to identify Beclin 2 protein interactions that were different from Beclin 1.  Ultimately, this led to the identification of the unique function of Beclin 2 in down-regulating GPCRs.

Dr. Sinha, along with graduate students Minfei Su and Yue Li in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at NDSU, continue the research on Beclin 2.  The ultimate goal of their ongoing research is to elucidate the three-dimensional atomic resolution structure of Beclin 2 in order to understand the mechanism by which it facilitates the degradation of GPCRs.

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NDSU Students Present at International Meeting on DNA Replication and Repair in Genome Maintenance

Three Chemistry and Biochemistry graduate students and their thesis advisor recently (Sept. 9-13, 2013) participated in a Cold Spring Harbor Meeting (Cold Spring Harbor, NY) that focused on Eukaryotic DNA Replication and Genome Maintenance.  Ms. Padmaja Ghospurkar, Mr. Timothy Wilson, and Ms. Erica Mueller were all supported by funding from a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award to Dr. Stuart Haring and by three $250 travel awards from the NDSU College of Science and Mathematics.  This contingency was the only representation from the state of North Dakota at the meeting, which occurs every two years.  Each student presented their work ( on Replication Protein A (RPA) and how this protein complex functions in recognizing DNA intermediates and communicates to other factors necessary to duplicate and repair DNA to prevent mutation.  In addition to receiving meaningful ideas and insight on their research, highlights of the meeting also included in depth talks on DNA initiation, replication stress, and the importance of the DNA damage response to maintain normal cell function.  The meeting concluded with a concert by award winning pianist Mr. Andrew Tyson and a banquet, in which two of the students personally met Dr. James Watson, a Nobel Prize co-recipient for identifying the structure of DNA.

  Ms. Padmaja Ghospurkar presenting her work on the importance of RPA for cell growth and the DNA damage response. 

Mr. Timothy Wilson presenting his work on RPA function in DNA double-strand break repair.

Ms. Erica Mueller presenting her work on RPA-protein interactions and their dependence on DNA damage.

The graduate students meet Dr. James Watson.

The graduate students meet Dr. James Watson.

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