Happy Mole Day

We geek chemists celebrate mole day from 6:02 am to 6:02 pm every October 23rd.

A mole is a fundamental unit used in chemistry and is based on Avogadro’s number: 6.02 x 1023

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NDSU Scientists Create Artificial Enzymes

Enzymes do amazing things and are Nature’s ultimate catalysts to carry out the chemical reactions of life. They are very complex and not easily duplicated in the lab. A big scientific question is: How does one develop a small molecule catalyst that can carry out the functions of a biological enzyme? Recently, Scientist from NDSU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry have made headway in this direction. A recent paper by University Distinguished Professor Mukund Sibi, postdoctoral research fellow Jun Deng and graduate student Gaoyuan Ma in the journal Angewante Chemie International Edition, is turning heads and making an impact. The paper was featured by the journal as a cover article.

Kinetic resolution is a means of differentiating two enantiomers (left and right handed molecules) in a racemic mixture. In kinetic resolution, two enantiomers react with different reaction rates in a chemical reaction with a chiral catalyst or a reagent, resulting in an enantioenriched sample of the less reactive enantiomer. In the biology world, enzymes do these types of reactions on a routine basis.  Organic chemists have adapted enzymes such as lipases to carry out kinetic resolutions.  There are several drawbacks for the use of native enzymes in organic reactions: (1) ready availability in pure form, (2) high molecular weight, (3) limited solubility in organic solvents, and (4) stability to degradation.  Thus there is significant interest in the development of small organic molecules or organocatalysts that can mimic enzymes.

The paper by Ma, Deng and Sibi details the use of novel fluxionally chiral dimethylaminopyridine (DMAP) organocatalysts.  DMAP’s are superbases and form reactive intermediates with anhydrides in situ which can resolve racemic secondary alcohols and axially chiral birayls (atropisomers, handedness from rotation about a single bond). Chiral dihydroxy biaryl derivatives are used extensively as ligands for stereoselective reactions. Thus development of catalysts that can resolve a variety of biaryls efficiently is significant. In organic chemistry, the efficiency of a catalyst to carry out kinetic resolution is denoted by an s factor, the higher the number the better it is. There is only one example of chiral DMAP catalyzed acylative kinetic resolution of 1,1’-binaphthyl derivatives proceeding with only modest selectivities (s = 1-4). The Sibi group has designed useful templates, ligands, and additives that use fluxional groups to control and/or enhance stereoselectivity in a variety of asymmetric transformations. Fluxional substituents are groups that undergo inversion rapidly, for example, a nitrogen with three substituents. A day-to-day analogy is the behavior of an umbrella on a windy day.  A key feature of this strategy is that the size of the fluxional substituent can be varied readily and easily. Using this novel concept, several chiral DMAP catalysts containing fluxional chirality have been prepared. These catalysts were found to be highly efficient in promoting kinetic resolution of sec-alcohols and axially chiral binols. Biaryl substrates were resolved with s factors of up to 51 by using the new catalyst system. The selectivities obtained for resolution of biaryl compounds are better than previously reported asymmetric acylation catalysts. These results clearly demonstrate the novelty and utility of the chiral DMAP catalysts.

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Research on the Prairies – All you wanted to know about Chlorite Dismutase

Participating in an REU program was definitely an experience I was looking forward to as a chemistry major.  After all, what better way to glimpse life as a graduate student conducting new and exciting research at an advanced level than to have the opportunity to work in a research group alongside graduate students conducting new and exciting research at an advanced level?  I was a little concerned during the application process since the chance to tour the lab and meet in person with the professor is definitely worth doing if at all possible, and while the program I was most interested in happened to be just across the river from my home institution, my current institution for the semester (the National University of Ireland in Galway) happened to be just across the ocean.  Luckily, Skype works quite well for transcending geographical and temporal hurdles, and, as can probably be surmised, I eventually found myself spending quite a lot of time on the Fargo side of the Red River.

The Rodgers group is one that sort of creates a niche of its own.  The molecule heme is a running theme in all of the ongoing projects and is examined using multiple spectroscopic techniques including UV-Visible and resonance Raman, the latter of which is laser-based.  Heme is an aromatic structure that contains an iron center surrounded by a porphyrin ring with characterizing substituents.  It is a prevalent cofactor and plays a role in a broad spectrum of proteins.  This includes hemoglobin, which is responsible for oxygen transport (among other functions) and is what lends blood its red color.The metal component of heme coupled with its role with so many different proteins and biological processes results in the research falling under not solely inorganic or biochemistry but an amalgamation of the two dubbed bioinorganic chemistry.

The all-important cofactor, heme b

The same type of heme found in hemoglobin (heme b) is also found in my focus for the summer, a very unique group of bacterial and archael enzymes called chlorite dismutases (Cld).  What sets this superfamily of proteins apart is their ability to decompose chlorite (ClO2-) into chloride (Cl-) and oxygen (O2).  The capacity to produce O2 is recognized in only a few characterized enzymes.  Another more familiar example would be photosynthesis with photosystem II.Chlorite dismutases also become very significant in their potential for bioremediation.  ClO2- and other chloro-oxyanions like perchlorate (ClO4-), chlorate (ClO3-), and hypochlorite (ClO-) present quite the environmental and health hazards due to their ubiquitous use as herbicides, explosives, and industrial bleaching agents.  In fact, the EPA categorizes ClO2- as one of the top ten pollutants in drinking water, and the health hazard it presents generally targets children in the forms of neonatal jaundice and childhood anemia.ClO2- can also disproportionate in acidic conditions into ClO-, otherwise known as household bleach, and cause some pretty nasty chemistry.  Consequently, an enzyme that not only produces oxygen but detoxifies the environment certainly merits a look.

The mechanism of Cld is currently under investigation, and the goal of the study is to fully detail the relationship between the function of the enzyme and the structure of the enzyme.  Below is a proposed mechanism for how it goes about the decomposition.4  ClO2- enters the active site of the protein and attacks the iron center.  An oxygen is left behind as the molecule releases as ClO-.  ClO- reorients and forms a peroxy or oxygen-oxygen bond before coming off as O2 and Cl-.   While there is evidence for the initial steps of the mechanism, full confirmation has yet to be achieved.  This is partly because, as of yet, none of the intermediates hang around long enough to be isolated.

  In order to conduct experiments on our proteins, we first needed to have them.  This involved a week-long process of culturing, inducing protein expression, harvesting, freezing (via liquid nitrogen, always fun), ultrasonication, and purification via column chromatography that, ideally, would end with milligrams of new, shiny (not literally) protein to work with.  Of course, as my graduate student mentor Zach Geeraerts and I found out, protein preps can sometimes be generously described as problematic.  While it may have delayed our timeline a bit, it was always a good exercise in reasoning what the problem was, testing and confirming that it was indeed the problem, and altering the procedure to reflect the new information.  Considering that research is often breaking new ground in its field, being able to nail down that process is invaluable.

A column filled with resin used for purifying protein.  Much protein was sacrificed to appease the column deities. 

 We worked with two strains of Cld.  One was a soil bacteria by the name of Dechloromonas aromatica and the other was Klebsiella pneumoniae.  The experiments, once they got under way, dealt with activity measurements and nitric oxide adducts.  The former involves measuring how much O2 is produced by the enzyme when introduced to a ClO2- solution.  The probe we use has a ruthenium complex in its tip that, when excited by an LED, luminesces.  When O2 is present, that luminescence signal undergoes Stern-Volmer quenching, and the signal from the probe decreases.  The more O2 produced, the lower the signal, and the higher the enzyme’s activity.

On the left is the activity assay for the Klebsiella.  The right is for Dechloromonas.  From the steepness of the curve, one can see that Dechloromonas has a higher activity.

The nitric oxide (NO) adducts involved coordinating or bonding NO to the iron center in order to emulate the chemistry of potential intermediates.  Through UV-Visible spectroscopy, we were able to confirm that we had made both the {FeNO}6 form its reduced form {FeNO}7.  The next step would be to use resonance Raman spectroscopy to explore the positioning of the NO in the active site, where the electron density is, and what the hydrogen bonding environment is like.  As I will be continuing in the Rodgers lab, I will have the pleasure of seeing how these experiments play out during the semester.


1.  Streit, B.; Blanc, B.; Lukat-Rodgers, G.S.; Rodgers, K.R.; DuBois, J.L. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2010, 16, 5711-5724.

2.  Hofbauer, S.; Schaffner, I.; Furtmüller, P.G.; Oblinger, C. Biotechnol. J. 2014, 9, 461-473.

3.  Streit, B.; DuBois, J.L. Biochemistry. 2008, 19, 5271-5280.

4.  Lee, A.Q.; Streit, B.R.; Zdilla, M.J.; Abu-Omar, M.M.; DuBois, J.L. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2008, 105, 15654-15659.


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Research on the Prairie – Plastic from Plants

by Charles Good

Elementary school was a great time in my life. I walked the four blocks from our home in south central Pennsylvania to Lititz Elementary School with my mom and our yellow lab, Elsa. I played kickball and Four Square during recess. I performed in our school play. Through this blur of young excitement, learning and building, I remember a few key moments. One of them was my introduction to good storytelling.  I was in second grade, and my teacher, Mrs. Sitler, invited Mrs. Clarke (mother to one of my classmates) to perform for the class. While I don’t remember any of the stories she told, I remember the way she told them. Her voice had a distinctly deep timbre and her hands danced as she told us her stories. She came to our class for one year; the next year, there was no time for telling stories as the mountains of science, history, math, and language began piling up.

My time here in Fargo has been similar in many ways. Certainly, there has been so much to learn, to do, to experience. It’s been a blur of meeting new people, figuring out a new area, and learning how to cook. It’s been the training wheels for a hopeful research scientist. Most importantly, however, my experience has helped me tell a good story.

Like most stories, mine has a beginning. I’ve had the privilege of working in the Sibi Group under the direction of my fearless leader and Ph.D. hopeful, Eric Serum. I plugged into an existing project on the topic of biomass monomer synthesis. Essentially, I’ve been making the building blocks for polymers like plastics, polyurethanes, nylons, etc. using plant matter instead of petroleum as a starting material. Currently, about 96% of organic chemicals are made from petroleum (1). This is a real problem for three reasons: 1) fossil fuels are finite and are predicted to run out in the next few decades; 2) fossil fuel consumption leads to CO2 emissions, which continues to cause climate change; 3) fossil fuel resources are distributed unevenly throughout the world, which will continue to induce political tensions (2). Because organic chemicals are prolific in today’s industrial lifestyle, these issues are not trivial. In that vein, I am helping to developing alternatives to petroleum.

Currently, biomass is the only renewable resource that is large enough to do that (3). Furthermore, it has two important answers to petroleum: 1) biomass crops can be grown annually; 2) biomass is considered carbon neutral because the carbon dioxide emissions released during combustion are consumed during the growth of new crops (4). Of course, there are some drawbacks. Biomass is still more expensive than petroleum, and the ethical debate over food vs. fuel (is growing crops for fuel instead of food a good idea when so many are starving in this world?) rages on. Some crops, such as switchgrass and elephant grass, grow on marginal land while still remaining abundant sources of plant mass, which has helped ease this debate. Still, the benefits for biomass appear to be getting better with time.

The middle of my story involves actually working with the carboxylic acids that are derived from biomass resources. My goal was to make the nitrile, which can then be transformed to the amine, which is used to make polymers. Traditionally, amines are made from the amide using lithium aluminum hydride (LAH). However, LAH is pyrophoric (ignites on exposure to air), making it a highly dangerous chemical. LAH can be avoided by making the nitrile, then using a green method to form an amine.

There are well-known methods to make amides from carboxylic acids and nitriles from amides. At the beginning of the summer, the idea was to apply these methods to the new biomass carboxylic acids. There were two criteria that I followed: 1) the reactions remained relatively inexpensive so they could later be applied at a larger scale; 2) the chemicals had minimal environmental impact. Unfortunately, publications were much easier read than effectively implemented.

This is where my story in lab strays from the story that I’ll present at the Research Symposium. My story in lab was an almost utter failure. For example, it took me almost 7 weeks to make the amide. In the meantime, I explored many methods to make the nitrile from the amide, starting with a recently published method using a chemical called MSFTA. This process actually worked really well…unfortunately, MSTFA is really expensive. When the reaction makes about 1 gram of product, $30 of MSFTFA is used. Scalable? Not so much. Then I moved on to a reaction that looked fantastic on paper. Cost was low and the reagents remained relatively benign, but it only worked for one type of starting material and not the biomass material. So it was back to the drawing board after 7+ weeks. Instead of working with complex biomass starting materials, I explored converting 5 simple amides to nitriles using 4 established methods. That way, I could create a map of sorts to determine the most effective method to extrapolate to the complex biomass amides. With that map in hand, I applied the best way to make 2,5-furandicarbonitrile. This reaction is currently running.

The story I’ll tell at the Research Symposium might sound a little bit backwards from that of the lab. The beginning of my story will remain the same – how important biomass is for organic chemistry and the goal of avoiding LAH. However, my map will come next. I’ll talk about how my map led me to choose an appropriate method for making 2,5-furandicarbonitrile (among other chemicals). Then I’ll focus on the challenges of biomass – how they are different from the simple amides from the map. That’s it. Maybe I’ll gloss over how I finally managed to make those biomass amides after 7+ weeks, but likely, that would only be for someone who asks about that specific process. That’s because failure doesn’t make a great story.

Two weeks ago, I was in crisis mode because I didn’t have any results to put on my poster. It was then that I began to plan out what story I wanted to tell about my work this summer, and soon, I could see what blocks I needed to fill in. Now, my story has little successes. I did make nitriles from (some of) the simple amides, and I really improved on the process of making amides from biomass. My story is short and probably won’t be remembered by very many people. But I’ll always remember how it was crafted, how the pieces came together at the last minute. Maybe in my future as a scientist, my stories will be told over and over again to young and old alike. For now, I’ll remember Mrs. Clarke and my fantastic 10 weeks at NDSU.

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Research on the Prairie – Organic Electronics

Materials for Organic Electronics: Thiophene-based Low Bandgap Polymers by Claire Buysse

If you had asked me what I wanted to do with my chemistry degree a year ago, I wouldn’t have known.  Even six months ago, I wasn’t completely sure where I was headed.  I suppose that part of this uncertainty came from growing up in Marshall, a small town in southwest Minnesota which did not exactly provide me with much exposure to the broad range of careers I could pursue with chemistry.  Nonetheless, I loved my hometown and took full advantage of the college chemistry courses my high school offered.  I enjoyed and excelled in these courses, which led me to attend CSB/SJU last year and to take advantage of their up and coming chemistry program.  It was at the College of St. Benedict that I discovered my passion for environmental topics and particularly my interest in solar energy.  As a result of the encouragement and support of the chemistry faculty at CSB/SJU, I applied for this REU program – and I got in!  I was so excited at the chance to do research this summer at North Dakota State University and I knew it would be an invaluable experience for me.  Through this program, my eyes have been opened to all the opportunities that are available to me and I can truthfully say that it has been a phenomenal summer so far.

This summer, I am working in the Department of Chemistry at NDSU as a part of the Research on the Prairies REU program.  I spend my time in the Rasmussen Research Lab under the supervision of Dr. Seth Rasmussen and graduate student Trent Anderson (pictured right).  The focus of my lab group is on the creation of useful low bandgap polymers that have a variety of potential applications.  The polymers of particular interest to us utilize conjugation and fused-ring systems, in addition to a number of other interrelated factors, to achieve low bandgap energies.  This lower energy between valence and conduction bands (which closely corresponds to the HOMO-LUMO energy difference) allows the polymers to adopt electronic properties which mimic those of inorganic semiconductors.  As a result, these organic materials have the potential to act in place of the inorganic electronic materials that are commonly used today.  In particular, low bandgap polymers have been studied for use in organic solar cells (OPVs), organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), electrochromic devices, field-effect transistors, and more.  Recently, these “flexible electronics” have attracted much attention for their low production costs and processibility.  This new line of organic polymers also shows promise as a more sustainable source of electronic materials.

The chemical foundation for many of the low bandgap polymers in the Rasmussen Lab is thiophene, utilized for its versatility and ease of synthetic modification.  Additionally, thiophene is an undesirable component of petroleum, which is typically removed during processing.  The acquisition of the thiophene starting material from petroleum waste offers promise for a relatively sustainable (and essentially renewable) source of electronic material.  In the early stages of my summer research experience, I used thiophene as the starting  material in the synthesis of 2,3-dihexylthieno[3,4-b]pyrazine (later abbreviated as TP), which I completed in conjunction with my graduate student mentor.  This synthesis involved a series of reactions and purification steps where I got the chance to apply many of the laboratory techniques I had worked with at St. Ben’s, in addition to learning some new techniques as well.  Some of these included distillation, column chromatography, thin-layer chromatography, recrystallization, and extraction.  Although the synthesis of TP has been well-established, completing this synthesis successfully gave me the chance to familiarize myself with the lab and to gradually increase my level of independence on the project.

The second part of my summer research experience dealt with the creation of a novel synthesis for a dimer of the TP I had synthesized and the 4-bromo-2,1,3-benzothiadiazole (or BTD)  that my graduate student mentor had prepared.  The first step towards this synthesis was the isolation of TP with a trimethylstannyl group bound in the 5 position, for which the synthesis had been previously recorded but an isolation of the compound was not attempted, likely due to instability and easy degradation.  I completed this reaction a number of times and earned yields varying from 40-70%.  At this point, my summer research experience was winding down and time constraints did not allow me to continue with my synthesis.  As a result, future plans for this project in the Rasmussen group include the coupling of this compound with the brominated BTD to create the asymmetrical dimer as shown in the reaction below.  Ideally, the electronic properties of this dimer would be characterized and the potential for a polymeric form of this dimer to be used as an organic electronic material evaluated.

Working in the Rasmussen Lab this summer has been an amazing experience for me and I am so glad that I have had this opportunity.  I got the chance to work with some great people in the lab, and it turned out that one of them (Eric Uzelac, pictured here) went to St. John’s University with my brother and lived on the same freshman dorm floor!  Spending ten weeks in Fargo for this program has definitely been a positive experience for me, both in and out of the laboratory.  It was a blast to hang out with the other REU students, and a few of us even discovered a new hobby together at the climbing wall on campus.  Ultimately, I’ve had a great time here at NDSU as a part of the Research on the Prairies program and I have discovered quite a bit about my interests in chemistry, too.  I have a much better idea of where I’m headed in the future (grad school!) and what I want to do.  So if you asked me what I want to do with my chemistry degree today, I’d know exactly the answer to give you.


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Semester winds down, Summer research gears up

As the semester winds down for thousands of undergraduate students on NDSU’s campus, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is gearing up for this summer’s NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program entitled “Research on the Prairie”. Next week students will be arrive from all over the country to participate in research in the molecular sciences. This research program partners undergraduate students who have typically had little opportunity to explore research with faculty and graduate students in laboratories doing cutting edge research.

Continue reading for more information about the NDSU Chemistry and Biochemistry REU program.

Research on the Prairies is a 10-week summer research experience for undergraduate students.  Participants will work alongside faculty to engage in cutting-edge research in the molecular sciences.  Participants will receive a $5000 stipend and on-campus housing. The summer 2014 program will run from May 27 through August 1.

Throughout the intensive summer program, participants will learn to think creatively and independently about research and to communicate their results in multiple contexts.  Weekly seminars, informal research meetings, and trips to regional attractions are planned. The summer program will culminate in an undergraduate research symposium that showcases participants’ progress throughout the summer.

This program is made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF-CHEM #1062701).

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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 spectrometry, 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 orkeri.drinka@ndsu.edu.

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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: http://www.centerforproteaseresearch.org/.
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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 is asking about. Finally, a conclusion with name and contact information is always a good thing.

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