Faculty Research

UW-Platteville chemistry faculty have research interests that include renewable energy, forensic science, biochemistry, and nanotechnology. Click on professors' names or scroll down to view more information.

Professor Research Areas Current Topics
Annamalai synthetic organic nanomaterials, green chemistry
Barry synthetic inorganic homogeneous catalysis
Chattopadhyay materials science nanocrystalline silcon, layered films
Cornett analytical, forensic fire debris analysis, fingerprints
Hamilton nanotechnology nanomaterials, polymers, batteries
Li synthetic organic molecular shape and activity
Mendis biochemistry gene expression, cell signaling
Rabbani synthetic inorganic nanoporous materials, porphyrins
Steiner analytical, environmental capillary electrophoresis
Wu analytical, forensic electrochemical sensors
Zauche inorganic, renewable energy anaerobic digestion

Dr. Raja Annamalai, Assistant Professor, Organic and Green Chemistry

Research in my group is focused on making organic synthesis and undergraduate organic labs more green or environmentally friendly.  As such, I have two main research projects going on in my group:
1) Synthesizing and functionalizing  iron oxide nanoparticles for the development of magnetically recoverable and reusable catalysts for organic transformations, and
2) Modifying organic dyes and studying how those changes affect their redox properties with the hope of developing better, cheaper, and safer photocatalysts.

Along with these two projects, I love to explore new and interesting areas of organic chemistry.  Some ideas are my own while others are brought to me by our students.  For example, past and current projects that I have explored include developing materials for water purification, developing a green polymer lab for the undergraduate organic labs, developing an easy and green SN1 kinetic experiment for the undergraduate organic labs, and study of organic molecules that can be used as novel insect repellents.

Regardless of the project that you end up doing in my lab, as a student you can plan on being exposed to common techniques used in the synthesis, purification, and characterization of organic compounds.  You will also learn how to keep a proper lab notebook, how to search the chemical literature, how to design experiments, and  how to apply concepts learned in your chemistry classes toward solving more complex problems.  If you have any interest in working in my lab or have any other questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.

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Dr. Brian Barry, Assistant Professor, Catalyst Development and Lignin

We are primarily interested in the rational design of ligands towards functional, homogeneous catalysts. As such, the primary activity in our labs is performing wet chemistry to synthesize novel, inorganic coordination complexes. Currently we are developing catalysts capable of performing oxidative additions across otherwise inert bonds, more specifically aryl-heteroatom(N,O and S) bonds. Catalysts capable of performing this task could have major implications in the valorization of lignin and in the refinement of ‘heavy’ crude deposits to name a couple. We are also interested in the development of electron-rich organocatalysts capable of performing reactions typically reserved for heavy, transition-metal catalysts (Pd, Pt etc.).

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Dr. Soma Chattopadhyay, Assistant Professor, Material Science and Nanotechnology

By combining highly porous micro- and nanocrystalline silicon with polymers, I am interested in creating composites that would impart desirable functionalities to a drug delivery system or a sensor. In addition, I am also interested in creating three-dimensional architectures from layer-by-layer assembly of thin polymer films for applications ranging from light-emitting devices to medical coatings. Material characterization of these functional materials will provide a thorough understanding of the material behavior under specific conditions. Such knowledge is invaluable for transitioning research concepts into actual working devices.

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Dr. Chuck Cornett, Professor, Analytical and Forensic Chemistry

Our group’s research focuses on current topics of interest to regional, state, and federal crime laboratories in the areas of controlled substance identification, ignitable liquid analysis, and the recovery of latent prints. Current specific projects include the creation of color tests for field detection of synthetic cathinones and synthetic cannabinoids and advancements in ignitable liquid detection in clothing.

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Dr. Jim Hamilton, Professor, Nanotechnology

Research in our group and in the nanocenter involves students, scientists, and engineers working in teams on a variety of projects ranging from lithium ion battery and supercapacitor electrode optimization and testing to laser and Terahertz Raman Spectroscopy, photonics and characterization of nanomaterial composites, coatings and thermodynamics using instruments we build and maintain.

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Dr. June Li, Professor, Organic Chemistry

It is well-recognized that many 1-arylpiperazines are serotonin agonists, which means they bind to the same binding sites as serotonin and mimic its biological and pharmacological activities.  Therefore, simple 1-arylpiperazines represent a structure class that may provide valuable information for finding new serotonin agonists which play an important role in the design of new antidepressants drugs.  The goal of my first research project is to use  NMR techniques to investigate electronic and steric effects on the conformations of 1-arylpiperazines in solution.  A series of 1-arylpiperazines with systematic variation of aryl substituents will be synthesized and investigated by various NMR techniques.

In my second research project, we intend to investigate structure-activity relationships in the cleavage of DNA by arenediazonium salts.  A series of arenediazonium salts with various kinds of substituents, different in electronic nature and hydrophilic nature, on the phenyl ring will be synthesized and their activities for DNA  cleavage will be investigated.  A more efficient  DNA cleaving reagent may be obtained through this research.

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Dr. Chanaka Mendis, Professor, Cell Signaling and Gene Expression

Cell death markers in SEB induced human PBMC module:

We have made significant contributions to properly identifying and confirming the effect of a number of signal components as possible signal blockers on the gene expression pattern of apoptosis related genes in human PBMCs induced by Staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB).

Gene expression profile of Staphylococcal Enterotoxin B and Lipopolysaccaride induced human PBMCs:
Our laboratory has pursued a molecular approach in comparing the host’s response to two similar toxins (SEB and LPS) on a genetic level, by identifying a set of genes to facilitate the differentiation in exposure of SEB from LPS. The multiple conformational analyses utilized in this study will not only allow us to better understand the various mechanisms and pathways induced by both SEB and LPS.

Targeting and evaluating pathway inter-connectors terminate/block complex signaling activities:
Our goal in this area of study can be broadly defined as using molecular and cellular approaches to characterize molecular signaling pathways that control these fundamental biological changes using human PBMCs as a prototype cellular module. We are currently exploring how/where and extent of interactions (namely JNK, p38, 5-LO and MAPK)of similar components, utilizing SEB/LPS induced human PBMCs.

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Dr. Mohammad Rabbani, Nanoporous Materials and Porphyrins

Research in the Rabbani Lab is interdisciplinary. Students receive broad training in Inorganic and Organic synthesis, material design and modeling, as well as varieties of instrumental methods, by investigating compounds using techniques such as Nuclear Magnetic Spectroscopy (NMR), Infrared Spectroscopy (IR), UV-Vis Absorption Spectroscopy, Fluorescence Spectroscopy, Surface area analyzer, Scanning Electron Microscopic Images (SEM) etc.

Research projects include:
(1) Design and synthesis of inorganic and organic nanoporous materials for gas storage, gas separation, and catalysis.  The main focus of this project is synthesizing porous materials with surface areas as high as 3500 m2/g (equivalent to 18 tennis courts!) featuring functionalized pore surfaces containing heteroatoms for selective gas capture.  Also some work dedicated to the construction of heterogeneous transition-metal catalysts. 
(2) Synthesis of porphyrins and their supramolecules for light-harvesting applications.  Porphyrins have structures similar to chlorophylls (which harvest sunlight during photosynthesis), and the aims of this project are synthesis of porphyrin-based supramolecules and studies of their energy transfer properties in an attempt to understand potential applications in photovoltaic solar cells.

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Dr. Scott Sandholm, Lecturer, Atmospheric Chemistry

Environmental exposure of heavy metals in nonmigratory birds: 

We are measuring the amount of Lead (Pb), Silver (Ag), and Cadmium (Cd) in nonmigratory birds like the pheasant, grouse, quail, and in particular the wild turkey.  We currently have samples from South Dakota, Minnesota, as well as Wisconsin.  As most birds use a gizzard to grind seeds, insects, and whatever else they might eat and therefore they require gravel in their gizzard as part of this digestion process.  As a side effect of picking up gravel how much heavy metal are they also ingesting?  What kind of exposure to heavy metals are the samplers of the environment exposed to?  The lead, silver, and cadmium accumulate over the life of the bird in their bones and over a year in their feathers.

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Dr. Steven Steiner, Professor, Environmental Chemistry

Current research projects are directed toward fundamental understanding of separations using capillary electrophoresis (CE) for separating proteins, DNA fragments, inorganic and organic cation and anion mixtures. In addition, a new area of research has recently been undertaken involving spectroscopic analysis of solid phase extraction membranes for quantitative determinations of inorganic ions and organic compounds in drinking water. I also have recently developed a series of laboratory video presentations that helps students with laboratory techniques and procedures for Chemistry 1450, Chemistry for Engineers.

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Dr. Joseph Wu, Asst. Professor, Portable Sensors

My current projects are focusing on developing screen-printed electrochemical sensors for industrial, environmental, and forensic applications. I am also interested in using nanomaterials such as nanorods, nanotubes, and nanoparticles to enhance the performance of these sensors. My research group uses chromatographic methods such as GC and HPLC to compare the results from our sensors.

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Dr. Tim Zauche, Professor, Renewable Energy

We are developing protocols for determining the biomethane potential of substrates (food waste or bioplastics) when anaerobically digested with dairy manure. This lab will also support the anaerobic digester being installed at the Pioneer Farm.

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