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Faculty Research Interests


Students in our department experience a wide range of research opportunities — from working with a single faculty advisor in the traditional areas of chemistry, through highly interdisciplinary and collaborative projects.

The research interests of our faculty not only span across the traditional areas of chemistry, but also across other disciplines, including materials science, biology, physics and engineering.

Gary M. Baker, Ph.D.

Gary M. Baker

Ph.D., Purdue University, 1983

Standards‐Aligned Guided Inquiry Strategies
There are numerous pedagogical challenges in effective curricular design. Development of inquiry‐based teaching methods that effectively engage students in various biological and chemical problems, such as membrane transport or protein structure, is a primary interest area. Such methods include decision trees, magic number generators and “bridge” kits. To address a larger problem, these methods are also integrated into projects to assess high school science teacher response to various in‐class scenarios with the goal of developing strategies to close the well‐documented “college readiness” gap. Other interest areas include development of pivot chart templates to assess student learning and development of sustainable online collaboration strategies to promote problem‐based learning.

David S. Ballantine, Ph.D.

David S. Ballantine

Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park, 1983

Structure–Property Relationships
Research interests in Ballantine's lab involve two complementary areas: characterization of solvation properties of novel materials and development of chemical microsensor technologies. Solvation properties are quantified using linear solvation energy relationships (LSER) such as represented in the following equation, SP = c + eE + sS + aA + bB + lL. Each term in the LSER represents a specific solute–solvent interaction (i.e., H‐bonding, etc.). Solubility parameters of new materials can be obtained by inverse gas chromatography, or via quantitative structure–solubility relationships (QSSR), an a‐priori method which predicts solvation parameters based on chemically relevant molecular descriptors. Chemical sensors, including surface acoustic wave (SAW) devices and anodized aluminum oxide (AAO) devices, are characterized to permit development of improved sensors for industrial and environmental applications.

Yingwen Cheng, Ph.D.

Yingwen Cheng

Ph.D., Duke University, 2013
Materials Chemistry and Electrochemistry

Next generation energy materials for batteries and chemical conversion
Research in Dr. Cheng's group aims to develop novel energy materials that are essential for the next generation energy storage and conversion technologies. Our strategy includes fundamental research on understanding how surface chemistry directs the formation, transformation and stabilization of energy materials, and developing innovative surface‐directed approaches to synthesize materials with structure and property controlled across multiple length scale. In addition, we study the properties of these novel materials for energy applications by assembling and testing various electrochemical devices such as batteries and fuel cells. Some applications that we are currently interested in are high energy density rechargeable batteries that use multivalent ions as the charge carrier, and electrocatalysts that could efficiently convert electricity into chemicals and energy‐dense liquid fuels.
Group Site

Elizabeth R. Gaillard, Ph.D.

Elizabeth R. Gaillard

Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin, 1991
Physical, Biochemistry

Light Damage in Biological Tissues
Our research interests lie in the general area of the biochemical basis of age related eye diseases such as cataract and macular degeneration. We are particularly interested in understanding the rates and mechanisms of chemical reactions that ultimately lead to tissue damage, because this information allows us to develop drugs or protocols that can slow down, stop or even possibly reverse injury. The eye is continuously exposed to light, has the most (retina) and least (lens) oxygenated tissue in the body and has highly specialized structures for tight regulation of material into and out of the eye. These factors all play important roles in the onset and progression of disease. Our work involves the use of several types of laser based spectroscopy, mass spectrometry (lipidomics and proteomics) and tissue culture methods.
Group Members

Thomas M. Gilbert, Ph.D.

Thomas M. Gilbert

Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1985

Computational Chemistry
Research in the Gilbert group focuses on computationally elucidating why compounds react as they do. We employ electronic structure theory to address questions involving a range of donor/acceptor interactions, including trans‐annular interactions in cage compounds and weak interactions in "frustrated Lewis pair" systems. We also study compounds that formally contain donor/acceptor multiple bonds, comparing their structures and reactivities to those of well‐known species such as alkenes/alkynes and transition metal carbenes/carbynes. We collaborate in diverse areas including organic, inorganic, and analytical chemistries by supporting experimental work with computational studies, providing physical underpinnings to laboratory observations.

Timothy J. Hagen, Ph.D.

Timothy J. Hagen

Ph.D., University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, 1988

Design and Synthesis of Molecules with Biological Significance
Our lab is focused on structure‐based design and synthesis of small molecules that can modulate essential pathways of infectious disease organisms with an emphasis on small molecule–protein interactions and target specificity. We utilize fragment‐based screening, de novo design and synthesis of natural products. Specific areas of interest include: fragment‐based design of novel small molecules to selectively disrupt key enzymatic interactions such as the non‐mevalonate isoprenoid biosynthetic pathway; design and synthesis of novel small‐molecules to selectively inhibit enzymes such as MetAP2 that are essential to bacteria and parasitic organisms; and natural product synthesis with investigation of their biological activities.
Group Site

Oliver Hofstetter, Ph.D.

Oliver Hofstetter

Dr. rer. nat., Eberhard‐Karls‐Universität Tübingen, 1999

Biorecognition and Chiral Separations
Physiological processes such as metabolic pathways, intra‐ and intercellular communication, and the response to infection depend on highly specific interactions between biological macromolecules and their binding partners, called ligands. Research in the Hofstetter lab focuses on the exploitation of the unsurpassed binding characteristics of proteins in bioanalytical applications ranging from affinity chromatography to fingermark detection. Both classical immunological and molecular biological techniques are employed to produce affinity capture reagents and optimize their physicochemical properties. An important aspect of our work is the design of novel assays, biosensors and chromatographic techniques that then utilize these reagents for the detection and separation, respectively, of relevant ligands.

James R. Horn, Ph.D.

James R. Horn

Ph.D., University of Iowa, 2002

Protein Interactions and Protein Engineering
Protein–protein and protein–ligand interactions play fundamental roles in biological processes and are frequently used in a variety of biotechnology applications. Consequently, there is great interest in understanding the chemical properties which drive these interactions and learning how they may be manipulated. Using a combination of experimental, computational and protein engineering methods, our lab addresses these topics by examining the role of protein structure, dynamics and stability on the binding energetics. We are also interested in developing new methodologies that allow “customized” control of protein interactions. The long‐term impact of this research will help enhance our basic understanding of bimolecular recognition, improve protein engineering and design efforts, in addition to aiding structure‐based drug design.
Group Site

Narayan S. Hosmane, Ph.D.

Narayan S. Hosmane

Ph.D., Edinburgh University, 1974

Nanostructured Boron and Gadolinium Compounds for Cancer Therapy
Latest research efforts in Dr. Hosmane's laboratories are geared toward the production and study of nanotubes, nanorods and magnetic nanocomposites containing boron. Since these nanostructured species can be functionalized to make them water‐soluble, they could potentially be used as a way of transporting boron and gadolinium drugs directly into cancer cells for use in Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT), Gadolinium Neutron Capture Therapy (GdNCT) and/or as MRI contrast agents in cancer treatment. His boron chemistry program is also working on other fronts to develop nanotechnology that could help provide platforms for alternative energy storage, clean up hazardous waste, convert greenhouse gases into useful nanostructured materials and to develop improved catalysts for production of superior plastics.
Group Site

Douglas A. Klumpp, Ph.D.

Douglas A. Klumpp

Ph.D., Iowa State University, 1993

Synthetic Organic Chemistry
Our research is multifaceted. While the work is centered in organic chemistry, we have interests in all aspects of this field. The research involves both synthetic methodology development (inventing new chemical reactions) and target‐driven organic synthesis (natural products and pharmaceutical intermediates). Recent work in our laboratory has also sought to develop synthetic methods in bio‐renewable chemistry. We also conduct many studies related to organic reaction mechanisms, with a strong emphasis in the study of electrophile–nucleophile reactions and acid‐catalyzed processes. These studies utilize many of the tools available in physical organic chemistry, including theoretical calculations, spectroscopic studies, isotopic labeling and kinetic studies. By being involved in mechanistic studies, our research group is able to use this knowledge to inspire new synthetic chemistry.
Group Site

Irina Nesterova, Ph.D.

Irina Nesterova

Ph.D., Moscow State University, 1997

Bioanalytical Sensing Systems
Research in our group evolves around development of new sensing systems for biological applications. Mostly we focus on designing molecular devices based on DNA backbone. DNA structure is refined over billions of years to be biocompatible, stable, and programmable material capable to interact with different ligands. For example, we are building upon DNA i‐motif's ability to bind protons to develop sensing devices capable to detect very small changes in concentration of H+ in vivo as well as in vitro for indirect assessment of processes involving protons (e.g. DNA replication, RNA transcription, phosphorylation). In addition, we work on the development of sensing systems that combine functionality of small molecules with advantages characteristic for oligonucleotides. We utilize variety of spectroscopic (fluorescence, UV–vis absorption) and separation techniques (electrophoresis, chromatography), microscopy and other methods to study and characterize the sensing systems.

Victor V. Ryzhov, Ph.D.

Victor Ryzhov

Ph.D., Case Western Reserve University, 1998

Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry
Research in the Ryzhov group focuses on bioanalytical applications of mass spectrometry and gas‐phase ion chemistry. One area of interest involves studying structure and reactivity of radical ions in systems of biological interest (amino acids, peptides, nucleotides). This highly collaborative project uses ion–molecule reactions, computational chemistry and ion IR spectroscopy to assess fundamental processes related to free radicals in proteins and DNA. Another application deals with gas‐phase catalysis using metal ion complexes. Examples of this research include developing new catalysts for C–C bond coupling and hydrogen storage via the formic acid cycle. Our group also collaborates with Prof. Hagen on developing HPLC and LC/MS assays for monitoring enzyme inhibition.
Group Site

Lee S. Sunderlin, Ph.D.

Lee S. Sunderlin

Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1990

Mass Spectrometry and Thermodynamics
Mass spectrometry can be used to make precise measurements of physical properties of molecules. The flowing afterglow‐guided ion beam mass spectrometer in our laboratory is used to study the reactions of ions with neutrals at well‐defined energies. One main experiment is energy‐resolved collision‐induced dissociation, where the energy required for bond dissociation is measured. Systems studied range from species of atmospheric importance such as sulfuric acid to examples of hypervalent bonding such as IF8 and are being extended to larger species of biochemical interest. Computational chemistry can also be applied to these systems. One of the main results of these experiments is the determination of periodic trends, taking advantage of the ability of the mass spectrometer to handle periodically related ions by simply switching masses.

Tao Li, Ph.D.

Tao Li

Ph.D., University of South Carolina–Columbia, 2009
Biomaterials and Nanotechnology

Synthesis of Bio‐inspired Functional Nanomaterials for Medical and Energy Applications
Dr. Tao Li holds a joint position between Northern Illinois University (NIU) and Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). His group has interdisciplinary projects to design and synthesize novel hierarchical functional nanomaterials for potential applications in nanomedicine and energy related fields. He has a broad interest in nanocatalyst, electrolyte, nanoparticle synthesis and assembly, drug/protein delivery, enzyme immobilization and synchrotron characterization. The students in his group will have opportunities to come to ANL to interact with the leading scientists and learn advanced characterization tools at APS, CNM, and EMC.

Ralph A. Wheeler, Ph.D.

Ralph A. Wheeler

Ph.D., Cornell University, 1988

Modeling Molecular Energy Storage, Transduction and Use
Energy storage, change, and its eventual use is vital to living organisms and to our progress as a society. My research group's interests have evolved from simulating electron transfer proteins to include modeling and optimizing (1) the mechanisms of metalloenzyme reactions (e.g. enzymatic conversion of methane greenhouse gas to methanol chemical feedstock) and (2) the properties of electrolytes (including ionic liquids) for battery applications. Students in my group typically learn quantum chemical and molecular dynamics simulations. We also develop new ways to analyze and visualize simulation results. Our work is interdisciplinary and accommodates a range of interests in chemistry/biochemistry, computers, physics, statistics, and/or signal processing.

Tao Xu, Ph.D.

Tao Xu

Ph.D., University of Alabama, 2003

Hybrid Interfaces and Nanomaterials for Clean Energy Applications
Research in Dr. Xu's group pursues a fundamental understanding in photoelectrochemistry and material science related to solar photovoltaic energy conversion, photocatalytic oxidation for environmental purification, and nanocatalysts for energy storage, utilization and green chemical production. These systems involve intricate interfacial nanostructures between various materials, which exhibit profound influence on their performances. Our research focus is to investigate the basic science associated with the nanoscale charge transfers and migration of atoms at various hybrid interfaces. This provides a solid foundation to strategically build our design, syntheses and fabrication of materials and devices that are capable of facilitating the desired transfers while suppressing the unwanted transfers for enhanced performance of the above systems.
Group Site

Chong Zheng, Ph.D.

Chong Zheng

Ph.D., Cornell University, 1986
Materials, Inorganic

Synthesis of New Optical Catalysts and Thermoelectric Materials
Research in Dr. Zheng's laboratory currently focuses on the synthesis of novel materials for renewable energy applications. Optical catalysts are of great importance in the conversion of solar energy to storable chemical energy. We apply well‐established chemical methods to modify known oxides by turning the electronic structures of these materials to achieve maximum catalytic activities. Thermoelectric materials offer much better efficiencies than traditional thermal engines in converting thermal energy to electric energy or vice versa. Our strategies include computational modeling of the electronic structures of the materials. Through theoretical guidance, we hope to discover new materials for renewable energy applications in a more efficient way.

Contact Us

Northern Illinois University
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Faraday Hall, Room 319
DeKalb, IL  60115