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Chemistry research

Chemistry research at UOIT lies at the interface with other scientific disciplines. While investigating chemical phenomena and techniques, students in Chemistry are also introduced to methods in Biology, Physics and Mathematics.

The below research projects fall within the Chemistry, Physics, Materials Science and Computational Science programs.

Inorganic-Organic Hybrid Materials for Electrochemical Systems (Dr. Brad Easton)

The production of energy that has minimal environmental impact is one of the most critical problems facing our global society. In order for these technologies to become truly economically viable, new materials that are significantly less expensive and more durable must be developed.

Dr. Easton's research program focuses on the study of novel inorganic-organic hybrid materials based on siloxane copolymers formed through sol-gel chemistry. The inorganic backbone provides mechanical strength and chemical stability, while the organic side chains provide functionality that endows the resulting material with the desired properties. These materials are promising candidates for numerous electrochemical applications, including fuel cells and sensors.

This research involves the investigation of new polymerelectrolytes and electrode structures based upon these materials. Studies are focused upon the synthesis and complete physical and electrochemical characterization of these materials. Of particular interest is the relation between polymer electrolyte structure and its proton conductivity, thermal stability and water retention as a function temperature. The materials are also used in the fabrication of ceramic carbon electrodes, which are highly active and robust electrode structures.

Research projects involve a mixture of synthesis and characterization that can be adjusted to the student's interests. Students interested in becoming involved in this program are encouraged to contact Dr. Easton, who is currently accepting chemistry graduate students via the Materials Science program.

Ab initio-based studies of nano-scale systems (Dr. Fedor Naumkin)

The nano-scale systems of interest are represented by atomic and molecular clusters, atoms/molecules/clusters on surfaces, nanostructures and molecular interfaces. Their structural, electronic, energetic, spectral, electric, magnetic and mechanical properties, and their relationships, are investigated and used for interpretations of available experimental data and for new predictions to be verified by future measurements. High-level ab initio and model approaches are flexibly combined in order to improve accuracy and efficiency of calculations for the polyatomic systems.

The main goals of Dr. Naumkin's research are to:

  • develop systematic procedures allowing for effective transfer to a large system of accuracy achievable for its small fragments, and thus for reduction of the amount of required expensive ab initio computations
  • apply these methods to a wide variety of systems of fundamental and practical importance, at the Nano - science/technology - and Materials-oriented multi-disciplinary interface (catalysis, surface and interface science, molecular electronics, etc.)

The emphasis is on systematically bridging the gap between separate atoms/molecules and bulk matter via complexes, clusters and nanostructures, while focusing on unique properties of these intermediates.

Chemical Modification of RNA for Improved Properties (Dr. Jean-Paul Desaulniers)

A major breakthrough in nucleic acids over the last decade involves the identification of naturally occurring short interfering RNAs (siRNAs). SiRNAs are complexed with natural enzymes and they are able to selectively control the expression of a particular gene. The ability to harness the power of siRNA to exploit this pathway would have tremendous potential in diseased cells like cancer, due to aberrant levels of gene expression. However, one of the main problems in harnessing the power of siRNA to control gene expression lies in the susceptibility of the backbone to undergo hydrolysis within the biological milieu, thus rendering the siRNA complex inactive.

To overcome this problem, the Desaulniers research program is focusing on developing alternative unnatural backbone scaffolds for increased stability and potentially permeability of the oligonucleotide across cellular membranes. This relies on developing and using synthetic organic chemistry to modify the appropriate sites within the siRNA.

The Desaulniers research program is interdisciplinary and uses a combination of biology and organic synthetic chemistry to achieve its long-term objectives. The short-term goals are to develop new chemical tools and strategies to form alternative and more robust backbones, while retaining activity. The long-term goals are to develop and understand the impact that such a modification would have on the structure, function and activity of a particular siRNA. Anyone interested in joining the Desaulniers research program is encouraged to drop by the office of Dr. Desaulniers anytime to discuss details.

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