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Research Areas

Alex Mccurdy Graduate


Chemists at USU are carrying out research on novel optical methods of chemical analysis; white light spectrometry; and the analysis of large, nonvolatile molecules by mass spectrometry. Environmental chemistry is a major focus, with research projects directed towards the development and application of methods for the analysis of small particles in the atmosphere and the application of real-time mass spectrometry for aerosol analysis, and the detection of trace fluorocarbon substances in the atmosphere.


Researchers at USU are studying the fundamental structures and functions of a range of biological systems. Ongoing projects include the elucidation of mechanisms of a number of enzymes and metalloenzymes involved in nitrogen metabolism, utilization and degradation of hydrocarbons, post-translational modifications such as phosphorylation and methylation and the assembly of macromolecular enzyme systems. Our research impacts a diverse range of phenomena including understanding global energy and element cycles, bioremediation, and human health and disease.


Chemistry, research is devoted to understanding how metal catalyzed chemical processes occur, and how features associated with the metal center influence the chemistry. In bioinorganic chemistry, approaches involve the synthesis of model complexes that are designed to mimic structural, spectroscopic, and reactivity features of metalloenzyme active site. Comprehensive studies of these model complexes increase our understanding of the chemical principles that control the structure and function of metalloenzymes.


Chemistry research at USU focuses in the areas of physical organic chemistry and the synthesis of biologically active compounds. Mechanistic studies using novel kinetic techniques are questioning long-held assumptions about the details of some common chemical reactions. Other projects investigate the details of reactions at the chemistry-biology interface, including the chemistry of phosphate and sulfate esters. Other groups are working on the synthesis of novel unusual sugar-containing antibiotics or anticancer agents, and on studying the structural chemistry of naturally occurring compounds, in order to understand how structure affects stability, reactivity, and biological activity.


Chemistry at USU focuses on computational chemistry. Research at USU led to the first experimental and theoretical evidence of aromaticity in all-metal systems. Other projects utilize modern methods of electronic structure theory to understand the fundamental nature of interactions between molecules, chiefly hydrogen bonds, which are critical to structure and function of biomolecules like proteins. In addition, projects in theoretical chemical physics are directed to studying the dynamics of microscopic and mesoscopic systems (e.g., quantum dots) in the classical limit of quantum mechanics.

Collaborative projects include:

Bioorganic & Inorganic/Medicinal/Synthetic chemistry which centers on the interface between chemistry and medicine. Methods of analysis help researchers understand the mechanism of medicinal agents, which lead to suggestions as to how such molecules can be improved. Synthetic methods are applied and these test molecules are then tested for efficacy.
Macromolecular Structure & Function delves into the very large molecules that are characteristic of biological systems. Work focuses on first analyzing the structure of proteins and then understanding how this structure is related to function of enzymes and related systems.
Energy and the Environment Our society is dependent upon finding new sources of energy, using old sources in more effective ways, and understanding how energy utilization affects our biosphere. Research in these areas encompasses both theoretical and experimental approaches in an effective manner.
Catalysis and Reaction Mechanism The heart of chemistry is the reactions undergone by molecules. These reactions can be facilitated by catalysts, the mechanism of which are seldom completely understood. Research focuses on a detailed examination of a panoply of different sorts of reactions.
Theoretical/Computational methods have reached new heights of depth and accuracy. This group applies these methods to new areas of research including nanotechnology, energy flow, novel methods of chemical bonding, and very weak molecular interaction.
Eukaryotic Biochemistry focuses on systems with direct applications to human biochemistry and the manner in which medical improvements can be made to our health.