In Print

Graduate students Rashmi Adhikari (Chemistry), Mu Yang (Chemistry), post-doctoral fellow Nabanita Saikia (Physics), graduate students Colina Dutta (Chemistry), Wafa Alharbi (Biological Sciences), associate professor Zhiying Shan (KIP), professor Ravi Pandey (Physics), and associate professor Ashutosh Tiwari (Chemistry) published a paper in ACS Chemical Neuroscience titled “Acetylation of Aβ42 at lysine 16 disrupts amyloid formation” on March 24, 2020.

In Print

Graduate student Chathura de Alwis (Chem), research assistant professor Timothy R. Leftwich (MSE), and assistant professor Kathryn A. Perrine (Chem) published their seminal paper on their new surface technique, “New Approach to Simultaneous In Situ Measurements of the Air/Liquid/Solid Interface Using PM-IRRAS” in Langmuir on March 16, 2020.


The article by Professor Haiying Liu, Rudy Luck and their research team, entitled “Near-infrared fluorescent probes based on TBET and FRET rhodamine acceptors with different pK(a) values for sensitive ratiometric visualization of pH changes in live cells,” has been selected for inclusion in an online collection highlighting the most popular articles published in Journal of Materials Chemistry B in 2019.

This research has been supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers R15GM114751 and 2R15GM114751-02 (Haiying Liu). 

Call for Applications: Songer Research Award for Human Health Research

Matthew Songer, (Biological Sciences ’79) and Laura Songer (Biological Sciences ’80) have generously donated funds to the College of Sciences and Arts (CSA) to support a research project competition for undergraduate and graduate students.

Remembering their own eagerness to engage in research during their undergraduate years, the Songers established these awards to stimulate and encourage opportunities for original research by current Michigan Tech students. The College is extremely grateful for the Songers’ continuing interest in, and support of, Michigan Tech’s programs in human health and medicine.

Any Michigan Tech student interested in exploring a medically related question under the guidance of faculty in the College of Sciences and Arts may apply. Students majoring in any degree program in the college, including both traditional (i.e., biological sciences, kinesiology, chemistry) and nontraditional (i.e., physics, psychology, social science, bioethics, computer science, mathematics) programs related to human health may propose research projects connected to human health. 

Submit applications as a single PDF file to the Office of the College of Sciences and Arts by 4 p.m. Monday, March 30. Applications may be emailed to

Read more about the Songer Research Award here.

Be Brief: Glow

Changes in pH cause the rhodol dyes to glow differently, offering insight into diseases that affect mitophagy. Three slides each with a different color of rhodol dyeFluorescent dyes help scientists see the inner workings of disease. In a new paper by Haiying Liu (Chem), Rudy Luck (Chem) and Thomas Werner (Bio Sci)—along with student researchers—they examine the efficacy of a rhodol-based fluorescent dye.

Diseases like Alzheimer’s and certain kinds of cancers affect the powerhouses of cells — mitochondria. To keep these powerhouses working efficiently, cells remove damaged mitochondria. This process, called mitophagy, is like a cell taking out the trash. In diseased cells, the garbage piles up and the cell’s pH changes. The rhodol dye responds to pH changes and glows brighter.

Luck adds that he considers it a privilege to be able to contribute to Liu’s attempts to find commercially viable probes. The team also acknowledges that the High-Performance Computer system Superior, managed under Director Gowtham, has advanced the research considerably.

Read more about the next steps of this research on the campus research blog Unscripted and celebrate National Chemistry Week with other Unscripted reads about surface chemistry, the science of brewing and mass spectrometry.

Surface Chemistry Research with Kathryn Perrine

Close view of the inner mechanism of the X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy instrument.


Some people say scientific research doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Kathryn Perrine, assistant professor of chemistry, would argue otherwise. The field of surface science has made advances in several fields, from transistors in semiconductor technologies, to bioadhesives for medical devices, batteries and catalysts for energy conversion. Modern surface science utilizes surface-sensitive analytical techniques to measure and characterize materials in a pristine atmosphere, in a vacuum of pressures near-equivalent to those of outer space. Under these conditions, one is able to control the adsorption of gases and allow for electron-based spectroscopies to interrogate the surface providing new insights into atomic bonding and molecular reactions.

In particular, one such instrument that Perrine brought to Michigan Tech was X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). This technique enables researchers to measure elemental composition, oxidations states, and chemical binding. In 2016 the XPS was donated to Michigan Tech by the Army Research Laboratories with help from the Department of Chemistry. The XPS is housed in the university’s Applied Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory, and is run by Kathryn Perrine and Timothy Leftwich, research professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department, both of whom are surface scientists.

Currently, Perrine and her research team are studying oxidation reactions on iron surfaces. These materials are earth-abundant and act as catalysts in the natural environment, undergoing oxidation-reduction and decomposing environmental contaminants. Past studies have shown that iron surfaces are catalysts that have largely impacted nitrogen fixation in the agriculture industry, and are also important to the energy sectors. Currently, Perrine and her group are investigating dechlorination and corrosion mechanisms on iron interfaces for understanding water quality, and also the impact that ions play in aqueous environments affecting infrastructure degradation, among other fundamental processes.

“We are working to unravel fundamental surface mechanisms at complex interfaces, such as the liquid-solid interface, and connecting them with reactions at the gas-solid interface. At the gas-solid interface, we can control water vapor and other chemicals that adsorb to a surface. Scaling these reactions up to atmospheric pressures, and even into the condensed phase, allows us to measure how humidity, oxygen, and other dissolved species in water are transformed on the surface of iron materials.”

This knowledge helps to tackle societal challenges related to energy and to water; two key elements driving our technology forward and also preserving our precious resources. Ultimately the technologies we take for granted today were and are impacted by chemistry and surface science.

Alumni Share Encouragement at Awards Program

Photo of Sonali Jog, Laura Barrientos, Pushpa Murthy, and Parag Jog
Left to Right: Sonali Jog, Laura Barrientos, Pushpa Murthy, and Parag Jog

Students got an unexpected treat at the department’s annual awards program this year, held on April 24 in the Memorial Union Building’s newly remodeled alumni lounge. Three PhD recipients from the department shared some of their experiences, funny stories, and words of wisdom before the student awards were presented.

Special guest of honor was Laura Barrientos, who earned her PhD under the mentorship of Professor Pushpa Murthy in 1995. During her career as a biochemist and structural biologist, she has conducted research at the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, she is owner and founder of Premier Drug Screening, LLC, and owner and president of IntelliGenetics, LLC, headquartered in Atlanta, which is the only AABB-accredited DNA-based relationship testing laboratory in Georgia and surrounding areas authorized to perform biological relationship testing for the US State Department.

After sharing stories of her time at Michigan Tech and some of the exciting stops on her career path, Barrientos offered some advice to the students:
• Set your vision
• The career path is yours and unique. Do not compare it with anyone else’s
• Always leave the doors open
• Reputation is important—guard it
• Writing skills future-proof your careers; polish this crucial skill while in graduate school
• We are in the 21st Century—remember that! Interacting with technology is no longer a choice. In addition to the skills you are learning in a science program, learn basic computer programming
• When it’s time for change, it is an opportunity to test your character and your decision-making skills. After all, what matters the most is what you ended up doing next
• Think forward, never look back

By chance, Parag Jog and Sonali Jog also visited the department that week and were able to attend the awards program, along with their son, and also briefly shared some highlights of their careers after leaving Michigan Tech. Parag and Sonali both earned their PhDs in 2005. Parag, who worked with Professor Dallas Bates, is a project management consultant with Integrated Project Management® in South San Francisco. Sonali, who worked with Professor Pushpa Murthy, is a technical support scientist with bio-techne® in Newark, California.


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Supplemental Instruction and the Chemistry Learning Center

Students studying in CLCOn a cold winter’s day in 2003, Lois Blau (whom most will remember as the dynamic director of the Chemistry Learning Center (CLC)) discovered a relatively new and innovative academic support service that would transform the landscape of STEM learning support at Michigan Tech in the months and years to come. The program? Supplemental Instruction (SI for short).

SI is a nontraditional form of tutoring that focuses on collaboration, group study, and interaction for students taking “traditionally difficult” courses. Students are provided a trained peer who has successfully negotiated the course. In 50-minute sessions, students receive course-specific learning and study strategies, note-taking and test-taking skills, and structured study time. SI was first deployed at Tech in general chemistry in fall 2004. After attending formal training in Kansas City, Lois was convinced that the program could make a positive impact on campus. The outcome surpassed her expectations. What started as a support service for one introductory course has blossomed into a sophisticated operation in five foundational first-year and second-year courses.

In fall 2018, the CLC experienced record-breaking attendance with nearly 6,000 student visits throughout the semester. The praise belongs to our amazing team of student SI leaders who worked so hard to help our students succeed. SI leaders go through a relatively involved training process before the start of the academic year and attend development sessions throughout the year. In addition, they faithfully attend every course lecture, take notes right alongside the students, and act as model peers. All this puts SI leaders in the best position to run effective sessions.

What makes SI so successful? The harmonious relationship between teaching and talking. To talk is to teach and to teach is to learn. Since talking requires prerequisite thinking on a critical level, she who talks more learns more.

Is SI working? Yes! We consistently see that students who attend SI are scoring 10 percent above their non-attending counterparts on average. For certain classes, the difference has been as high as 15 percent. One might surmise that the difference in achievement level is more of a correlation effect. It turns out, however, that the International Center for SI in Kansas City has ample data to show that this is not the case. When sorting students by any number of metrics the data show that SI is having a causation effect in the improved student outcomes.

We have room to grow. Eventually we would love to test out SI in P-Chem (typically taken in the third year). In addition to growing the program within the department, Jeremy Brown, director of the CLC, plans to extoll the program’s virtues across campus. Michigan Tech is already regarded as a top-notch university, but an active and flourishing SI program could have a propitious effect in aiding our students to learn, thrive, and create the future.

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Chemist Co-Authors United Nations Report on the Environment

Sarah Green, professor of chemistry, was a scientific reviewer on the United Nation’s (UN) Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6) report. Green was one of 250 scientists and experts from more than 70 countries who worked on the report. The March 2019 report is a comprehensive and rigorous assessment on the state of the environment completed by the UN in the last five years.

The GEO-6 report shows that a healthy environment is a prerequisite and foundation for economic prosperity, human health, and well-being. It addresses the main challenge of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, that no one should be left behind, and that all should live healthy, fulfilling lives for the full benefit of all, for present and future generations. “We are not heading that way, however,” says Green. “We have many opportunities to reverse that direction and make a difference on the current trends in climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and other pressures to restore planetary and human health.”

The GEO-6 report highlights the fact that the world has the science, technology, and finance it needs to move toward a more sustainable development pathway; although, sufficient support is still missing from public, business, and political leaders who are clinging to outdated production and development models. “The science is clear. The health and prosperity of humanity is directly tied with the state of our environment,” says Joyce Msuya, acting executive director of UN Environment. “This report is
an outlook for humanity. We are at a crossroads. Do we continue on our current path, which will lead to a bleak future for humankind, or do we pivot to a more sustainable development pathway? That is the choice our political leaders must make, now.”

The projection of a future healthy planet with healthy people is based on a new way of thinking where the “grow now, clean up after” model is changed to the goal of a near-zero-waste economy by 2050. According to the Outlook, green investment of two percent of countries’ GDP would deliver long-term growth as high as presently projected but with fewer impacts from climate change, water scarcity, and loss of ecosystems. At present, the world is not on track to meet sustainability goals by 2030 or 2050. Policy interventions that address entire systems—such as energy, food, and waste—rather than individual issues, can be much more effective, according to the authors. “The report shows that policies and technologies already exist to fashion new development pathways that will avoid these risks and lead to health and prosperity for all people,” says Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins, co-chairs of the GEO-6 process. “What is currently lacking is the political will to implement policies and technologies at a sufficient speed and scale. The fourth UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi in March needs to be the occasion when policymakers face up to the challenges and grasp the opportunities of a much brighter future for humanity.”

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