Chemistry is arguably the most central of the natural sciences. It frames much of our understanding of the natural world and continues to deliver technologies that touch nearly every aspect of human life. The Department of Chemistry at Brown University is home to research groups that are pursuing new insights into structure, reactivity, and functions of molecules and materials that promise to redefine the frontiers of scientific knowledge. Often, this fundamental research in chemistry yields knowledge that is the basis for the design of new technologies and methods of practical value. Recent examples include better diagnostic tools for cancer detection, characterization of protein structures and a better understanding of systems for hydrogen storage. Faculty and members of their research groups are working in a broad range of contemporary areas of chemistry including analytical chemistry, chemical biology, inorganic, nanochemistry, organic and theoretical and experimental physical chemistry. The state of the art facilities housed in the Department of Chemistry at Brown enable penetrating inquiry in both experimental and theoretical chemistry.Organometallic compound with special catalytic properties
The department and the wider University community are notably collegial. Several faculty members in the Department of Chemistry work collaboratively on cross-disciplinary research topics. Given the centrality of chemistry, many faculty also participate in interdisciplinary partnerships with colleagues in the medical school, molecular and cellular biology, ecology and evolutionary biology, geology, physics and engineering.
Along with their focus on research, faculty members in the department of chemistry at Brown University are committed to education in the chemical sciences. A trademark of Chemistry education at Brown is the involvement of undergraduate students in research projects. As early as their first year, undergraduates are able to work one-on-one or in small groups with distinguished faculty members on cutting edge research projects. Funding from both intramural and extramural sources provide key financial support for undergraduate research that leads to honors theses and publications. Brown, federal agencies and private foundations also support graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. In keeping with the centrality of modern chemistry, all students and post-doctoral fellows working in the department have ample opportunities to participate in interdisciplinary research.
Within the Chemistry Department, world-class facilities enable scientific inquiry almost without limitations. In addition, both undergraduate and graduate students have ample opportunity for multidisciplinary research. Within the department, numerous contact points and overlaps are fostered between the research programs of individual faculty. Further, partnerships of faculty in Chemistry with colleagues in other disciplines allow students to perform research in the medical school, biology, geology, physics and engineering divisions.
Research in Organic Chemistry spans the biomedical and materials sciences, and also includes work at the cutting edge of new methods for molecular construction and characterization.
Recent results include the development of new synthetic methodologies for preparing molecular building blocks used by the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, along with the characterization of reactive intermediates using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and X-rays spectroscopic tools. New forms of microscopy are being used to provide atomic resolution images of the interactions between molecules on surfaces.
The identification of new compounds as leads for pharmaceutical design continues to be an area of active research, with new compounds being discovered that may have anti-cancer and anti-microbial activity. Brown chemists have also illuminated the pathways that guide the synthesis of antibiotics by nature, as well as mechanisms that bacteria and cancer cells use when adhering to each other or a target cell.
Novel sensor platforms for applications in biomedical and biowarfare diagnostics are being developed through a collaborative effort integrating polymer science, organic chemistry, nanoscience and molecular and cellular biology. The breadth of the research in organic chemistry is emblematic of both the central role of organic molecules in the world around us, and also of the importance of synthetic tools that are needed to provide new molecules with tunable biological or materials properties.
Seeing is believing: Modeled image of a molecule with orbitals displayed is overlaid on an actual microscope image of the same molecule on a surface. Note the scale bars - 1 billionth of a meter!
The interface between chemistry and biology is an exciting research frontier and an active area of research in the department of chemistry at Brown University. In many cases, faculty and their research groups utilize techniques and reagents from the chemical sciences to answer biological questions. In other cases, faculty research in chemistry is inspired by reactions or molecules of living systems. On-going research in the department includes investigations of natural product biosynthesis, identification of biomarkers for autoimmune diseases, mechanisms of DNA damage and repair, nanomaterials for imaging and drug delivery, and chemical synthesis of antibiotics, enzyme inhibitors, and nucleic acid analogs.
Given its interdisciplinary nature, students in chemical biology research groups have broad exposure to and training in experimental methods of both chemistry and biology. Chemical biology is also the basis of many research collaborations with chemistry faculty and scientists in the life sciences, especially colleagues in the Brown University Division of Biology and Medicine.
Brown has an excellent program in Inorganic Chemistry. Research programs focus on organometallic chemistry, polymer chemistry, electrochemistry and materials chemistry. Recent new hires have further extended our reach to crystal engineering, nanoscale materials synthesis, and self-assembly.
Our strength in organometallic chemistry lies in electrochemical and synthetic applications of metal-bonded organic systems. The research is focused on the construction of functional supramolecular networks, the self-assembly of nanoparticles, metal-catalysized carbon-carbon coupling reactions, and metal-organic complex networks designed for pharmaceutical applications.
The polymer research program concentrates on inorganic glasses, aerogels, ionomers, and bioinorganic polymers. The program is at the very interface between chemistry and materials science and points toward a wealth of important applications in catalysis, optical communications, fuel cells, and energy storage.
Our research in nanomaterials involves two related areas: (1)chemical synthesis and self-assembly of nanoparticles and (2)construction and elaboration of functional nanoparticles and their assemblies for applications in bio-detection, catalysis, information storage and permanent magnets. Highly interdisciplinary in nature, this program bridges the interface between chemistry, biology, engineering and physics.
Brown University has a rich tradition in Physical Chemistry, the interdisciplinary research at the crossroads of Chemistry and Physics. A particular focus of the Chemistry Department is the exploration of chemical reaction dynamics on ultrashort time scales. Using new theoretical and experimental tools, chemical reactions are probed in time increments of 10-14 (0.000,000,000,000,01) seconds!
An exciting new direction in this field of research is the development of new tools that probe the structure of molecules on such short time scales. At Brown, we have a concentration of research programs that is unique in the world. Techniques available at Brown include ultrafast time-resolved methods for electron diffraction, spectroscopy, and x-ray absorption. At the heart of those technologies are multiple ultrashort-pulsed laser systems that set apart Brown’s Chemistry Department, and which provide additional interdisciplinary training opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students in optics and photonics.
This experimental prowess is complemented by an equally impressive presence in theoretical chemistry. Theory research groups have been developing models to describe molecular motions, along with computational tools for interpreting the molecular lessons that the new experiments are teaching us. Over the past few years, a particular focus has been the understanding of the fundamental processes behind molecule-to-molecule energy transfer in liquids, and in the interpretation of the new ultrafast techniques developed at Brown and at other institutions. Attack of a benzene molecule on iron penta carbonyl.
Practical applications of research in physical chemistry are numerous. One development may provide a uniquely sensitive and rapid diagnosis of protein shapes. Another involves the application of technologies refined in chemical reaction dynamics research to capture high-resolution, high-contrast images of tissue through the simultaneous applications of x-ray and ultrasound fields. A resolution of several micrometers has already been achieved. In a related collaboration with the Liver Research Center at Brown University, antibodies tethered to x-ray contrasting agents are used to label liver cancer cells in preparation for their x-ray detection.
The newest branch of chemistry, Nanochemistry, is already prominently featured by the Chemistry Department. With the recent arrival of new faculty, Brown is in a leading position in the area of synthesis of magnetic nanoparticles. The potential applications of such nanoparticles are enormous, and include magnetic data storage (computers), exchange-spring magnets (tiny motors), photonics, separations, DNA detection, drug delivery, medical imaging and magnetic cancer therapy. To realize these applications, the nanoparticles must be synthesized reproducibly, be monodisperse, and be subject to size, composition and surface control. Chemistry at Brown has unique expertise in creating materials that satisfy those demands. Interdisciplinary efforts to apply these discoveries to the fields of biology, medicine and energy are afoot.
Nanochemistry has multiple contact points with other areas of research in the Department. There is, for example, an active component in physical chemistry to explore dynamics of nanoscale objects. In addition, theoretical studies of nanoscale phenomena and nanoscale materials have entered a new and exciting phase. New computational approaches are emerging that make it possible to examine systems of physically significant complexity. Chemistry research at Brown explores both the formal development and numerical application of such methods to interfacial and cluster phenomena. As an example, metal/hydrogen materials are of special interest, because of their phenomenological richness, experimental accessibility and potential use as energy storage materials in a hydrogen economy.