July 2001

Shaping Science Policy — International, National and Regional

Symposium on Women in Science

Discovering How Taxol Works

The Mind of a Child

Changing Course to a Career in Medicine

Working at the Nexus of Law and Science

New Factors in the Chemistry Equation

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© 2003

 

Bryn Mawr College
A quarterly newsletter on research, teaching, management, policy making and leadership in Science and Technology

New Factors in the Chemistry Equation
By Karen Young Kreeger

Susan A. White

Two new assistant professors joined the Bryn Mawr chemistry faculty last fall, and the department now spans the broad spectrum of the field’s disciplines, from biochemistry and organic chemistry to inorganic and physical chemistry, as well as covering a wide range of basic research projects with applications from novel materials to fighting industrial pollution to designing drugs.

Susan A. White, associate professor of chemistry and chair of the department, says the research and teaching skills of the two new faculty members mesh well with the research interests of other faculty and the courses offered to students. White’s own area is RNA biochemistry, specifically RNA structure, stability and protein binding.

Focus on Enzyme Inhibitors

William P. Malachowski, assistant professor of chemistry, arrived at Bryn Mawr from the University of New England in August 2000. He’s a synthetic bioorganic chemist whose research focuses on the interface between organic and biochemistry. Last year he taught two courses in organic chemistry and plans to teach general chemistry next fall as well as a topics course in modern medicinal chemistry.

William P. Malachowski

Malachowski’s research has been published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the Journal of Organic Chemistry, and his work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The central research theme of his lab is the development of enzyme inhibitors, molecules that block what an enzyme normally does. For example, most drugs are enzyme inhibitors. "Right now I have two projects that work to develop methods of generating these inhibitors," he says.

One project focuses on developing beta-lactam protease inhibitors. Most antibiotics in use today are beta-lactam antibiotics, such as penicillin. More recent examples are the protease inhibitors used to treat AIDS and other diseases such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and pulmonary embolisms. "At this point we haven’t focused on any one ailment," he says. "This work has general applications."

His approach is to test his methods for designing molecules on chymotrypsin, a well-characterized protease located in the gastrointestinal tract. "If we can show a way of designing a molecule that will inhibit chymotrypsin, then it could be applied to other enzymes in the same class." From there a pharmaceutical company could pick up on his basic concepts and apply it toward a commercial process.

His second research interest involves synthesizing another type of molecule called alpha-aminophosphonic acid, which is used to make inhibitors of proteases and other enzymes. Although there are methods to make this type of inhibitor, none has been routinely adopted. Malachowski is developing more efficient and easier ways to make this molecule. "There are a lot of ways to make it, but we’re looking to improve it," he says.

Connecting with Surface Chemistry

Edward Wovchko

Edward Wovchko is Bryn Mawr's newest assistant professor of physical chemistry. He came straight to Bryn Mawr after earning a Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh in 1998. After a year of teaching physical chemistry and general chemistry, he took on courses in inorganic chemistry. He became a tenure-track faculty member in September 2000. Wovchko’s research has recently appeared in the Journal of Physical Chemistry and Langmuir.

Wovchko points out that he is "interested in nanotechnology and plans to investigate surface reactions on substances such as nanotubes," but he currently specializes in analyzing chemical processes that occur on the surfaces of high-area materials. He uses spectroscopy and ultrahigh vacuum techniques to examine reactions between two phases, gas and solid. The surface chemical processes he studies involve materials such as aluminum oxide, silica, porous silicon and calcium oxide, which function as supports in automotive catalytic converters, industrial catalysts and semiconductor-device fabrication, and as adsorbents for hazardous pollutants such as chlorocarbons.

"We’re also searching for synthetic routes using heterogeneous photocatalysts and are investigating the thermal destruction of hazardous molecules on solid adsorbents," Wovchko explains. "I’m particularly drawn to the area of catalysis because of its immense impact in commercial synthetic processes."

He is attempting to devise a heterogeneous catalytic process that will incorporate ultraviolet light as an energy source. His interest in photocatalytic pathways may one day be applied to solar-based chemical technologies and environmental clean-up methods.

Team Chemistry

Frank B. Mallory

Wovchko and Malachowski have joined a distinguished faculty with wide-ranging interests in chemistry. Frank B. Mallory, the W. Alton Jones Professor of Chemistry, studies organic photochemistry — the use of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to view interactions among organic molecules — and "graphite ribbons." "In the last several years he has involved students in a project inspired by materials science and nanotechnology to make designer molecules," says White of Mallory’s graphite ribbons, which are made of long strings of benzene rings.

Michelle M. Francl

Professor Michelle M. Francl, who specializes in computational and theoretical physical chemistry, studies chemical structure and reactivity using computers in a burgeoning area called computational chemistry. Of particular interest to her group is the development of methods for assigning Class III atomic charges to certain molecules. Francl works with students on projects ranging from protein structure to organic reaction mechanisms.

Sharon J. Nieter Burgmayer

Associate Professor Sharon J. Nieter Burgmayer is focused on metalloenzymes, which are widely distributed throughout nature and are important in organic reactions critical to the health of many organisms. Because the metalloenzymes are difficult to study in nature, Burgmayer and her students use synthesized models of coenzymes to study how they behave.

While the department members are clearly dedicated to advancing their research, White emphasizes that aspects of all their scientific investigations make it into the classroom, so students, as well as science itself, benefit from the creativity and ingenuity of the College’s chemistry faculty.

About the Author

Karen Young Kreeger is a science journalist who writes on biomedical and women’s health topics, as well as careers in science. Her most recent work has appeared in Bioscience, Genome Technology, Muse and The Scientist.

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