The WCU chemistry faculty has a long and proud tradition of undergraduate and graduate research focusing on three areas: biochemistry and biotechnology, chemical synthesis, and environmental chemistry. New areas of investigation also include materials and sensors research.
These research areas include diverse topics outside the traditional chemistry disciplines. For example, biochemistry and biotechnology research includes reactivities of metal ion complexes by high field NMR, intercalation with DNA by UV-visible spectroscopy, and free radical biochemistry, and identification of genes in red oak; chemical synthesis includes host-guest polymer crystals and other highly structured large molecules green chemistry, materials and polymer science; environmental chemistry projects include environmental monitoring and bioremediation.
If you are interested in performing undergraduate or graduate research, download this flier to get an idea of the current studies of each research-active Chemistry faculty member. A table on the second page of the flier that categorizes the type and application of each researcher's projects may help you determine the faculty member that's right for you. Once you've got it narrowed down, talk to the faculty members about current opportunities in their labs.
While there is not a physics major at WCU, our physicists have active research programs that involve students. If you’re interested in physics, we encourage you to contact one of our physicists about their research!
Below is a brief description of current research projects directed by our faculty.
Cynthia Atterholt, Ph.D. - Analytical Chemistry
Dr. Atterholt’s research involves the study of pheromones used for mating disruption as an alternative to the use of pesticides. There is an increasing interest in pesticide alternatives to minimize pesticide residues on food, as a health and safety concern of agricultural workers, and to minimize environment impact. Dr. Atterholt’s research also involves measurement of the rheological properties of aqueous emulsions used as carriers for the controlled release of pheromones.
David Butcher, Ph.D. - Analytical Chemistry
Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), which are native to the Southern Appalachians, have experienced severe decline over the last forty years, primarily due to attack by an exotic insect, the balsam woolly adelgid. We have been studying differences in the chemical composition of the seeds and foliage of these trees to attempt to characterize chemical differences between trees that make individuals or stands more resistant to attack by this pest. The native habitat of these trees are scenic areas such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway; this species also is important as a Christmas tree. Because tourism and Christmas tree farms are significant industries in this region, the decline of the Fraser fir is potentially an economic loss to this region.
Phytoremediation at Barber Orchard, NC
Barber Orchard is a 500-acre residential housing development located approximately five miles west of Waynesville, NC and 20 miles from the WCU campus. It is currently listed as a Superfund site by the U.S. EPA because of high soil concentration levels of arsenic, lead, and organo-pesticides. The contamination was caused by pesticide use when the land was used as an apple orchard throughout most of the twentieth century. The EPA is currently conducting a remedial investigation/feasibility study to consider future action to be taken at Barber Orchard.
Channa De Silva, Ph.D. - Bioinorganic Chemistry
Rare Earth Nanomaterials
Research efforts in Dr. De Silva’s laboratory are focused on the synthesis, characterization and surface modification of novel lanthanide-based complexes and nanomaterials with improved optical and magnetic properties. The research is focused towards developing synthetic methods to form advanced materials for display and biomedical imaging applications. Lanthanide-based nanomaterials have gained resent interest in cellular assays and biomedical imaging. We are exploring the avenues to design biocompatible and selective cancer-targeting agents using lanthanide metals. In addition, we are interested in carrying out computational modeling studies of lanthanide-based materials to guide the experimental design.
Brian Dinkelmeyer, Ph.D. - Organic Chemistry
Supramolecular, Material science
The research interests of the Dinkelmeyer group include organic synthesis, supramolecular chemistry, organic solid state chemistry and material science. The macroscopic properties that a material possesses depend greatly on how its component molecules are arranged within the material. The aim of supramolecular is to control the self assembly of organic molecules within materials using weak directional intermolecular forces such as H-bonding, metal-ligand bonding, dipole-dipole interactions etc. We are particularly interested in how H-bonding functional groups influence molecular packing and how this packing affects the solid state reactivity of molecules within organic crystals. Our work has focused mainly on molecules containing conjugated dienes. We have been successful in creating crystalline architectures where these molecules undergo a variety of photochemical transformations which include 2+2 dimerizations, polymerizations and cis/trans isomerizations. The mechanism and kinetics of these transformations are studied using single crystal X-ray diffraction, X-ray powder diffraction, FTIR, UV-VIS and NMR. Other current research interests include the synthesis of MOFs and discrete metal-ligand assemblies in solution.
David Evanoff, Ph.D. - Analytical Chemistry
Research in the Evanoff lab is focused on metal and dielectric nanoparticle, as well as nanocomposite synthesis and characterization. More specifically, we are interested in the interaction of light with noble metal nanoparticles and look to improve detection techniques such as Surface Enanced Raman Spectroscopy and the functionality of organic electronic devices through incorporation of these nanocomposite systems.
Carmen Huffman, Ph.D. - Physical Chemistry
As a physical chemistry, my research focuses on understanding why and how molecules behave the way they do. One aspect of particular interest for our group is exploring adsorption mechanisms, the way in which adsorbates bind to surfaces. One system we are currently studying is the binding of heavy metal ions to natural products for the purpose of removing pollutants from water systems. We also explore the binding of nanoparticles to a variety of surfaces such as cotton for antimicrobial uses.
Scott Huffman, Ph.D. - Analytical Chemistry
Research in Dr. Huffman's lab focuses on the development of non-destructive methods of measurement. Currently, these measurement methods are optimized for the analysis of cultural and historical objects, such as paintings and historical textiles. Our goal is to provide a powerful suite of tools that can be used by museum curators and conservation scientists for the characterization of these objects.
William Kwochka, Ph.D. - Organic Chemistry
Using Weak Interactions to Build Molecular Systems
Some biological systems, such as the enzyme ATP Synthase, are complex, highly-organized
collections of organic molecules that behave like molecular machines to perform specific
tasks. The goal of our research is to design and build simple molecular machines
and study how they operate in order to eventually prepare systems of molecular machines
that perform a useful task. We are making use of a weak interactions called dative-bonding
to help us assemble our target molecular systems. Dative-bonding consists of a covalent
bond between two atoms in which both electrons shared in the bond come from the same
In particular, we use dative-bond interactions between Lewis acids (like boron atoms) and Lewis bases (like nitrogen atoms) to assemble molecules in which the nitrogen atom contributes a pair of electrons to form the bond between nitrogen and boron.
Arthur Salido, Ph.D. - Analytical Chemistry
Dr. Salido’s main research involves developing small, portable instrumentation to detect post-blast radionuclide elements that result from the detonation of radioactive dispersion devices (“dirty bombs”). This research has been funded by NSF and DHS/DNDO, resulting in several publications. Dr. Salido has also been involved in environmental and natural-products research projects.
Jack Summers, Ph.D. - Inorganic and Bioinorganic Chemistry
Research in Dr. Summers' laboratory focuses on elucidating the factors that determine the reactivities of metal ion complexes, with specific emphasis on chemistries of biological or clinical importance. The work relies on NMR relaxation methods to characterize reactivities of paramagnetic metal ion complexes. We are interested in redox activities of these complexes related to important diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and complications of diabetes.