Department of Chemistry at Illinois State University


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The faculty of the Department of Chemistry includes some of Illinois State University's most renowned teachers and researchers. Since 2000, Chemistry faculty have received nearly 20 teaching awards and nearly 20 research awards, including the 2009 Illinois Professor of the Year award.
Over $2 Million in active grants supports diverse areas such as forensics, nanotechnology, organic synthesis, education, materials chemistry, and biochemistry.
The Chemistry Department is home to more than 150 undergraduates, 30 graduate students, and 22 faculty members.

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Chemistry News

New Weapons for Lab Detectives
Associate Professor of Analytical Chemistry Christopher C. Mulligan observes student Adam O’Leary

Associate Professor of Analytical Chemistry Christopher C. Mulligan observes student Adam O’Leary

Christopher Mulligan, associate professor of analytical chemistry, is making strides toward developing cutting-edge instrumentation for chemical detection in his lab at Illinois State University. The application of his work is broad, ranging from detecting contamination in water – such as pharmaceuticals and pesticides – to improving crime scene forensics. One of his discoveries, coined as thermally-assisted desorption electrospray ionization, resulted from a grant-funded project five years in the making that will test water samples much more quickly than the current technology available. The new way of testing water will not only be quicker and cheaper, it will allow more experiments to be done, per unit of water, and will ultimately allow testing at the site of the contamination. Dr. Mulligan also researches methods to identify chemicals found at crime scene investigations. To read more about Dr. Mulligan’s research, please see: http://mediarelations.illinoisstate.edu/report/1415/nov18/mulligan.asp

NSF Grant to Dr. Lisa Szczepura

lfszczeWith the help of a more than $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Szczepura and her team are developing new ways for chemists to study metal complexes. The goal of this NSF grant is to formulate ways to study metal clusters containing carbenes, or neutral molecules that have two unshared electrons that can bond to another molecule. Her team, which began work this summer, identifies how carbenes bond to clusters and how the carbene influences the reactivity of the cluster. To view the entire article, please visit: http://mediarelations.illinoisstate.edu/report/1415/aug26/carbenes.asp

 

Faculty and Staff Receive Impact Awards

The Impact Award, a program organized through University College, recognizes the positive influence individual members of the Illinois State University community have on new students and student retention. This year’s recipients from the Department of Chemistry include Professor David Cedeno, Professor Rick Nagorski, and academic advisor Ally Cherveny. – See more at: http://mediarelations.illinoisstate.edu/report/1314/april15/impact.asp

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CAS News

New Weapons for Lab Detectives
photo of Christopher Mulligan and Adam O’Leary

Christopher Mulligan and Adam O’Leary

Christopher Mulligan, associate professor of analytical chemistry, is making strides toward developing cutting-edge instrumentation for chemical detection in his lab at Illinois State University. The application of his work is broad, ranging from detecting contamination in water – such as pharmaceuticals and pesticides – to improving crime scene forensics.

Mulligan explained, “As more and more new medicines and chemicals become available for public use, the more difficult it becomes to detect these potential contaminants in water sources and aquatic environments.”

One of his discoveries, coined as thermally-assisted desorption electrospray ionization, resulted from a grant-funded project five years in the making that will test water samples much more quickly than the current technology available. “Traditional testing methods for water contaminants involve transporting three or more liters of water, per test, to an off-site lab for analysis,” said Mulligan. “This becomes expensive to ship the samples themselves, and the time involved for the testing could take hours, if not days. Our method can take as little as one minute and one milliliter of water.”

The new way of testing water will not only be quicker and cheaper, it will allow more experiments to be done, per unit of water, and will ultimately allow testing at the site of the contamination. “In a couple of years, we will eventually be able to go on location,” said Mulligan. He pointed out that he looks forward to seeing the fruit of his labor when the technology is out there being used.

Mulligan has two patents regarding this work and is in the process of working with Illinois State University Patent Officer Cory Abernathy for licensing. ”Hopefully someone will be interested in commercializing these prototypes, and Cory will help with this,” said Mulligan. “It’s great to be able to talk to someone who is well versed in this and can tell me what I need to do. Cory is a great addition to the University.”

Crime scene investigation and forensics is another passion of Mulligan’s. He and his student-based research team have been working on cutting-edge tools for use in crime scene investigations through funding from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Specifically, they are developing portable mass spectrometers that allow chemical identification of evidence found in any state – solid, liquid, gas or solution.

Student Adam O’Leary utilizes the portable mass spectrometer to test unknown white powders provided by the Iowa State Police.

“This new technology would allow evidence screening to occur rapidly right at a crime scene rather than be shipped off for analysis at off-site forensics labs, expediting criminal investigations and assessing potential public safety concerns,” explained Mulligan. “TV shows like CSI are notorious for using a bit of movie magic when it comes to depicting the technologies available to forensic investigators. We are working hard to actually make these futuristic tools for the people who are tasked with keeping us safe.”

This could also be beneficial in homeland security and environmental monitoring applications. “Our instrumentation is well suited to fulfill the needs of first responders and homeland security personnel. We have done studies on chemical warfare agent simulants and other threats to demonstrate this ability. Also, explosives and related compounds could be measured. The portable nature of our instrumentation would have high utility in this area,” explained Mulligan.

Mulligan and his team have examined authentic forensic evidence in the past, both in a proof of principle way to see if their instrument could actually work towards an application and also as part of on-going investigations. “We have worked with the Iowa State Police to look at seized white powders (cocaine and methamphetamine), and we were able to test our instrumentation in a mock clandestine methamphetamine lab under DEA supervision,” he said. “Other interesting forensic studies can be done, as well. For example, we can test a fingerprint and know immediately what the suspect has touched – a few examples of chemicals found might be illegal drugs, nicotine from a cigarette or a certain cologne,” he said.

To date, Mulligan’s group is the only academic laboratory that utilizes and maintains this specific instrumentation. Recently, his research program was included in the “success stories” from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) grantee projects that the NIJ acting director utilizes when briefing non-scientists. Mulligan is in the process of exploring other potential patents in forensic chemical analysis.

STEM Fair for Underrepresented Students

STEM posterThe first-ever Charles Morris Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Fair will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 18, in the Old Main Room of the Bone Student Center.

This inaugural fair aims to educate students about majors in the STEM fields. “We have a lot of complex problems in science right now – from medicines to clean water to renewable energy – and we need diverse opinions and ideas to solve them,” said Professor of Chemistry Lisa Szczepura, who is helping to organize the fair along with Associate Dean of Students Rick Lewis and Christa Platt of University College. “Think of it as you would an investment portfolio. You don’t want all of the same investments.”

“It’s the same in science. If you do not have a variety of people from different backgrounds bringing new ideas, then you are doing the same science that was done 50 years ago. No one moves forward.”

The event will include networking with faculty and advisors from STEM departments and meeting with successful students from underrepresented backgrounds. “If you see someone you can relate to, who is successful in a STEM major, then you believe it can be done,” said Szczepura. “And talking with those students provides the opportunity to ask, ‘What was helpful to your success?’”

The evening will include a roundtable discussion allowing students the chance to explore a discipline. “This is not just for students already majoring in STEM fields,” said Szczepura. “It is for any underrepresented student who might have an interest in the STEM area, whether they have declared a major or not.”

Szczepura proposed the fair as an outreach project through her recently funded grant from the National Science Foundation. Named after Associate Professor of Math and Vice President Emeritus of Administrative Services Charles Morris, the fair is sponsored by My Brotha’s Keeper, My Sister’s Keeper, University College and the Department of Chemistry.

For additional information on the fair, contact Szczepura at 438-2359.

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Chair's Message

Welcome to the Department of Chemistry!
Craig McLauchlanAt Illinois State, you will have an experience unlike almost any other chemistry department in the country. Our program combines the best of facilities and resources of a large research university with the personal, supportive environment of a small liberal arts college or university. The faculty is made up of individuals that could be successful at large research universities, but have a love of both teaching and research. Three of the past five years a chemistry professor has been named the Outstanding University Teacher. Come to visit us! You will quickly discover why Illinois State Chemistry should be your college home.

Craig C. McLauchlan, Interim Chair

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