Wednesday, December 9, 2009

And the winner is...

This semester, the Inorganic Chemistry students were required to memorize the periodic table.  Why, one might ask?  Well because those who could would receive the rights to brag about their skills at memorizing the periodic table.  Oh and there was a prize.

Without further ado, the Master of the Periodic Table for fall of 2009 was awarded to Laurence Quinn.  In honor of his noble work, Laurence received a pair of periodic table socks, much like the ones I have been known to wear.  (Don't worry, I'm fairly certain he's got the new pair and I'm still wearing the older ones.)

Overall, I was very impressed with the students' efforts this semester, with most of them able to make a periodic table with only a few minor errors (note, the runner up in the Master of the periodic table competition had two hydrogens and no helium on his entry, ahem Brian).  Laurence's entry is below.  Who will be able to beat this next year?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Getting the word out

Dr. Mardis recently published a review article with her Argonne National Laboratory colleague, David Tiede, in the journal Photosynthesis Research.  The paper describes their use of the Advanced Photon Source at ANL to perform X-ray scattering experiments in solution.  Like X-ray crystallography, the technique is used to determine molecular structure.  The figure below, taken from their paper, provides an overview of the experiment.

High energy X-rays from the APS are directed towards a molecule in solution.  In the review, Dr. Mardis and co-authors focus on biological molecules like proteins and DNA.  X-rays "bounce" off the dissolved molecules, forming a 2D diffraction pattern.  That data can be further processed into a 1D spectrum of intensity versus frequency.

As if focusing high brilliance, high energy photons from a synchrotron source onto a temperature-controlled solution of biological material weren't difficult enough, the data from the experiment, at first glance, don't mean a whole heck of a lot.  That's where Dr. Mardis comes in.

Dr. Mardis is the computational chemist at CSU and she performs molecular dynamics simulations on a rather high-powered computer cluster.  [Note: I've been asking her for months now to host a Call of Duty 4 tournament, but she claims the NIH would not buy the argument that gaming would increase productivity.]  Molecular dynamics is the study of how molecules move, and Dr. Mardis' computational simulations of molecular motion can be used to explain experimental observations.

In X-ray crystallography, the diffraction pattern can be converted into a single structure of a molecule.  However in solution, a molecule is moving, stretching, vibrating, and spinning; and each orientation contributes differently to the 1D pattern of the X-Ray scattering experiment.  With molecular dynamics, Dr. Mardis determines a whole bunch (say, 1000) of structures that a molecule can exist in and then predicts the X-ray scattering pattern for each structure.  After averaging all those patterns together, she gets a final graph that looks pretty darn close to what her experimental colleagues find in the lab.

Dr. Mardis recently spoke about this publication at a departmental seminar.  Spending the summer at a national lab (and the hope of playing video games at break-neck speeds) is just one of the advantages of working in her research group.  If you'd like to read the article, you can find it here if you have access to the journal or contact Dr. Mardis for a copy (this link sends you to the CSU Chemistry and Physics faculty contact info).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Advising time is here

Advising and Registration season is upon us. Please log-in to to make an advising appointment. No door sign-up sheets will be used.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Students Lobby the State Legislature to Restore MAP Money

This post was submitted by David Kanis.

Three students from the Department of Chemistry and Physics joined two dozen CSU students and thousands of students from campuses across the State to lobby the State to restore MAP (Monetary Assistance Program) for the spring semester.  Rachel Hawkins (chemistry), Bryant Ukaigwe (chemistry), and Christopher McDaniel (chemistry) joined Dr. Kanis in the Springfield lobbying effort.  MAP is the State program which provides financial aid to nearly 140,000 low income students annually.  Lawmakers totally cut the MAP Program out of the State budget beginning in the spring semester.  If the MAP money had not been restored, numerous CSU students would have had to drop out of college, and thus this group went to Springfield to make their voices heard on this important issue.

The group left CSU at 8:30 am on October 15, took a three hour bus trip to Springfield, and joined in a large rally next to the State capitol.  At the end of the rally the departmental  group shook hands with Governor Quinn, with Rachel Hawkins getting her picture taken with the grand poobah himself!  The departmental group visited the offices of their elected State Representatives as well as those representing districts in the vicinity of the campus.  The group visited both houses of the legislature while they were in session, and then went over to the Senate side and visited the offices of their senators.  They spent 15 minutes talking to Senator Kwame Raoul (Hyde Park) about CSU.  The entire CSU group also met with Senator Donne Trotter (Chatham, and Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee).  While traveling to Senator Trotter’s Office, the CSU group was frightened when the elevator they were in fell two stories!  The group, visibly shaken, quickly exited the elevator and used the stairs for the remainder of the day! 

Every legislator the group met with talked about the importance of restoring the MAP money.  The group was present when the Senate debated and then passed the resolution demanding that the Governor to restore the MAP funds.  The House had passed the resolution earlier in the day.  After a very busy and tiring day, the group took the three hour bus ride back to CSU while watching the movie Transformers I.  On October 19, 2009, the governor signed the bill restoring $200 million in MAP money for the spring semester!  Kudos to our students for doing such a great job on behalf of thousands of CSU students who could not attend the event!

Thanks to Brent Jones, CSU photographer, for the picture of our CSU representatives under the dome.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Even professors play hookey

With a dozen Inorganic Chemistry exams to grade, laboratory experiments to prepare, committee meeting minutes to distribute and galley proofs still waiting for "proofing" on my desk, my response to Mark Bouman's invitation to join his Science and Society class on a field trip to the Indiana Dunes was fairly obvious.


Dr. Tim Bell from the Biology department lead us on a guided tour of the Indiana Dunes Succession Trail.  We started at the waterfront, and the view of the Chicago skyline from that part of the lake was a new sight for many of the students (of whom two are engineering majors and one a chemistry major, so the science part of the class was well represented).  Dr. Bell pointed out a variety of dune features, emphasizing the "living" quality of the landscape.  We then proceeded to collect data, which made me feel better about the spontaneous departure from my office.  The students were tasked with making measurements of air and ground temperature, ground-cover height, soil moisture content, and illumination. 

I was busy picking over the remaining wild grapes and testing to see if juniper berries really did taste like gin.  That is, until we came across "Mo," a monarch butterfly who was taking in his last breath.  He was a great specimen for the class to look at, and we soon learned that he wasn't dead, just very cold.  We decided to hold on to Mo and see if he could be revived. (...and whoever said CSU doesn't care?)  You may ask, how does he know it's not a girl?  Those who know me wouldn't be surprised that I know how to tell the sex of a monarch butterfly, but you can google it to be sure. Despite being cold, it was a great day to be outdoors and the students started asking questions about changes in the color of the soil as we moved from the dunes close to the water and into the dunes approaching the forest.  It was also interesting to note that as we moved away from the water, the difference in the air and ground temperature decreased.  Time was limited, so I wasn't privy to more data analysis.  I was assured, however, that I could take the soil samples and analyze them in the new JEOL 6610LV Scanning Electron Microscope that was installed in the Biology department a few weeks ago.  So expect to hear more about data from the dunes in the near future.

But alas, you'll hear no more about Mo.  Not only did our efforts to warm him up revive the butterfly, but he even made it back to campus in one piece and survived a night in my office.  His fluttering around and smashing in to things left Mo wing pieces on my desk, and I made the tough decision to return him to the wild, knowing full well that the atypical temperatures would mean the end of Mo's cycle of life.

[Thanks to Mark, Tim and the whole Science and Society class for allowing me to spend the afternoon with them.  It was a pleasure.]

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Celebrating life

This weekend we mourned the loss of one of our students, Demetrius Watson, who was shot to death October 4th.  I knew Demetrius through his work with Dr. Mardis on our solar cell research.  Ironically, discussion of another tragic death came across my desk this weekend in the form of an editorial and letters to the editor in the latest issue of C&E News.  Sheri Sangji, a 23-year old research assistant at UCLA, suffered extensive burns after a laboratory accident and died on January 16th of this year.  The incident resulted in an investigation into laboratory safety and raised questions about both proper emergency training and appropriate experimental techniques.  The topics of letters included the use of laboratory showers, the rationale for synthesizing dangerous chemicals that are commercially available, and even the workload demands imposed by faculty advisors. (Sheri was injured during the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve; a week when university campuses are oftentimes quiet and unpopulated.)  Sheri's untimely death has lead to impassioned discussions months after she has been laid to rest.

What will we be saying about Demetrius' death in July, 2010?

I struggle with the issues faculty and students face at Chicago State.  Despite how different the needs of comprehensive urban institutions are from more traditional colleges and universities, we are nonetheless measured by standards set for schools with very different environments.  I don't suggest that we be permitted to play by different rules, but the reality is that our students don't have the opportunity that I (and other academics) had, where we could spend our college years in a self-centered exploration of knowledge.  It's easy to make education "priority #1" when yours is the only mouth to feed.  Non-traditional students need non-traditional models for academic success.  Yet oftentimes programs to improve academic achievement at comprehensive institutions are built upon traditional models of success.  This is a square peg in a round hole situation.

Nine months after Sheri's death, we are still working on ideas and actions that could prevent her incident from being repeated by others.  In July 2010, we will no doubt still be discussing the problems posed by urban violence.  The question becomes, will we be willing to implement non-traditional solutions to our students' non-traditional needs?  Will Demetrius' death contribute to the conversation on improving student success, or will he become a statistic?

My last interaction with Demetrius was speaking with him at his CAET poster, where he was explaining his research accomplishments to date.  I remember walking away from that poster thinking, "he's getting it."  He was grasping the scientific  questions raised by his research project; he was representing our department well.  While I am saddened by his loss, I am strengthened by the role-model he served (and his memory can serve) as to his peers.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Students and faculty present alternative energy research

On Thursday and Friday of last week, the Center for Alternative Energy Technology held its third annual Alternative Energy Symposium.  There were 19 oral presentations and about 10 posters.  Several CSU faculty spoke about some of the research activities currently underway at Chicago State.  Drs. Mardis, Rivas and LeSuer summarized some of the solar cell research we've been working on over the past year.  We're trying to get a better understanding of the Chemistry that goes on in Dye Sensitized Solar Cells.  Dr. Nkansah spoke about making new membranes for fuel cells, and did a great job at advertising our newest toy, a JEOL 6610LV Scanning Electron Microscope. (More on that later.) Brandee Stanton, a recent CSU grad, is working for Dr. Jones and gave an oral presentation about the synthesis of alloyed nanoparticles for fuel cell catalysis.  Note in the image above how the students were truly interested in the presentations, and their attentiveness had nothing to do with my threat that there might be a quiz on Monday.

Originally, there were only a few poster presentations, and therefore no time was set aside to give the presenters a chance to meet with other symposium attendees.  We pulled together several of the current research students to form an ad hoc undergraduate poster session, which turned out to be quite a success.  {Shhh. Don't Tell.  We also pushed back the departure time for the shuttle returning to the conference hotel and made sure some fruit and cookies were available for those who had early dinner plans.}  The hour-long poster session was well attended; again, don't believe what you hear regarding threats about quizzes.

[Top 2 photos courtesy of Brent Jones at CSU and the bottom photo courtesy of Ali Manesh Jr.]

Saturday, October 3, 2009


If this is the only post you see on the page, then you are one of the lucky few students who were coerced, ordered, or forced to visit (and follow) this blog.  You see, a few of the faculty started thinking about all the activities that go on in the Chemistry and Physics (CAP) department, and how little of it gets out to the public.  We started brainstorming and came up with a few ideas on how we can promote students, faculty and science at CSU through popular on-line resources.  We're working on this blog and a Facebook page right now, and are thinking about Twittering and podcasting in the near future (think about those helpful YouTube Calculus 'hand' videos doing dimensional analysis and limiting reagent problems). 

Stay tuned ... more exciting content is on the way.