The graduate program is administratively organized along traditional divisions of chemistry (analytical, biochemistry/biophysics, inorganic, organic, physical, materials, biotechnology, and environmental toxicology). Below is a more detailed description of each research division.
- Biochemistry & Biophysical
- Chemical Education
- Environmental Toxicology
Many of us first encountered analytical chemistry as the science in which one strives to reach the titration endpoint with the highest possible precision. Graduate students in analytical chemistry at UNL are more likely to find themselves developing new methods for detection of drug metabolites or applying new mass spectrometric instruments and methods for protein analysis. Much of research in analytical chemistry occurs at the interfaces with biological and materials science and many students are attracted to the area because of the extensive possibilities for interdisciplinary research. Graduates of our analytical program are prepared for the challenges of modern analytical chemistry, whether these challenges require recommending the best method for cleaning up a super-fund waste site, or developing an analytical protocol for obtaining FDA approval of a bioengineered therapeutic protein.
Biochemistry, the scientific interface between chemistry and biology, is an ever-expanding field focusing on the molecular basis for biological phenomena. Biophysical chemistry, an allied discipline, applies spectroscopic and other physical methods to the study of biological molecules and processes. The Chemistry Department’s programs in biochemistry and biophysical chemistry are the core of the research thrust in structural biology, which applies protein/macromolecular crystallography, high-resolution NMR, and biomolecular mass spectrometry to the study of biomolecule structure and function. Students in biochemistry and biophysical chemistry study a wide range of chemical and biochemical problems, from DNA bending to protein structure. Students in this division take core courses in chemistry and biochemistry, electives relevant to their chosen research area, and have the opportunity to attend seminars in Chemistry, Biological Chemistry, Biological Sciences, and the Center for Biotechnology. The curriculum and research experience are aimed at producing graduates with the technical competence and scholarly background to become independent investigators capable of having their own research programs. Graduates of the program have attained major postdoctoral fellowships and earned positions at high ranked pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
Chemical Education researchers explore teaching and learning in the chemistry classrooms. In particular, they are interested in characterizing and developing effective learning environments, exploring how students learn chemistry, and developing instruments to measure students' learning and thinking in Chemistry. The Chemistry Department's program focuses on the evaluation of learning environments in chemistry classrooms, the characterization of learning events in research laboratory and tutoring sessions, and the exploration of the consequences of instructors' highly organized and interconnected chemistry knowledge on their ability to teach students. Graduate students in our Chemical Education program receive graduate-level training in one area of chemistry of their choice and training in education research methods and science education issues. The program aims to produce professors for higher education institutions (i.e., community colleges, 4-year colleges, and research intensive institutions) that are not only experts in their subject matter but also experts in teaching chemistry effectively. Alumni of our program will have the tools and knowledge to study and improve learning environments in chemistry classrooms and advance chemical education research.
As custodians of all the elements in the periodic table except carbon, inorganic chemists have limitless opportunities for research, whether the primary interest is in structure or catalysis. UNL research programs focus on the synthesis and characterization of new inorganic and organometallic materials and catalysts, an important field with particularly strong overlap into both organic chemistry (organometallic) and materials science. Specific research areas include development of new lanthanide-based Lewis acids and development of improved inorganic catalysts for polyester synthesis principally between chemistry and physics. Within the latter area, the inorganic research programs benefit greatly from the UNL Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience, which offers a number of specialized core facilities (including a variety of X-ray techniques, scanning electron microscopy, and ellipsometry). Inorganic students typically receive training in inert atmosphere techniques that rely on the use of glove boxes, syringes, and vacuum lines. Inorganic students frequently conduct research in areas that overlap with another subdiscipline of chemistry.
The traditional definition of organic chemistry as the chemistry of carbon-containing compounds is increasingly inadequate in describing one of the most rapidly changing disciplines in chemistry, which is central to a high fraction of emerging industrial technologies. Building upon traditional strengths in structure and synthesis, organic chemists can be found at the frontiers of interdisciplinary problems involving biology, medicine and physics. Both traditional strengths and emerging frontiers can be seen in the wide variety of organic research topics available at UNL. Students might work on the synthesis of a natural product of interest as a potential therapeutic agent, develop new materials with novel optical or ferroelectric properties, develop new macromolecules or polymers, design new catalysis, invent new synthetic methods, and investigate the use of enzymes in organic synthesis. Much of this research in organic chemistry is done in conjunction with either the Center for Materials Research and Analysis or the Center for Biotechnology.
“Physical chemistry is the study of that which is interesting.” G. N. Lewis. Physical chemistry’s goal is to provide information on the structure, energetics and dynamics of chemical systems. True to the characterization of G. N. Lewis, research in physical chemistry at Nebraska spans a wide range of interesting chemistry: catalysis at crystalline surfaces, the chemistry of and within molecular crystals, the structures of proteins, nucleic acids, and synthetic polymers; and the theoretical basis for different forms of ice and other condensed phases. Specific subjects include theories of reactions in solids and of phase behavior, computational simulations of phase transitions, adhesion, explosive materials and propellants, the creation and characterization of crystalline organic monolayers, the crystal structures of enzymes, disordered crystals and inclusion compounds, catalysis at metal oxide surfaces, and non-linear optical properties of polymer systems.
Research methods in physical chemistry involve spectroscopies ranging across the spectrum from X-rays to radio waves. Specific spectroscopic techniques involve NMR (solid state, zero field, magic angle spinning, and 2-D NMR), Brillouin, Raman, FTIR and UV-Visible spectroscopies. Surface characterizations are performed using HREELS, Auger and Ion spectroscopies. Studies in dynamics rely on NMR, stopped flow, dynamic laser light scattering, and femtosecond spectroscopy. Structural information is obtained through X-ray diffraction, atomic force microscopy, static light scattering, and LEED.
The chemistry of materials is one of the strategic thrust areas of the department. With the increasing technology for device miniturization comes the need to develop new materials, new chemistries, and new analytical methods suited for molecular scale architectures. More than half of the faculty pursue research interests in this area, which includes development of plastic magnets, new polymers, and better methods for preparation of microcircuitry Our three primary thrusts in materials chemistry are: (i) surfaces, (ii) solid state materials and (iii) biomaterials, with many of these investigations providing opportunity for extensive collaboration with faculty in other departments. Particular emphasis is placed on exposing students to broad cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary research. The department offers students interested in materials chemistry an extensive range of research projects and a comprehensive approach to their training. Research in materials science is greatly enhanced by partnership with UNL Center for Materials Research and Analysis (CMRA). CMRA, which is composed of faculty from Chemistry, Physics, Biological Sciences, as well as Electrical, Mechanical, and Chemical Engineering, and the College of Engineering provides materials characterization core facilities in X-ray, microscopy (STM, EM, and AFM), mechanical properties characterization, and optical and magnetic spectroscopy.
The Center for Biotechnology was established at UNL in 1987 to promote the development and application of recombinant DNA techniques, protein engineering, monoclonal antibodies and many other aspects of modern biochemistry and molecular biology. The biotechnology program at UNL provides excellent opportunities for students who are trained as chemists, but wish to use their background to pursue technologically important applications of biological chemistry. Students can take advantage of a weekly biotechnology seminar program and excellent core facilities, including protein sequencing and DNA synthesis. Biotechnology supported facilities within the Chemistry Department include protein crystallography and proteomic mass spectrometry.
This graduate program is jointly administered by the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Chemistry, Biochemistry, Food Science, and Agronomy). Within the Chemistry Department, the program involves faculty from the Analytical, Biochemistry, and Organic areas. Students can enter into these research programs as a graduate student in chemistry and/or as a graduate student in toxicology. Available research focuses on the chemical and biological effects of environmental agents, mechanisms by which selected agents produce cancer or toxicity, and new methods for detection or quantitation of selected agents.