REU SITE in Environmental/Green Chemistry

 NSU sdsu-logo BHSU

Environmental and Green Chemistry span a chemical continuum from natural to industrial processes.  South Dakota State University, Black Hills State University (BHSU), and Northern State University (NSU) have established a three-year REU Site focused on environmental and green materials chemistry that provides 10 students per year with multi-disciplinary research experiences aligned with Green Chemistry Principles 3, 5, 6, and 9 and the chemistry of natural environments.  Interactions with the project's nine faculty mentors enable student participants to undertake research in catalysis/less hazardous synthesis, energy efficiency/safer solvents, and the environmental chemistry of natural systems.  An integrated program of research, professional and career development, and student activities is facilitated by the state-of-the-art, internet-based communication technology known as the "Access Grid". 

Applications for the REU Site in Environmental/Green Chemistry Summer 2016 student cohort can be submitted by clicking on the link which will take you to the application page. Review of applications begins February 1st and continues until all positions are filled. Please note that in addition to the information requested by the application form you will need to arrange for two letters of recommendation from 2 professors and a copy of your college transcript (an unofficial transcript is acceptable) to be sent to:


REU Site: Environmental/Green Chemistry

Dept. of Chemistry & Biochemistry

Box 2202

South Dakota State University

Brookings, SD 57007-0897


Research projects available for Summer 2016 are described below.

Green Chemistry Principles 3 & 9

Environmental Toxicity of Nanomaterials Used in Renewable Energy Generation

Dan Asunskis, Black Hills State University

Projects under the direction of Dr. Asunskis involve the synthesis and toxicity measurement of emerging semiconducting nanomaterials. Students will synthesize metallic and semiconducting nanomaterials, access the size of the materials using diffraction methods, and characterize the material's optical properties. Additionally students will test these materials for cellular toxicity by using standard cell culture and microplate assay techniques. The student will also have the opportunity to perform trace metal analysis in the liver cells by ICP-MS and Laser Ablation ICP-MS.


The Development of Photoredox Catalysts Using Earth Abundant Metals

Katrina Jensen, Black Hills State University

This project aims to develop methods that use energy from light to drive chemical reactions, referred to as photoredox reactions.  Most common photoredox catalysts are ruthenium and iridium complexes, but we are working to develop photocatalysts that use copper, an earth abundant metal which is significantly less expensive and less toxic than ruthenium or iridium.  A student working on this project will synthesize and test various copper complexes as photoredox catalysts and evaluate the effect of reaction conditions on the facial selectivity of an enantiosis photocell reaction.  The student will work to develop an HP assay using chi columns to measure the nation excess of each product synthesized.  This research opportunity will provide experience in advanced organic, synthesis, proper handling or air and moisture sensitive compounds, and chemical characterization, including nuclear magnetic resonance (NM) spectroscopy, gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (G'S/MS), and high pressure liquid chromatography (HP).


Enhancing Plant Drought Tolerance via Quinoa and Novel Analogs

George Nora, Northern State University

Research in Nora's research group is focused on the synthesis of Quinoa and related molecules that produce biological effects in plants that should help the plant to survive drought conditions.  Students working on one of my projects will gain experience working with modern organic chemistry synthetic methods and chemical characterization of the synthesized compounds using NM, MS, FIR, and other methods.


Green Chemistry Principles 5 & 6

Biofuel Synthesis from Waste Hydrocarbons Using Ti-Niobate Nanosheet Catalysts

Fathi Halaweish, South Dakota State University

Biodiesel synthesis from yellow grease is a promising renewable of environmental impacts.  Utilization of developed recyclable nanosheet heterogeneous catalyst will be examined for stability, recyclability; continuous flow synthesis and scale up processes.  Project is designed to study biodiesel synthesis under a range of temperature, pH of acid regeneration/washing to optimize synthesis and recyclability of the catalyst.



Brian Logue, South Dakota State University

The ability to analyze contaminants at "ultratrace" concentrations (defined as ng/L to pg/L, commonly referred to as parts-per-trillion {ppt} and parts-per-quadrillion {ppq}, respectively) is a critically important, but currently challenging, aspect of ensuring safe drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) is zero for several compounds, however the enforcement contaminant level, called Maximum Contaminate Level (MCL), is set, in part, according to "...the ability of laboratories to measure accurately and consistently the level of the contaminant with the available analytical methods." This typically limits MCLs to the the parts-per-billion (ppb) (μg/L) range. Our recently discovered technique coined ICE Concentration Linked with Extractive Stirrer (ICECLES), has the potential to more easily allow ultratrace analysis of compounds important to drinking water safety. ICECLES combines the highly complementary techniques of stir bar Isorptive extraction (SBSE) with freeze concentration (FC). In FC, solutes are concentrated based on the direct relationship between freezing point depression and solute molality. If a solution is slowly frozen (typically with vigorous stirring), then local regions of solvent with a low solute concentration are frozen first: the solution left behind is more concentrated. Combining FC and SBSE and FC into ICECLES has produced compelling preliminary findings, including pg/mL limits of detection and >1000-fold signal increases compared to SBSE. ICECLES is likely to enable ultratrace analysis of anlaytes that currently cannot easily be analyzed at the desired concentrations (e.g. maximum contaminant levels). REU students involved in the project will develop methods of analysis to determine ultratrace concentrations of toxic compounds from drinking water using ICECLES sample preparation technique. During the REU project, students will gain knowledge in this innovative technique, but will also gain experience with fundamental analytical principles, SBSE, and gas-chromatography mass-spectrometry. 


Novel Solvent Systems for Green Separations

Doug Raynie, South Dakota State University

For the past few years, we have been working with a type of solvent called deep eutectic solvents (DES).  For example, when Raynie chloride (one of the B vitamins) is mixed with urea, the urea hydrogen bonds to the chloride, weakening the ionic bond in the choline chloride and lowering the melting point to below room temperature.  We are interested in exploring aqueous DES systems involving choline, simple sugars, urea, and small acids which may play a role in cryobiology.  Students working in our laboratory will synthesize these systems measure their physical properties, and develop analytical schemes for their characterization.  


Environmental Chemistry of Natural Environments

Measuring Concentrations of Chemical Species in Polar Ice Cores

Jihong Cole-Dai, South Dakota State University

One REU project will focus on developing analytical methods to measure ultra-trace levels of chemical species in polar ice cores. Typical concentrations of major chemical impurities (inorganic acids and salts) in polar snow are at the low parts-per-billion (ppb) level, while minor impurities exist at concentrations at the parts-per-trillion (ppt) level. Available analytical techniques include ion chromatography, gas chromatography and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. In another REU project, students will use existing analytical methods to measure concentrations of selected chemical species in the polar snow and ice core samples. Chronological records of the chemical species will be established by determining the age of the snow and ice core samples and interpreted in terms of sources to the species in the environment and of impact of climate change and human activities. 

Crystal Structure Identification in Natural Organic Matter

Guangwei Ding, Northern State University

Dr. Ding's research group has been focusing on the structural identification of soil organic matter and understanding the interaction mechanisms between soil organic matter and hydrophobic organic compounds.  This would be related to risk assessment and soil remediation.  The advanced analytical, spectroscopic and microscopic instruments (Guangwei/MS, GC, NM, etc.) will be applied in the research.  The statistical technique and data processing tool will be also utilized FIR int data interpretation and drawing conclusions.


Role of Self-Assembly in the eh Persistence of Natural Organic Matter

Jim Rice, South Dakota State University

Natural organic matter (NOM) is the persistent, heterogeneous, Geochemical organic material that colors waters, sediments, or soils brown or black.  The general consensus is that each is an extremely complex mixture, whose components represent a continuum of chemical and molecular properties.  We propose that NOM is a self-assembled structure that results from the hierarchical interaction of the aromatic and polyelectrolytic components.  The over-riding questions that need to be answered are: (1) What triggers the self-assembly process?, and (2) What is the nature of the component interactions?.  We have identified the necessary pulsed field gradient (amphiphilic) PFG parameters to acquire NM spectra of NOM components.  Students will isolate fractions using DOSY and characterize the fractions using 13ultrafiltration solid-state C and NM PFG.