The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has a significant research effort in the area of renewable energy involving approximately a quarter of the faculty, including several recent hires. Topics under investigation range from biological routes to solar energy harvesting to novel materials for direct conversion of sunlight into electricity and fuel. The research groups focus on a variety of scientific approaches including biotechnology, theoretical chemistry, synthesis of nanoscale materials, molecular engineering, and advanced spectroscopy techniques.

Analytical Chemistry

Analytical Chemistry at the University of Colorado has a long tradition of research in interdisciplinary areas. Current areas of focus include Atmospheric Chemistry, Energy/Environmental Chemistry and Bioanalytical Chemistry.

We are one of the few Analytical Chemistry groups nationwide with an Atmospheric Chemistry focus within a chemistry department. We have faculty performing cutting edge research in the laboratory, in the field and through theoretical simulations. Research topics include studies of trace gases and aerosols and their impact on climate, health and the ecosystem. Several faculty members in the Analytical Division are also Fellows of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), a joint research partnership between the University of Colorado and NOAA. Our division also has strong ties to the nearby National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Our unique position in Boulder offers incoming graduate students unparalleled opportunities for research in Atmospheric Chemistry.

Analytical Chemistry research groups are also addressing challenging problems in global health. This includes the development of new vaccine-delivery technologies, therapeutics that are less susceptible to pathogen resistance mechanisms, and low-cost, rapid disease diagnostic methods that can be deployed in settings where power and water are limited.

The Analytical Chemistry division is also actively involved in the newly formed Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI), an interdisciplinary joint institute between the University of Colorado and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Focus areas in the Analytical Division include research to understand and develop chemical processes that that produce usable energy from renewable sources and utilize energy more efficiently.

Biochemistry

The University of Colorado established a semi-independent Biochemistry Division within the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1986.  The Biochemistry Division is located on the east campus in the BioFrontiers Institute and current research in the division spans a wide range of fields from bioinformatics and cellular and molecular biology to synthetic and biophysical chemistry. Specific areas of focus in the Biochemistry Division are: (1) nucleic acid chemistry and biochemistry, including RNA structure and function and mechanisms of transcription and replication, (2) signal transduction, and (3) structural biology, including X-ray and NMR, proteomics and informatics.

Biochemistry has over 150 researchers, currently consisting of 17 regular tenure track faculty (11 Full, 3 Associate and 3 Assistant Professors), 5 research faculty, about 70 graduate students, about35 postdoctoral fellows, and about30 technical staff. About 60-70 undergraduates obtain bachelor’s degrees in Biochemistry every year. Approximately 30% of these students perform undergraduate research and about15% graduate with Honors by completing an Honors thesis.

Research in Biochemistry laboratories is currently supported at a level of  about $440,000/yr per lab. In FY 2008 the Biochemistry Division had external awards of $14,500,000. The largest source of funding is the National Institutes of Health, and additional funding sources include: Howard Hughes Medical Institute, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Pew Foundation, W. M. Keck Foundation, Beckman Foundation, American Cancer Society, Colorado Tobacco Research Fund, American Heart Association and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Individual faculty collaborate with industrial partners and contracts or gifts to support research in Biochemistry are currently provided by Agilent Technologies, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, InDevR, Somalogic, and Array Biopharma.

The Biochemistry faculty include a Nobel Laureate, two members of the National Academy of Sciences, two Howard Hughes Investigators, a Howard Hughes Early Career Scientist, 3 present or former NIH MERIT Awardees, 3 former NIH Career Development Awardees, an NSF CAREER Awardee, two former Guggenheim fellows, a former Pew Scholar, a former Beckman Young Investigator, two former Searle Scholars and two University Distinguished Professors. In the past several years the Biochemistry faculty have averaged a total of about 50 papers in scholarly journals. Overwhelmingly these papers include graduate students and postdoctorals as coauthors. The Biochemistry Divisions has a vibrant graduate program and participates in four NIH-funded training grants. These grants support Ph.D. training in Biotechnology, Molecular Biology, Molecular Biophysics and Signal Transduction. Approximately 60% of the recent Ph.D.s in the Division go on to perform postdoctoral research and most graduates end up with a position in academia or in the biotech or pharmaceutical industry. The Division also participates in community education and science outreach programs, for example the CU Wizards.

Materials and Nanoscience

The Materials and Nanoscience Program in the Deptartment of Chemistry and Biochemistry is a multidisciplinary program that arose from a common interest between faculty to design, synthesize, and study new functional materials of all types, and also to develop them for use in important application areas. Some of the types of new materials being synthesized and studied include nanostructured organic liquid crystal assemblies and polymers, electrically and ionically conducting polymers, nanostructured inorganic thin films, inorganic nanocrystal systems, biopolymer–nanocrystal composites, molecular machines, responsive surfaces, carbon nanotube composites, and nanoporous cage structures and polymer films. The application areas that these materials are being investigated for include new display technologies, nanoelectronics, optical communications, water purification/desalination, separation and storage of gases, chemical sensing, solar energy conversion, and electrical energy storage in the form of improved Li batteries.

A substantial amount of this research in new materials and nanoscience is collaborative. In addition to collaborations between research groups in the department, many researchers in the program work closely with researchers in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Soft Material Materials Research Center at CU, the CU Physics Department, the Chemical & Biological Engineering Department at CU, and several outside companies and universities.

The Materials and Nanoscience Program currently includes approximately 10 research-active faculty and 55 graduate student and postdoctoral researchers. A graduate course curriculum has been established for training and educating new graduate students entering the program, before they begin to specialize in their research areas.

Organic Chemistry

Organic chemistry has a long tradition at the University of Colorado, and in fact the Department has named its building in honor of one of our former organic chemists, the late Professor Stanley Cristol. This division is one of exceptional breadth with nine faculty members and about 40 graduate students and postdocs working in the traditional areas of organic chemistry, including total synthesis, methods development, catalysis, and mechanistic organic chemistry, as well as in multidisciplinary areas, like chemical biology, materials chemistry and physical organic chemistry. Faculty in the division have active collaborations with biochemists, neurologists, atmospheric chemists, physicists and physical chemists, and students have the option to work on projects that touch on almost all areas of chemistry. Recent papers published by the synthetic organic groups at CU have regularly appeared among the top 10 downloaded articles in The Journal of the American Chemical Society and Angewandte Chemie and three of our current and former faculty are members of the National Academy of Science. The breadth of the Division is also reflected in our seminar series where students regularly attend lectures from the rising stars of our field as well as established senior investigators though our named lectureships (the Roche-Colorado lecture series and the Stanley Cristol lecture series).

Physical Chemistry

The Physical Chemistry graduate program at the University of Colorado at Boulder ranked 9th nationally, and has strong connections to JILA, a joint institute with NIST, the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), and CIRES.  Researchers here can often synthesize methods and viewpoints from academically distinct disciplines.  The Division has an excellent history and tradition in both theory and experiment and is rapidly developing its unique strengths in new research directions. Research efforts span a large variety of current questions in physical chemistry, from the structure and reactivity of gas-phase molecules and clusters to processes on surfaces and interfaces, to ion solvation and ultrafast dynamics in photochemistry and biomolecules, often with a focus on interdisciplinary work involving research in biophysical chemistry, nanoscience or renewable energy. Faculty members use state-of-the-art experimental techniques e.g., massspectrometry, photoelectron spectroscopy, high-resolution opticalspectroscopy, ultrafast spectroscopy, and high-resolution microscopy. A strong group of faculty members working in various areas of theoretical chemistry seek to gain deeper understanding of the physical principles underlying chemistry and to obtain theoretical methods with high predictive power, explaining current experiments and guiding future studies.

Research spans the gamut from fundamental questions about reactivity and dynamics on surfaces, in gas and liquid phases, to more applied topics in materials and nanoscience, climate science, biophysical chemistry, and renewable energy. Experimental groups use and design state of the art techniques, from high resolution microscopy to ultrafast laser spectroscopy. Theoretical groups develop both computational and analytical methods to answer complex problems that often complement experimental studies.