Undergraduate Research

Research in chemistry is a challenging and rewarding experience!

You don’t have to major in chemistry or know a great deal about chemistry to begin doing undergraduate research. Sophomores through seniors who are majoring in chemistry, biology, psychology, physics, geography, earth sciences and other areas have successfully participated in undergraduate research in chemistry. All you need is a positive attitude, an interest in chemistry, a good work ethic, and a desire to learn.

Research can be done for course credit (through CHEM 4900) or, in some cases, for salary. Undergraduate research helps develop independence and encourages creativity to solve problems as part of a team, skills that prospective employers and graduate and professional schools consider desirable. What a way to build a resume or add to your graduate school application!

Students learn to master experimental techniques, such as the synthesis of new compounds, the characterization of interesting materials, or the analysis of biomolecules. They also experience the excitement of making truly original contributions to the field of science. Imagine the thrill of being the first person ever to make a particular compound or discover a new property of an important substance! Many of the articles published by faculty in top-quality journals feature undergraduate students as co-authors and students often discuss the results of their research in seminar or poster presentations at professional meetings. Many UNC Charlotte undergraduate students receive awards for their presentations.

Are you an undergraduate who is interested in doing research in chemistry? Please follow the steps below to find an appropriate research advisor.

Step 1: Identify areas of research in which you are interested. Typically, chemists identify themselves according to the specialty areas of analytical, bio-, inorganic, organic, or physical chemistry, although many projects involve aspects of multiple areas. Descriptions of faculty research interests are described below; read carefully about their research and look at publications for each group prior to contacting any faculty members.

Step 2:  Contact at least 3 faculty members who have interesting research opportunities.  Once you narrow your choices, you should talk to multiple faculty members. Often, you will find that you are more interested than you expected in a particular research area because you didn’t know much about it. Please remember to be cordial and formal when introducing yourself to a professor over e-mail, phone, or in person.

Step 3: Prepare for your appointment with those faculty members. Visit the research group homepages for your faculty members of interest to get an idea of their research directions, and to get an idea of how you would like to contribute. Consider reading, ahead of time, some of the papers published in the group. You should talk to the graduate and undergraduate researchers in the group to get a feeling for the expectations and for the interactions within the group.   Also, be prepared to answer the following questions:                                                                                   

  • How many hours per week would you want to work?
  • Do you want to do research for credit or on a volunteer basis?
  • Do you want to work primarily with the faculty member or with graduate students?
  • Do you want an independent project, or research that supports a larger project?
  • What kind of group dynamic works well for you?                                                           
  • How many years do you envision continuing with research?
  • What is your chemistry background?
  • Which parts of your chemistry labs did you enjoy most?                                                                      

Step 4:  Once you have chosen a group, be sure to finalize the process.

  • If you are registering for research credit, you will need to register for CHEM 4900: Directed Undergraduate Research. Permission to register will go through the faculty member you’re working with. Be sure you are requesting permission with the CRN number for the section with the correct number of credit hours.
  • If you are volunteering, be sure you have set expectations with your research advisor for the number of hours per week or expected progress. Your research advisor will have you sign a volunteer waiver form; you must sign this before starting research.
  • Eventually, some experienced undergraduates are paid with grant money to support their research efforts.

If you have questions, please contact Dr. Tom Schmedake (tschmeda@uncc.edu).

Research Faculty Directory

Kirill A. Afonin

Assistant Professor
M.S.: Saint Petersburg State University
Ph.D.: Bowling Green State University

Post-doc: (NIH Research Fellow) National Institutes of Health; (Postdoctoral Fellow) University of California Santa Barbara

Two time recipient of the FARE award-NIH Fellow Award for Research Excellence.


My research focuses on RNA nanotechnology with potential diagnostic and therapeutic applications. RNA nanotechnology comprises general knowledge of RNA structure, function, and its role in different diseases to tackle specific biomedical problems. Developing biocompatible RNA nanoparticles that act as controlled multifunctional therapeutic, sensing, and targeting agents will advance the field of nanomedicine by increasing the amount of delivered drugs while minimizing drug toxicity. The delivery of RNA nanoparticles in vivo is one of the most challenging tasks due to RNA’s negative charge, chemical instability, and stimulation of immune responses.

Christopher M. Bejger

Assistant Professor
Organic Chemistry
B.S.: University of Oregon
Ph.D: The University of Texas at Austin
Post-doc: Columbia University
Research in the Bejger group is focused on the design, synthesis, and assembly of molecular clusters for energy applications. The chemical and electronic structures of molecular clusters can be modified synthetically; this allows us to tune their physical properties and create new materials with nanoscale control. We synthesize these custom-made cluster building blocks and use them to construct functional materials and devices useful for improving charge transport, energy conversion and storage. Specifically, we are studying crystalline porous frameworks, solar cells, and redox flow batteries prepared from hybrid organic-inorganic, clusters and small molecules.

Brian T. Cooper 
Associate Professor 
Bioanalytical Chemistry 
B.S.: Purdue University
Ph.D.: University of Arizona
Post-doc: (NIH Fellow) Iowa State University

ORAU Junior Faculty Enhancement Award
NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award

Bioanalytical Chemistry — protein analysis by:

  • capillary/channel electrophoresis;
  • ultrasensitive fluorescence detection and imaging;
  • electrospray and MALDI mass spectrometry.

My research group primarily uses capillary electrophoresis (CE) to analyze and characterize proteins. Capillary electrophoretic separations of protein "charge ladders" (otherwise pure proteins with intrinsic or induced charge heterogeneity) allow us to estimate the net charge and hydrodynamic radius of proteins in solution. We also study ligand binding to proteins using "affinity capillary electrophoresis" (ACE), which exploits the accompanying change in protein electrophoretic mobility. Combining charge ladders and ACE allows us to characterize overall conformational changes caused by ligand binding. And with laser-induced fluorescence (LIF) detection, we can study the conformational behavior of fluorescently labeled proteins under simulated intracellular conditions—especially in the presence of high concentrations of other macromolecules.

We also have an active collaboration with a group in the Department of Bioinformatics and Genomics. We are using a variant of ACE called "CEMSA" (capillary electrophoretic mobility shift assay) to detect binding of transcription factors (TFs) to synthetic, fluorescently labeled DNA probes. We use this technique to experimentally validate predicted TF binding site sequences. After screening by CEMSA, we can identify affinity-purified TFs using mass spectrometry.

Bernadette T. Donovan-Merkert 
Analytical Chemistry 
B.S.: Duke University 
Ph.D.: The University of Vermont 
Post-doc: Dartmouth College; The University of Texas at Austin

National Science Foundation 
Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation 
Petroleum Research Foundation 
Research Corporation

My group focuses on electron-transfer reactions of organometallic complexes. By oxidizing or reducing these compounds we often generate species that undergo interesting reactions or form complexes in unusual oxidation states. In many cases redox activation of organometallic complexes accelerates known reactions of these compounds, activates otherwise inert complexes, or allows reactions to occur under milder conditions. We study the reactions and their products using electrochemical methods and other instrumental techniques including, but not limited to, NMR, IR, ESR and GC/M.S..

Markus Etzkorn 
Associate Professor 
Organic Chemistry
Pre-diploma: University of Freiburg (Germany)
Diploma: University of Feriburg (Germany)
Dr. rer. nat. (Ph. D.): University of Freiburg (Germany)
Postdoc: USC – Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute

Unusual structures (fullerenes, dodecahedrane, fluorinated graphite…) display often extraordinary properties that reward organic chemists for all the effort taken to achieve a challenging synthetic goal. Using contemporary tools of synthetic organic chemistry my group explores the potential of new (functionalized) hydrofluorocarbons as precursors to applied materials. In addition photochemical conversions of suitable hydrofluorocarbons could ultimately lead to highly strained cage systems with unique physicochemical properties.

Daniel S. Jones 
Associate Professor 
Physical Chemistry 
B.S.: Wake Forest University
Ph.D.: Harvard University
Post-doc: State University of New York at Buffalo; Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C.

X-ray Crystallography: Determination of molecular structures by X-ray crystallographic methods. 
Structure determinations are carried out on compounds of interest in a variety of research endeavors; the particular compounds studied often depend on the immediate research interests of faculty colleagues here and elsewhere. Compounds recently studied include those of interest in 1) thin-film microelectronics technology, 2) image enhancement in Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and 3) the search for cancer therapy agents.

Marcus Jones 
Assistant Professor 
Physical Chemistry 
B.A.: Oxford University
Ph.D.: Cambridge University
Post-doc: University of Toronto

Physical & materials chemistry: We are interested in understanding photo-physical processes in nanoscale materials such as quantum dots and metal nanoparticles. Our research especially emplasizes the electronic interactions between these materials and their local environment. This work is relevant to the design of a new generation of super-efficient solar cells made from nano-building blocks. Possible undergraduate projects include 1) synthesis and chemical manipulation of nanocrystal materials using colloidal chemistry techniques. Specifically we are interested in binding new ligands to nanocrystals to promote the electron or energy transfer processes; and 2) spectroscopic characterization of nanocrystals. Using flourescence spectroscopy, we determine radiative quantum yields and investigate how subtle changes in preparation techniques are reflected in their spectra.

Joanna K. Krueger 
Associate Professor 
B.A.(ACS): Kalamazoo College
Ph.D.: Princeton University
Post-doc: (NIH/NRSA Fellow) 
U. T. Southwestern Medical Center 
Los Alamos National Laboratory

Research Corporation- Cottrell College Science Award 
ORAU Junior Faculty Enhancement Award 
North Carolina Biotechnology Award

Biophysical Chemistry
My laboratory is interested in obtaining structural information on biomolecular associations using the techniques of small-angle X-ray and neutron scattering, chemical cross-linking with peptide analysis by Mass Spec, selected-site mutagenesis and spectroscopy (FTIR, CD, UV-VIS). We will use these data to build molecular models of protein:protein complexes and thus, to provide new insights into the molecular basis of protein interactions. 
Currently, we are looking at a protein, gelsolin, that when activated, through increases in intracellular calcium, binds to the cytoskeletal actin and regulates actins’ ability to self-associate. This regulation results in cell shape changes essential to the proper functioning of the cell. By studying the structure of the molecular complex between actin and gelsolin, we will provide key insights into molecular basis for several disease states related to improper functioning of the cell, such as cancer.

Craig A. Ogle 
Organic Chemistry 
Regional Analytical Chemistry Laboratory 
B.S.: Otterbein College
M.S.: University of Arizona 
Ph.D.: University of Arizona
Post-doc: University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland

  • Group members are preparing small molecules for derivatizing proteins, antibodies and nucleic acid aptamers and peptidomimetics with flourophores and drugs.
  • Group member are also preparing nanoparticles for targeted delivery of drugs to cells and for imaging disease states.

Jordan C. Poler 
Associate Professor 
Physical Chemistry 
B.S.: State University of NY at Brockport 
Ph.D.: University of NC at Chapel Hill 
Post-doc: Princeton University

The Poler Research Group consists of students from the Nanoscale Science Ph.D. Program, the Optical Science and Engineering Ph.D. program, the Master’s of Science program in Chemistry, undergraduates from various disciplines (Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Engineering, and Math), and high school students from around the state. We pursue fundamental studies of molecular and nanoscale systems to understand directed and self-assembly processes. We aim to understand directed and self-assembly processes. We aim to design new particles and materials with higher functionality and effectiveness. Our long-term interests are toward: novel mechanisms for mechanical transducers and sensors in NEMS, energy storage in supercapacitors, catalytic solar fuel production, water purification, and optical metamaterials.

We start by synthesizing novel coordination complexes that have useful and tunable spectral, electrochemical, and mechanical properties. We synthesize and purify single walled carbon nanotubes. We use various metal nanoparticles, quantum dots, and nanostructured carbons linked together by our coordination complexes to form higher order hybrid-nanomaterials. Some of these novel particles can be assembled into supraparticle assemblies with novel properties and function.

Daniel Rabinovich 
Inorganic Chemistry 
B.S.: Catholic University (Lima, Peru)
Ph.D.: Columbia University 
Post-doc: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Research interests in the general area of synthetic and structural inorganic,bioinorganic, and organometallic chemistry include: (i) coordination chemistry with multidentate sulfur- and selenium-donor ligands such as polythioethers and poly(mercaptoimidazolyl)borates, (ii) design of new mixed-donor ligands incorporating heterocyclic thiones and selones, (iii) preparation of model compounds for the active sites in nickel-and copper-containing proteins and enzymes, and (iv) synthesis of copper, silver, and gold complexes with antibacterial or antitumoral properties, and (v) molecular precursors to copper chalcogenide materials.

John M. Risley 
B.S.: Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana
Ph.D.: Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.
Post-doc: Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

I. Studies of Glycosylasparaginase, the Enzyme Involved in the Most Common Disorder of Glycoprotein Degradation 
II. The 18 O Isotope Shift in NMR.

Tom Schmedake 
Associate Professor 
Inorganic Chemistry 
B.S.: Knox College
Ph.D.: University of Wisconsin
Post-doc: UC San Diego

My research interests ultimately seek to use synthetic chemistry to modify the properties of advanced materials and to study systems in which advanced porous materials incorporating photonic confinement effects are used to alter the chemical properties and reactivity of intercalated molecules.

Jerry (Jay) Troutman 
Assistant Professor 
B.S.: East Carolina University
Ph.D.: University of Kentucky Medical Center
Post-doc: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Bacterial Polysaccharides: Here we will attempt to understand the biochemistry of polymeric sugars called polysaccharides that coat the surface of specific bacteria, and play an important role in interactions between symbiotic gut microbes and their mammalian hosts.

Mammalian Isoprenylation: We are also interested in the role of the downstream processing of prenylated proteins in particular the enzymes involved in this important biological process, and the possible targeting of these proteins for the treatment of diseases such as cancer.

Juan Vivero-Escoto

Assistant Professor
Organic/Materials Chemistry
B.S. & M.S.: National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico
Ph.D.: Iowa State University
Post-doc: University of NC at Chapel Hill
NIH R15/National Cancer Institute

Research in our group focuses on the design and synthesis of novel hybrid inorganic-organic materials for a wide variety of applications, predominantly in biomedicine and renewable energy. Our vision is that by combining basic science understanding with material science, some of the most relevant problems (cancer and other diseases, energy, and environmental issues) of our time will be addressed. In particular, we will focus our initial efforts toward developing nanoparticle-based technologies for biomedical applications. Our approach is multidisciplinary, interfacing chemistry, biology, material science, and engineering. By its very nature our research will provide an excellent training environment for undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral research fellows.

Listed below are the three main research projects we are pursuing:

  • Multifunctional hybrid nanoparticles as a delivery platform for photodynamic therapy and diagnosis.
  • Development of novel nanoparticle-based strategies for the intracellular delivery of siRNA/DNA or therapeutic proteins.
  • Hybrid silica-based nanoparticles for target-specific delivery of therapeutics agents for the treatment of cancer.
  • Design, synthesis and applications of novel photosensitizers for the photodynamic inactivation treatment of multidrug resistance bacteria.
Development of hybrid molecular clusters based on cage polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane building blocks and 2D-/3D-assembled materials.


Michael G. Walter
Assistant Professor 
Organic/Materials Chemistry
B.S.: University of Dayton
M.S.: Portland State University
Ph. D.: Portland State Univeristy
Post-doc: California Institute of Technology

Research in the Walter lab focuses on the synthesis and photophysical properties of organic conjugated polymers and dye molecules for solar energy conversion. Nature accomplishes the task of solar energy conversion by using molecular systems to absorb solar energy, direct the energy towards catalytic reaction centers, and ultimately store the energy in chemical bonds. We attempt to mimic these processes by designing materials that absorb solar photons and efficiently convert them into electricity or fuels such as hydrogen. Organic semiconductors are desirable for these applications because they offer the potential for an inexpensively processed, lightweight, and flexible photoactive materials. Unique to this effort is the development of new porphyrin macrocyclic dyes whose structural variations affect excited-state (exciton) diffusion. We are working to develop molecular guidelines that will help develop efficient organic semiconductors for solar energy conversion.