Research projects include development and characterization of biologically inspired materials; fabrication of scaffolds for corneal, bone and vascular tissue engineering applications; and stem cell bioengineering. Other projects include design and development of perfusion bioreactor culture systems for stem cell proliferation and in vitro large-scale production of platelets.
Biochemical and biotechnology research includes fundamental studies onto molecular forces that control biologically important reactions including protein folding and the underlying chemistry responsible for vision. This basic understanding feeds studies on how macromolecules including enzymes and receptors function and impact disease states in humans as well as the development of new biotechnology including the development of manmade catalysts to drive intercellular synthesis, fluorescence-based molecular biosensors and sensor systems that mimic mammalian olfaction (our sense of smell).
Natural Product Synthesis: Natural products are secondary metabolites (small organic molecules) produced in organisms and have long been the source of the majority of drugs and drug candidates. Indeed, 78% of the antibacterial compounds and 74% of anticancer agents available today are either natural products or their chemical derivatives. The complete chemical synthesis of natural products is the first and key step in such drug discovery endeavors that aim to treat currently incurable diseases. Dr. Takenaka's group is currently working toward the complete chemical synthesis of the alkaloid Acutumine isolated from the moonseed Sinomenium acutum which has been shown as a potential treatment for T-cell malignancies
Enzymes and receptors: Dr. Rokach's main research interest is the use of bioorganic and synthetic chemistry to advance the understanding of biochemical and biological systems. The total syntheses of biologically important molecules are performed, and from these molecules, synthetic probes are designed to identify and isolate enzymes and receptors that have escaped isolation by the most commonly used techniques. Ongoing projects include the synthesis of isoprostanes and the development of methods to measure them in vivo as an index of free radical generation in disease states--novel approach to degenerative diseases (e.g., cardiovascular, Alzheimer, etc).
Molecular forces: Dr. Akhremitchev’s research interests are in experimental biophysical chemistry and physical chemistry. His research program aims at uncovering nanoscale details of intermolecular interactions and structural dynamics that control many important biological processes including protein aggregation, receptor-ligand binding and formation of supramolecular biological structures. Experimental approaches utilize high spatial and force resolution of scanning probe techniques to investigate molecular structures at the nanoscale and at a single-molecule level.
Intracellular organic synthesis: Biotechnology research in the Dr. Knight's group is centered around the interface of inorganic chemistry and other scientific sub-disciplines including catalysis, organic synthesis, medicinal chemistry and molecular biology. Ongoing projects include the design of new metal-based artificial endonucleases for use as molecular biology tools, antiviral and antibacterial drugs based on functionalized organometallics compounds as bone-seeking agents and new paradigms for achieving intracellular organic synthesis using water-stable encapsulated transition metal catalysts.
The chemistry of vision: The high efficiency of vision derives from the fact that a single photon of light is sufficient in activating a thousand G-proteins which in turn results in the hydrolysis of approximately 100,000 cGMP to GMP ultimately leading to a neuronal signal. Dr. Nesnas's group studies these proteins through the design and synthesis of various visual chromophores aiming to unravel this intriguing design and eventually lead to the design of similar systems geared to current needs including therapeutic treatments.
Fluorescence-based sensors: The development of molecular sensors is of great interest world-wide. Dr. Brown and Dr. Baumcollaborate in this area to show how fundamental science can broaden into applied work. In particular they have designed fluorescent compunds that can be quenched through the disruption of intramolecular hydrogen bonds. In so doing, they are creating artifical receptors whose emission of light can reveal the presensce of biologically imporant molecules.
Artificial olfaction: The invention of the CCD chip present in digital cameras and smart phones has revolutionized the interface between technology and its environment. By pixilating optical images of its surroundings, devices can use sophisticated imaging processing and pattern recognition algorithms to perform increasingly sophisticated tasks associated with visual perception. The creation of a chemically diverse sensor array chip that mimics the olfactory system could provide the next revolution in sensory input for technology. In collaboration with groups in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Dr. Freund’sgroup is working on CMOS circuitry design and new methods for creating large numbers of chemically diverse polymer sensing materials on the chips to significantly expand the ways in which technology interacts and functions.
Ongoing activities include biosensor development for rocket fuels, nerve agents and non-invasive glucose monitoring using artificial neural network discriminator.
This research is focused on developing innovative techniques and devices for the detection and therapy of cardiovascular diseases such as myocardial ischemia, cardiac arrhythmia, hypertension and hemorrhagic shock, and procedures including angioplasty/stent placement and hemodynamic monitoring. One example is using ultrasound technology, contrast agents and stem cells to repair vascular damage caused by stent placement.
Signaling systems that regulate cardiac rhythm and blood flow to increase understanding and treatment of diseases such as sudden cardiac arrest, diabetes mellitus and erectile dysfunction.
Florida Tech research of energy includes fundamental studies on energy transfer mechanism for converting light energy into chemical energy (photosynthesis) as well as the design of catalysts. This fundamental understanding is directed at driving chemically useful reactions with light and for developing technology for solar fuel and photovoltaic technology.
Energy transfer in photosynthesis: Dr. Baum and Dr. Brown investigate the properties of molecular systems that serve as models for the interactions of biomolecules with light to form chemical energy. Molecular spectroscopy, supplemented by other physical methods and molecular modeling, provides mechanistic information necessary to completely characterize these systems. Such an approach is essential for a deeper understanding of processes that convert light energy into chemical energy. By investigating the transfer of energy from light absorbed in natural processes such as photosynthesis can provide more efficient synthetic materials for the collection and storage of energy.
Catalysts for CO2 reduction and solar fuel generation: While nature utilizes CO2 as its major carbon source, the industrial use of CO2as feedstock is still in its infancy. Strong Lewis acids, designed and synthesized by Dr. Wehmschulte's group, catalyze the reduction of CO2 with hydrosilanes to methane and toluene depending on the conditions. Current efforts focus on the optimization of this system including the synthesis of more stable Lewis acids featuring strong Al-O bonds and internal π-stabilization through flanking arene substituents.
Dye sensitized solar cells and catalysts for green synthesis: Dr. Knight's group is developing organometallic compunds that form monolayers of redox-active ruthenium complexes on nanocrystalline TiO2. These systems are key for efficient electronic coupling with the surface that will allow efficient light-induced charge separation for the conversion of light to electricity.
Artificial photosynthesis: Given the scale of projected energy needs as well as the rapid climate change associated with growing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, there is a major push by governments to increase the rate of innovation and discovery in the area of carbon-neutral solar fuel production (chemical energy). Dr. Freund’s group is focusing on the development of membranes will likely play a key role in artificial photosynthetic systems. This effort includes the design and synthesis of new materials as well as the study of their electronic properties and their integration with light absorbers and catalysts required for functional chemical energy producing devices.
Driving reactions with light: Dr. Liao's group is pioneering research into metastable state photoacids. This type of photoacid can reversibly produce large pH changes upon exposure to visible light, making it a powerful tool for controlling a wide range of important acid-catalyzed reactions by producing chemical energy from light. His group focuses on the design and synthesis of photoacids and materials that contain them, study the mechanisms of their photoreactions, and demonstrate their applications including photoresponsive electronic, optical and mechanic materials, shape/volume change materials, drug delivery materials, killing bacteria, pH jump for studying protein conformation and functions, and regulating local pH of biological systems.
Photocatalytic efficiency and solar energy. Understanding the mechanism of a reaction allows us to optimize the reaction rate and predict its outcome. Dr. Winkelmann's current research in this area focuses on understanding how visible light can initiate chemical energy reactions that degrade pollutants into nontoxic or event useful products. Halogenated organic molecules provide interesting target molecules because they have a significant environmental impact as greenhouse gases and many such compounds cannot be destroyed by conventional oxidation techniques.
Clean Energy: Porous, crystalline materials are ideally suited to address the global energy problem by providing solutions to clean energy applications. In particular, Dr. Schoedel's group develops strategies and technologies to overcome the challenges encountered in the capture, storage, delivery and conversion of gas molecules such as carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen.
Research areas include biophysical chemistry, bioorganic chemistry, chemical education, environmental chemistry, geochemistry, molecular spectroscopy, nanotechnology, natural products, organometallic chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, photochemical processes, physical organic chemistry, polymer chemistry, molecular modeling, renewable energy applications, solid-phase reaction kinetics, surface phenomena, synthetic organic chemistry and thermal methods of analysis.
Computer-aided modeling, processing and control: Research is ongoing in the area of adaptive control for both single loop and multivariable applications. Other topics of research interest include using neural networks in areas of model development in which traditional models are constrained, and process design and simulation of renewable energy conversion systems.
Ongoing environmental chemistry research at FIT includes the study of naturally occurring and artificially introduced metals in the environment including minerals and nanostructures.
Formation and toxicity of naturally occurring nanoparticles: Naturally occurring nanoparticles (NNPs) derived from biological, geological and chemical processes are a far greater source of nanoparticulate matter compared to current amounts of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs), but NNPs are a largely unexplored class of environmental toxicants. Dr. Winkelmann'sresearch group develops methods to mimic the synthesis of NNPs within the laboratory in order to study their properties, including their toxicity to plants and algae. Distinguishing between the toxicity of ENPs and NPPs will help determine which source should be of greater concern and perhaps lead to the replacement of ENPs with NNPs that are prepared under greener experimental conditions.
Photocatalytic decomposition of gaseous and aqueous pollutants: Removal of pollutants from the air and water improves the quality of life for everybody. As countries raise their environmental standards, new approaches are necessary for remediation of industrial and naturally occurring pollutants. Titanium dioxide is useful for degrading many pollutants when exposed to the sun and is a key component in several current commercial remediation processes. Dr. Winkelmann’s group is investigating the details of light-initiated reactions on the surface of nanosized titanium dioxide particles. By understanding the rate of a reaction and the step-by-step process it follows (the reaction’s mechanism), we can optimize the reaction for removing different pollutants and converting them into industrially useful products.
Uranium minerals: The study of uranyl-minerals is important for understanding water-rock interactions in uranium-deposits associated with uranium mines and mill tailings as well as spent nuclear fuel in a moist, oxidizing environment that may occur in repositories. In collaboration with geological science researchers, Dr. Freund's group is developing analytical technique to investigate the structure and bonding in a wide range of natural and synthetic uranyl minerals.
Organic geochemistry of polar regions: The impact of climate change is progressing much faster in polar environments as compared to lower latitudes. Dr. Winkelmann's group is currently exploring how greater rates of terrestrial input is affecting the organic geochemistry of arctic sediments. In the Antarctic, levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are being measured in benthic communities.
Environmental engineering: Projects include removal of trace organic contaminants from water using reverse osmosis and design of systems for controlling contaminants in spacecraft atmospheres. Other projects focus on development of renewable resources, especially alternative sources of energy.
Research is ongoing to develop ultra-short pulse laser-based system for early cancer detection and therapy. This technique is non-invasive, fast and safe compared to existing imaging and treatment modalities.
Materials synthesis, characterization and failure prevention: Includes self-assembly or aggregation of nanomaterials and combined cyclic fatigue and cryogenic embrittlement under controlled atmospheres.
Medical imaging: Current projects involve the application of advanced signal and image processing to enhance medical imagery. A method has been developed that reduces noise from computed tomography (CT) induced when the x-ray dose is decreased, allowing CT scans to be safer for patients. A similar approach has been used for nuclear medicine imagery.
Medical materials and photonics: Biomedical engineering faculty and international collaborators have initiated an innovative center for medical materials and photonics that provides world-leading programs in third generation bioactive materials including bioactive materials for regenerative medicine, load bearing orthopedic and dental devices, intelligent wound care systems and materials for sports medicine repair and reconstruction; and medical photonics including laser and bio-Raman-based cancer detection and therapeutics, human cell-based screening for toxicology, pharmaceutical and biomaterials screening, and patient specific diagnosis and therapy analyses. The center provides education and research opportunities at the undergraduate, graduate and post-doctorate levels.
Molecular biology and biochemistry: DNA replication, gene regulation, novel anti-cancer therapies, Alzheimer’s Disease, cellular responses to environmental stress, protein folding and aggregation, and assembly of macromolecular complexes.
Nanoparticle synthesis: Nanotechnology is the next industrial revolution. An increasing number of commercial products and industrial processes involve particles on the nano-size scale (bigger than a molecule, smaller than a living cell). Interest in nanomaterials is due to not just their small size but also their unique properties that change with the size of the particle. By controlling the size of the particle, chemists can control the properties of the material itself. Dr. Knight and Dr. Winkelmann are developing wet chemistry synthetic methods for the preparation of metal and metal oxide nanoparticles with controlled size distribution and high stability.
Scanning tunneling microscopy and atomic scale characterization: Scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) provides unpresidented resolution allowing the investigation of matter on the molecular and sub-molecular scale. This capability allows the observation of the geometric and electronic behaviors of individual molecules. Dr. Olson and Dr. Baum are pioneering new techniques that use a combination of the electronic and sub-molecular information with novel computational approaches to study molecules that are of interest for their potential medicinal or catalytic behaviors.
High performance foams, polymers and nanocomposites: Current materials science research emphasizes sustainability and innovation. Developing high performance polymeric materials to meet both properties and environmental requirements is a key trend in polymer science. Dr. Nelson is developing high performance organic materials through novel environmental friendly approaches: organic/inorganic nanocomposites, high performance carbon fiber reinforced composites for specialty applications, as well as multifunctional nanostructured materials with unique properties. For example, they are working on new foams with a bound-in non-halogen flame retardant package. The goal is to achieve flame retardancy exceeding NASA SOFI foams with a non-halogen non-migrating system.
Conducting polymers and nanocomposites for electronics, optics and sensing: Organic materials provide a range of opportunities for developing electronics that operate through new mechanisms that can reduce size and cost, and increase the ease of manufacturing through inkjet and 3-D printing technologies. Dr. Freund's group is working on new conducting polymers and composites for creating field driven redox memory which can be electrodeposited on exiting CMOS chip structures and should have better scaling properties. Dr. Liao is working on smart polymer materials that change their chemical, physical and biological properties under visible light based on photo-induced proton transfer achieved using metastable-state photoacids. These materials have great potential in industrial, biomedical and defense applications. Research in this area could lead to artificial muscles, multifunctional coating, drug delivery materials, novel phontonics, and high density data storage.
Reticular Chemistry: Porous crystals are made from first principles by stitching together molecular building units (inorganic clusters and organic molecules) through strong bonds. Dr. Schoedel uses the directionality and rigidity of such building units for the precise design of these metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) or covalent organic frameworks (COFs). Moreover, the resulting materials show order with atomic precision and can therefore be modified with a versatility, unparalleled in traditional polymer materials.Reticular Chemistry: Porous crystals are made from first principles by stitching together molecular building units (inorganic clusters and organic molecules) through strong bonds. The directionality and rigidity of such building units allow for the precise design of these metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) or covalent organic frameworks (COFs). Moreover, the resulting materials show order with atomic precision and can therefore be modified with a versatility, unparalleled in traditional polymer materials.
Research in medicinal chemistry at FIT includes molecular syntheisis and natural product isolation to find biomolecules with a wide range of functions including anti-inflamitory, antitumor, antioxidant, antiviral and antibacterial.
Molecular synthesis for inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly and may have a long stage of neuropathological changes and cognitive decline before it is diagnosed. Alzheimer’s Disease is associated with an unusual form of inflammation produced by deposition of β-amyloid plaque in the memory center. Isoprostanes are the chemically stable oxygenation products formed by free radical peroxidation of poly unsaturated fatty acids.Dr. Rokach's group has shown that isoprostanes are useful biomarkers of oxidative damage in Alzheimer’s Disease. In order to develop a more specific method to evaluate Alzheimer’s Disease severity, Dr. Rokach's long-term goal is to provide a sensitive, selective, and reliable index the disease, which will detect it long before symptoms are obvious and allow early treatment.
Artificial Enzymes: Drug therapy is among the most successful and reliable treatments for various health issues. However, it is impeded by limitations in chemists’ ability to make the absolutely “correct” drug molecule in a timely and cost-effective manner. The development of artificial enzymes is a new approach in medicinal chemistry dedicated to the preparation of molecules with defined 3-D structure (molecular shape), and is of paramount importance to the drug discovery and development because the function of a drug is determined by its overall shape. Dr. Takenaka's group is developing a new class of artificial enzymes that shape-selectively synthesize molecules with the desired 3-D structure from easily available chemicals. Such technology will provide scientists ready access to precious medicinally active agents, and thus will not only accelerate the drug discovery process, but also lower costs of prescription drugs.
Antitumor and antioxidant agents: To generate new pharmaceutical lead compounds, it is important to have convenient access to new classes of core molecular structures. Sulfur and nitrogen heterocycles are attractive targets in medicinal chemistry because of the wide variety of bioactivities displayed by these compounds. Dr. Brown's group is involved In the search for of new antitumor and antioxidant agents by studying a large series of new cycloadditions, mostly involving thiones and thioureas as electron-rich partners, interacting with π-deficient multiple bonds.
Bioinorganic pharmaceuticals, antivirals and antibacterials: The lack of effective therapies for important biothreat agents including the Ebola virus and Fransicella has prompted a search for new approaches for the treatment of viral and bacterial diseases. While most therapies rely in organic molecule design, only a handful of examples of the use of inorganic compounds have been effective. Dr. Knight's group is developing a new inorganic approach in medicinal chemistry byt studying antibacterial and antiviral drugs based on small metal complexes and complex-protein conjugates.
Natural product isolation and characterization: Medicinal chemistry, the use of molecules to treat various diseases, has been largely inspired by Mother Nature’s creativity in synthesizing complex organic structures. The natural products chemists’ role is critical in the identification of key compounds from various living organisms ranging from simple plants to complex marine organisms. Various medicinal plants have been explored for their medicinal properties, including anti-cancer potential, by isolating the active molecules and characterizing them using several analytical tools, including mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Dr. Nesnas's group studies biologically active compounds with the aim of improving their efficacy through late stage chemical modifications.
Molecular analysis of pharmaceutical candidates: Many pharmaceuticals rely on molcular interactions with DNA. Dr. Baumand Dr. Olson are developing new techniques to determine electrostatic potential maps that enable the use of docking programs to select optimal molecular candidates for the design of new pharmaceuticals. This approach has the potential to increase the rate of innovation in medicinal chemistry research.
DNA replication, gene regulation.
Novel anti-cancer therapies, Alzheimer’s disease, cellular and molecular responses to environmental stress.
Neural engineering: Research is focused on application of stimulators to the central and peripheral nervous system to restore neurological function following stroke, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy or intractable pain.
Orthopedic biomechanics: Current research is focused on developing novel modeling methods of viscoelasticity in biological structures such as bone and cartilage. This project will aid in the understanding of post-surgery stress distribution in the repaired clavicle, aimed at reducing fracture re-occurrence.
Protein structure and function: Protein folding and aggregation and assembly of macromolecular complexes.
Synthetic biology: Biotechnology development, genetic engineering, reverse genetics and protein engineering.
Transport and separation processes: Current projects include development of computer simulation algorithms for estimating transport, reaction and nuclear magnetic resonance parameters of porous, composite and biological media including fuel cell gas diffusion media. Other recent projects have investigated membrane separation of gases, extraction of lipids from microalgae, the use of supercritical fluids for extraction of citrus oils, and modeling transport and reaction in polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells.
Vascular tissue engineering: The focus of this research is elucidating how cells interact with their microenvironment, such as topography and scaffold composition, and using this knowledge to develop strategies to produce tissue engineered grafts. The goal is to overcome the current challenges to producing a viable replacement for occluded coronary or peripheral arteries. The research will involve several of the steps required for producing a clinical product, including scaffold fabrication, cell culture analysis and the initial steps of translation.