What's Happening in Chemistry Circles

Issue #94 March 7, 2002

web address: http://www.chem.tamu.edu/ugrad/ugradinf.html

[a publication of the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University]

written by Dr. John L. Hogg


It seems like I'm always giving excuses for why the most recent issue of Orbitals is a little late so here goes the one for this month. Janet and I had a chance to go to Florida to witness the space shuttle launch on March 1 and that little adventure put me behind schedule. It was an opportunity we couldn't miss since Janet's brother, Holland Ford, was the project coordinator for the advanced camera for surveys which was just installed on the Hubble space telescope today as part of this Hubble repair mission by the shuttle Columbia. This $76 million digital camera weighs about 900 pounds and is the size of a telephone booth. He said we should expect to see fantastic things coming from this camera in the near future. Anyway, we had a great time and were very impressed to see the launch. If you ever have an opportunity to see one I urge you to take advantage of it.


Trevor Clayton, senior chemistry major, has been admitted to the first year class of The University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio. He has received a four year scholarship from the US ARMY, so now he is officially 2nd. Lt. Trevor L. Clayton. Trevor became engaged to Michelle Courtney on February 15 of this year. He graduates in May and she will complete her studies in December. Trevor has set up a web page where you may view photos of his Army commissioning ceremony and his proposal. Congratulations Trevor and Michelle. Here is the web page: http://people.tamu.edu/~tlc1460/

Brandon Posvar, senior chemistry major, has been admitted to medical school at U.T.-Houston. Congratulations, Brandon!


Allan Wilson, B.S. 2000, has decided to leave Abbott Labs and enter a Ph.D. program in chemistry. He has been accepted at UC-Irvine and the University of Chicago.

Charles Kreiman (B.S. 2001) sent the following e-mail after starting his new job in Connecticut recently.

"Dr. Hogg, Sorry it took me so long to write. Between moving halfway across the country and work, I haven't really had much time. Anyway, like I told you before, I'm working as a synthetic organic chemist at Bayer Pharmaceutical Division in West Haven, CT. My boss and I are working on exploratory research for diabetes and obesity. Basically we synthesize new lead compounds for testing. If any of our compound show a significant amount of biological activity, then more chemists are devoted to the project to synthesize large numbers of analogs. Pretty simple huh? I would say that eighty percent of my job is lab work, running reactions, purification of products, analyzing spectra, etc. The rest of my job is on the computer, searching reaction databases and entering my notes into our electronic lab journal. There's nothing but the best and most up to date equipment around here, which makes the job exciting. No offense, but academic labs are nothing compared to the pharmaceutical industry. By the way, I'm finding out from my colleagues that the job market is pretty poor for Ph.D's, but there's a world of opportunity for BS and MS level chemists right now. You might want to pass that info along. Connecticut is cold right now. Don't let anybody lie to you, it's cold if you're used to the mild Texas weather. It's starting to grow on me though. The scenery is beautiful. There's nothing but trees and water everywhere. New York city is only an hour away. I haven't ventured that far yet. I'm still trying to learn my way around New Haven. Other than that, things are going great. Thanks for everything, and tell your wife that I said hi. If there's anything I can help you with, give me a ring at work (203)812-2669 or you can email me at: Charles.Kreiman.b@bayer.com. I'll keep in touch."

Chuck Kreiman

Dr. Tara (Decuir) Todd ( B.S.1992, Ph.D. 1997) and husband Ben recently sent a photo of the newest addition to their family. Zachary Neil Todd, born January 13, 2002, joins an older sister. Congratulations Tara and Ben.


Dr. Coran Watanabe will join the Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor of chemistry on July 15. She is interested in identifying some undergraduate students who would like to begin research in her group as soon as possible. She received her B.S. degree from the University of Hawaii in 1992, her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 1998 and has been doing postdoctoral research with Dr. Peter Schultz at The Scripps Institute since then. Undergraduate research projects available are:

Synthesis of retinoid homo- and hetero-ring fused dimers and investigation of their biological effects.

Beta-lactoglobulin (BLG) is the principal whey protein in milk, yet no specific biological function has been ascribed definitively to this protein, although several possibilities have been suggested including a possible role in transport. In vitro the protein has been observed to catalyze the self-condensation of b-ionylideneacetaldehyde (C-15 aldehyde) to give a ring-fused dimer.

The dimer can actually be synthesized in a biomimetic fashion using proline for asymmetric catalysis. In my lab, we will investigate the scope of this reaction by generating a library of homo- and hetero-ring-fused dimers. We will also examine the effects of these molecules on a variety of cell-based screens, including the ability of these molecules to differentiate embryonic stem (ES) cells into different cellular types or stimulate neurite outgrowth. Since b-lactoglobulin is the principal whey component in milk, it is possible that some of these molecules could have consequential effects on developmental processes. Interestingly, retinoic acid has been shown to differentiate ES cells into cardiomyocytes and neuronal cells depending upon specific culture conditions. We will also examine whether synthesis of these molecules can be effected by unprocessed milk which might possibly shed some light on the biological actions of this protein.

Natural Product Cell-Based Screening

Nature has provided us a rich source of bioactive substances, which have found wide application in medicine, industry, and agriculture. Many secondary metabolites are in use today as antibiotics, anti-tumor agents, antifungals, immunosuppressive agents, antivirals, enzyme inhibitors, perfumes, insecticides, and growth promoters. In my lab, we will design reporter assays and cell-based screens to assay marine and herbal extracts for compounds that induce or inhibit processes like lymphocyte chemotaxis, phase II enzyme induction (cancer preventative agents), embryonic stem cell differentiation, and neurite outgrowth. Compounds of interest will be isolated and their structure elucidated. In the long term, we will investigate the mode of action of these drugs and identify their cellular targets. Moreover, genetic techniques will be used to access the biosynthetic machinery from these host organisms, paving the way for their expression in surrogate microbial host strains.

Interested students may contact Dr. Watanabe by e-mail at: coran@scripps.edu


Amelia Hessheimer, senior chemistry major, is spending the spring semester studying in Spain and recently sent the following e-mail. I hope she won't mind me sharing it with you.

"Hello all:

This is a pretty long-overdue email. I have been meaning to email you (let you know how things are going here) for quite a while, but the Spanish lifestyle has rubbed off on me a bit (i.e., I have been a little lazy).

I hope things are going well on the other side of the pond. Life in Madrid is very good. I am living in a piso (flat) within walking distance of the University. I have two flatmates, both Spaniards/female and both very amiable. We watch "Operacióón Triunfo" (about the Spanish equivalent of "Survivor") together in the kitchen almost every night.

Classes have only been going for about two weeks, and so far they haven ´t been too bad. It ´s a little difficult to listen to the professor, to understand what he/she is saying, and to take notes at the same time. I have had to borrow the notes of some fellow students a few times to get all the information. Hopefully, though, by the time I leave in June I will be a regular Spanish pro.

I ´m also working a lot in the lab here. I think the first week I logged about 40 hrs (as there weren´t any classes), and the past two I ´ve done between 16 and 20. I can understand pretty much everything that my lab advisor tells me to do, though occasionally some of her explanations of the assays that we do lose something in the translation. Everyone is really friendly and helpful, though.

Though I have spent most of the past four weeks enjoying life in Madrid, I have also made two trips outside the city. The first was to Salamanca, which is a city about 2 hrs. away by car. I went with a doctoral student from the lab and two of her college friends. Salamanca is truly a beautiful city, even better this year because it is the European city of culture for 2002 and thus has a lot of attractions/exhibitions right now that it wouldn't have in other years. I spent my day in Salamanca wandering the cobblestone streets, visiting 12th century cathedral (which was amazing) and the University. We also took in an exhibit of Rodin sculptures, including "El Pensador" and "El Beso" ("The Thinker" and "The Kiss"). One of the highlights of the day for me, however, was the great meal that we ate. We went to a mesón, which is a sort of traditional Spanish restaurant where you consume and share mass quantities of food (meat in particular). I think we had bread, soup, salad, an assortment of meats (lots of jamón, or ham), fried potatoes, a pastry, coffee, and even a chupita (shot) to top it all off. I stuffed myself silly and kind of paid for it later...but it ´s all good. The food was amazing.

The second excursion from Madrid I made last weekend. I went snowboarding in Sierra Nevada (outside Granada, home of the famed Alhambra, about 5 hrs. south of Madrid) with a lady professor in my lab and a group of her friends. The day I spent snowboarding had its highs and its lows. The resort was pretty crowded, there wasn´t a lot of snow, and I fell a lot at first. I started to do a bit better in the afternoon, however, and probably got a bit too "ambitious" and ended up banging up my knees pretty badly. I didn´t want to, but the rest of the group forced me to go see the doctor, who told me that I had a severe contusion of the bursa in my right knee and should stay off of it for a couple of days. My knees looked (and still do) really bad - all swollen and bruised - but they were pretty numb and didn ´t hurt. I was bummed that I couldn´t snowboard the next day, so to compensate I went out with the group and danced and ! partied til about 6 AM. Though everyone I was traveling with was older (late 20s/early 30s), they were nonetheless a lot of fun. I think that Spaniards are crazy, however, by the immense lack of sleep under which they function. The people I was with stayed out til dawn, slept only two or three hours, and then skied the entire next day... I swear their lifestyle will be the death of me!

I ´m also very excited to say that I have made arrangements to go to Dublin (¡¡¡¡¡¡BONO!!!), Galway, and Limerick, Ireland, in less than two weeks. One of my friends from ABQ will be in Ireland with his college rugby team, and I ´m going to visit with him a bit. There is a minor problem in that I don ´t have accommodations for every night of my stay, so I ´ve got my fingers crossed that everything will work out. I will be in Dublin on St. Paddy ´s Day, though, and am pretty pumped about the prospect of partying down with all those crazy blokes in Eire.

Well, I think I ´ve rambled enough here; I hope at least some of it was enjoyable. I would love to hear from you, so if you have the chance please drop me an email. For the more ambitious, my cell phone number is +34 687 665 848 and my address is Vallehermoso 67-3 CI., 28015 Madrid, Spain. I also have a phone number in the apartment; but seeing as no one but me speaks English there, it ´s not an advisable number to call. (Let ´s just say that there have been some "incidences"...) I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Ta luego, Amelia"



The annual Chemistry Undergraduate Awards Banquet coordinated by the student affiliate chapter of the American Chemical Society has been scheduled for Friday, April 26. More details will be available at a later date.


Ms. Warren has just finished putting the 2002-2003 B.S. and B.A. chemistry degree plans on the chemistry web site. Also included here is detailed information about the biological chemistry tracks, the environmental chemistry tracks and the education track. Specific courses (not included in the actual catalog) required for completion of these tracks are listed here. http://www.chem.tamu.edu/ugrad/


HOUSTON (Feb. 8, 2002)-The Shell Oil Company Foundation has awarded $42,500 in three departmental grants to Texas A&M University's College of Science. The purpose of the Shell Departmental Grants is to strengthen activities in specified academic areas in colleges and universities with well-developed areas of teaching and research.

The College of Science's Department of Physics used the funds to award five scholarships to deserving undergraduate physics students. The Department of Chemistry funded its Graduate Student Orientation and Graduate Student Visitation Weekend programs with the Shell grant. The Department of Statistics funds were used to increase student computing resources and for graduate student travel and recruiting.

The Shell Foundation contributed $185,200 in departmental grants to Texas A&M University in 2001 in the following areas: accounting, taxation, information and operations management, chemistry, physics, statistics, geology, geophysics, oceanography, chemical engineering, civil engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial hygiene and safety engineering, mechanical engineering, and petroleum engineering. Overall giving to Texas A&M University in 2001 totaled $410,037.

The Shell Oil Company Foundation focuses on making a difference in the communities where Shell people work and live. In 2001, the Shell Foundation awarded approximately $27 million in gifts to qualified organizations focusing on areas of civic and public policy, community involvement, culture and the arts, education, environment and health and human services.

For more information about the Shell Foundation, visit http://www.shellus.com/community/involvement/shell_foundation.html.