Roanoke College

Available URAP Projects for 2013-2014



Apply for URAP by March 1

Available projects

Dr. Cathy SariskyPurine Biosynthesis in Disease-Causing Organisms
Dr. Catherine Sarisky, Chemistry

The purine salvage pathway is a promising target for drug development, as all organisms require purines, and most use the salvage pathway to interconvert between the forms available from the environment/host organism (for parasites) and the forms required for growth.  The URAP scholar will use molecular biology, genomics, biochemistry, enzymology, and analytical chemistry to characterize several novel enzymes that we suspect are involved in these important biosynthetic steps in organisms responsible for infectious diseases.

 Dr. Catherine Sarisky earned a B. A. in chemistry from New College of Florida and a M. S. and Ph. D. in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology, where she worked on protein structure and design with Dr. Stephen Mayo.  Her current research interests focus on the biosynthesis of purine molecules in archaea and in disease-causing microorganisms.

Dr. Skip BrenzovichDesigning Cleaner Chemical Reactions
Dr. William "Skip" Brenzovich, Chemistry

From plastics to drugs to food additives, chemical synthesis permeates our lives.  However, the process of making and designing new molecules leads to the production of large amounts of waste materials.  Using the tenets of "Green Chemistry", our lab is investigating the use of solid-phase catalysts to reexplore reactions in an effort to reduce both costs and waste.  During the project, students will learn the process of chemical synthesis while exploring the creation of new and interesting molecules that are potential starting materials for the synthesis of pharmaceutical agents.

Dr. Skip Brenzovich joined the faculty at Roanoke College in 2011.  He received his B.S. in chemistry from the College of William and Mary and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA.  Dr. Brenzovich then completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, designing new reactions involving gold.  Dr. Brenzovich's research interests focus on the interplay of the organic and biological molecules and metals, both inside and out of the reaction flask.

Dr. Tim JohannInvestigations of Antibiotic Resistance in the Bacterium that Causes Tuberculosis
Dr. Tim Johann, Chemistry

Tuberculosis is a terrible disease that is responsible for more than one million deaths each year (World Health Organization).  The management of this disease has been complicated by the infectious agent developing resistance to many of the antibiotics used to treat it.  We aim to produce, purify, and characterize proteins that contribute to the various resistances demonstrated by this bacterium.  By doing so, we hope to gain understanding that would help other research groups produce better antibiotics or use current antibiotics in a more effective manner.

Dr. Johann received his B.A. from Hamline University in biology and chemistry.  He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).  He had a seven year career in biotechnology where he was a scientist, project manager, and the director of a research group.  After leaving industry, he taught for four years at Radford University and is now pleased to be a member of the Roanoke College Department of Chemistry.  His hobbies include cooking, reading science fiction, playing games with his 7 year old son, and singing to his 1 year old daughter.


Real-Time Measurement of Photosynthesis
Dr. Richard B. Keithley, Chemistry

You and I are alive today thanks to Nature's photosynthetic process whereby plants and algae produce oxygen from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. Despite being such a fundamental process, it can be difficult to measure oxygen evolution in real time. Traditional sensors are either too large, too slow, non-specific, or in some cases rely on the use of toxic chemicals. The URAP scholar will integrate principles of analytical instrumentation, biochemistry, and botany to design novel sensors and measure photosynthesis in real time.

Dr. Keithley is a native Virginian and earned his B.S. in Chemistry from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He then received his Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he designed neural probes and measured neuronal communication in the brain. Prior to his arrival at Roanoke College, Dr. Keithley worked as a postdoctoral research associate at The University of Notre Dame where he lead a team of undergraduate researchers studying neuronal metabolism on a single cell level. Their work lead to the development of novel instrumentation and culminated in multiple publications with undergraduate students listed as co-authors.

The Effects or Earthworm Invaders on Forest Biodiversity
Dr. Rachel Collins, Biology

Forests are teeming with biological diversity and nearly all of this diversity lives in the forest understories.  These understories can contain a plethora of blooming wildflowers in the spring, dull and brightly colored salamanders on warm moist evenings and abundant tree seedlings year round.  Yet other local forests understories are devoid of this diversity.  Why are some forests more diverse than others?  Are humans causing these differences?  Some of the most important ecological drivers in forests are hidden underground.  This project will examine the link between exotic earthworms and forest understory diversity in Roanoke County forests.  The URAP scholar on this project will work with the professor collecting data from forests, conducting laboratory studies, and performing computer analyses.

Designing a Brighter Future with Chemistry
Dr. Steven Hughes, Chemistry

With 7% of the world's total power production going to lighting, we need to improve the way we use our power. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are already considerably more efficient when compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, but even they have room for improvement. The majority of energy loss in an LED is in the phosphor, which shifts the color of the light to the warm white light we enjoy. Semiconductor nanocrystals make ideal phosphors for LEDs because they strongly absorb the ultraviolet light from the LED and have a tunable emission color, meaning they can be made to emit light from blue to red. The goal of this research project is to design and synthesize new, "greener" nanocrystals that do not contain any toxic materials. These nanocrystals have the potential to define a new model of phosphor for future LED lighting.

Dr. Steven Hughes joined the Roanoke College faculty in 2013. He received his B.A. from Connecticut College in chemistry, before moving across the country to complete his Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. Upon completing his doctorate, Dr. Hughes joined a group out of Intel in launching SpectraWatt, a solar cell startup company outside of Portland, Oregon. After several years in industry, he happily returned to academia as a visiting faculty member at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. There he began his undergraduate research program studying cadmium-free nanocrystals for LED phosphor replacements and catalysis, which he intends to continue at Roanoke.

Apply for URAP by March 1

Other Opportunities to do Research (Non-URAP)

You may already know that taking part in student research is a great way to build a resume, develop relationships with professors and learn through firsthand experiences. But did you know that the science division is not the only one offering excellent research opportunities? Or that taking part in student research can help establish relationships with people located off campus?

Student research creatively blends hands on learning with a person's areas of interest, creating a convenient outlet for students to get involved while gaining knowledge and networking with others. Ranging from sociology to psychology and beyond, many departments at Roanoke College offer some form of student research opportunity. Our history department, for example, is currently working with Camp Powhatan as they try to uncover the history behind the camp through interviews and archeological digs. If you would like to take advantage of these great learning opportunities or would like to find out more about the student research being conducted in various departments, ask a professor or contact Dr. Julie Lyon (Director of Student/Faculty Research) at