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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Research Highlights


Dr. Abul Hussam

Dr. Abul Hussam: Analytical and Environmental Chemistry: Measurement and mitigation of arsenic in water is the current focus of my research. We are developing analytical techniques for the study of toxic species in the environment. We are particularly interested in the aquatic chemistry of arsenic in groundwater and the development of inexpensive water filters. We have devised simple filters (SONO filter) to purify groundwater from toxic arsenic species. The innovation was awarded the 2007 National Academy of Engineering - Grainger Challenge Prize for Sustainability the gold medal and one million dollar. More than 225,000 such filters are in use in Bangladesh and other countries producing more than a billion liter of safe drinking water for the affected people. We are also interested in the use of electrochemical techniques to understand the diffusion behavior and electron transfer kinetics of lipophilic redox species in organized media such as micelles and microemulsions. To complement these studies we have built a precision equilibrium headspace gas chromatograph and using solid phase microextraction to study the partitioning of volatile species in ambient atmosphere and in organized media. (Extended profile)

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Dr. John Schreifels

Dr. John Schreifels: "My laboratory works on problems associated with the solid – gas interface.  We study molecular events occurring in the top few atom layers of solid surfaces (thickness levels of about 1/10000 the thickness of a human hair). 

Recently, we studied the interaction of fuel additives with stainless steel surfaces.  Certain compounds (called metal deactivators, MDA) are added to bulk fuel to eliminate fuel degradation during long term storage under ambient conditions.  It turns out that fuels also form dark thick deposits on injectors of jet engines during operation.  The temperature in the injector is much higher, which means the deposition rate is much higher than in the bulk fuel.  These deposits can cause catastrophic failure of the engine. 

The presence of MDA can reduce this effect.  We studied the fundamental interactions of the compound with stainless steel in our instrument under ultra – high –vacuum conditions.  The vacuum insured that we were studying only the interaction of the compound with the stainless steel surface.  We found that the compound broke into smaller fragments upon initial exposure of the surface to the compound. 

There were several new compounds generated in addition to the original compound that might have been the cause of the reduced deposition of residues on the surface.  In fact because of the temperature at which each of these compounds desorb, from the surface we believe the new compounds may very well be responsible for the reduced rate of deposition. 

Using the insights from this study, we will continue to deposit other compounds with chemical structures similar to the compounds detected on the surface to try to understand how to produce an improved effect.  Additionally, we are studying the adsorption of compounds that are used to reduce the extent of corrosion. 

Finally, our studies have involved metallic surfaces and how they interact with compounds to produce new compounds; these metal surfaces are often called catalysts and are used extensively in the chemical industry."



Dr. Barney Bishop

Dr. Barney Bishop:  "In my laboratory, we are interested in applying peptide/protein engineering principles to investigate biomolecules and their function.  The rampant increase in the incidence of multi-drug resistant bacteria and the threat of bioterrorism necessitate new approaches to preventing and treating infection. 

Higher organisms produce a complex host of molecules that they use to combat infection and invading microbes.  In these defensive mechanisms, peptides and proteins consistently stand out as critical elements. Therefore, we are interested in studying the biophysical properties of these molecules and the varied antimicrobial mechanisms employed by them. 

As a model system, we are looking at the defensin family of peptides, whose members demonstrate antimicrobial activity against a broad spectrum of pathogens including bacteria, fungi and viruses.  We believe that such studies will provide valuable insights into strategies for combating bacterial and viral infections, and we intend use this information in the design of novel therapeutic agents and biomaterials."


Dr.Robin Couch
The Couch lab is researching several aspects of isoprene biosynthesis, personalized medicine and anticholesterol therapeutics, and the development of novel therapeutics for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. For more information, follow this link:


Young-Ok You

My research is primarily focused on the investigation of the biosynthesis of biologically active compounds from bacteria and/or fungi. Medicines derived from these natural products include antibiotics, anti-cancer, and anti-cholesterol drugs. Synthesizing these compounds using traditional chemical synthesis can be challenging especially when their structures are complicated with several stereo-centers, cis- and trans- double bonds. Synthesizing the analogues of these compounds using biological methods like mutagenesis or hybrid protein(s) have been somewhat successful but some of the attempts have failed. One of the reasons is that the current understanding of these synthases is partial. I will study the mechanisms of these synthases that has not been fully understood. I envision this research will broaden the potential of the biosynthases as synthetic tools for the assembly of natural compounds.




Dr. Gregory Foster

Dr Gregory Foster:  “Students in the Foster research laboratory investigate the sources, reactions and transport of contaminants in the aquatic environment.  Currently, we have two ongoing lines of active research.  The first involves determining the amounts and sources of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in storm runoff in the Anacostia River, a tributary of the Potomac River that runs through Washington, DC. 

PCBs are persistent, carcinogenic organochlorine contaminants that are thought to adversely affect both human and environmental health.  The Anacostia River is one of the three most heavily contaminated PCB regions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where the highest sedimentary PCB concentrations have been reported to date.  We are aiding in a massive clean up of PCBs in the Anacostia River.  Storm flow runoff is the primary mode of input of PCBs in the Anacostia River, and storm flow inputs must be characterized to design effective, long-term clean up strategies. 

The second line of research is in determining the inputs of pharmaceutical and personal care chemicals in the Potomac River.  Over 32 wastewater treatments plants in the metropolitan DC region release pharmaceutical chemicals through wastewater discharge, and some of these biologically active chemicals are severely impairing reproductive development in fish species by serving as estrogen mimics (as recently reported in the Washington Post).  We are investigating the nature of pharmaceutical chemical inputs and potential estrogenic effects in aquatic organisms.”


Dr. Douglas Mose

Dr. Douglas Mose and Dr. George Mushrush, and their graduate students, have been examining the variability of radioactivity in air and water. The radioactivity is a known carcinogen, and is present as isotopes of radon and polonium. Their studies have shown that airborne radioactivity in homes is significantly greater than average in homes located in the western part of Fairfax County, and that in all homes, the indoor airborne radioactivity is significantly increased during rainstorms.

They also found that homes with cinder block basement walls and oil or gas furnaces tend to have more indoor radioactivity than homes with poured concrete walls and electrical heat. Recently Mose and Mushrush traveled to Poland as part of an international study of radioactivity, and made similar discoveries because soils in Poland and Virginia are generally similar.

Their studies on drinking water have shown that radioactivity is present in drinking water provided by water wells, and that most of the Fairfax County water wells are 5-10 times as radioactive as the maximum recommended by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They have examined enough homes to determine which bedrock materials are of particular concern, and they experimented with several methods of radioactivity removal from water and developed an inexpensive nearly 100% removal technology.

Drs. Mose and Mushrush, and their students, have been studying steam contamination by heavy metals in Prince William Forest National Park, to determine if current remediation efforts are successful. They are also monitoring the deposition in rainfall of mercury in central Virginia. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal, most of which originates from coal-burning power stations. Mose and Mushrush operate part of the mercury deposition network supported by EPA/DOE/USGS scientists.


Dr. George Mushrush

Dr. George W. Mushrush:  “Students in my research laboratory are involved primarily in the areas of middle distillate fuels, both jet and diesel.   Our group is involved in several areas of research. First we are the only group doing trace organic analysis of both the crude and its subsequently derived fuels.  A few parts per million of certain heterocyclic compounds can destroy the usefulness of a fuel.  We are investigating fuels from all over the world for these compounds.  

A second line of research involves biofuels as a replacement for diesel ground transportation fuels.  We have found that only soy-derived oils to be viable from both a production and cost standpoint. We are currently investigating these biofuels in marine environments. 

A third line that is just commencing is the flammability issue of jet fuels under catastrophic failure conditions. Our group is investigating methods for decreasing flammability. 

A fourth area of research is the synthesis of less toxic fuel and aircraft deicing fluids. The currently used ethylene glycol is quite toxic and many of the sugar derived compounds that we have synthesized perform in a superior fashion and are less toxic than the glycol materials.”



Dr. Robert Honeychuck

Dr. Robert Honeychuck:  “We are in the business of synthesizing small molecules which either are in bacteria, or look like those in bacteria.  Currently, these include molecules which bind iron in living bacterial organisms.  In the long term we would like to take these molecules and attach them to inert surfaces so that they could be used in iron sequestering or detection. 

In addition, it might be possible to mimic the environment in bacteria where the molecules reside, in order to determine their structure and function (why they are there).  More complete knowledge of the function of the natural molecules in bacteria may provide us with methods of slowing the growth of bacteria on food and in host humans, and might also provide new ways to bind metals in humans and render those metals inert or harmless. 

We divide our time into three general parts: making, purifying, and proving.  The making of these compounds in the laboratory is the part where we use imaginative methods of putting molecular pieces together.  Our attention then turns to the sometimes endless task of obtaining clean samples of these compounds, free of items which tend to obscure their properties.  When we have clean compounds we can then provide convincing evidence that we have made what we said we made. 

Part of what makes the whole process exciting is the collaborative nature of it: the bacterial connection is through a group in the GMU Department of Molecular and Microbiology."




Paul Cooper

Dr. Paul Cooper: 
Dr. Paul Cooper investigates the radiation chemistry of icy satellite surfaces and the formation of radicals and hydrogen bonded complexes in rare gas matrices. In collaboration with NASA and JPL, research is ongoing in the area of understanding how molecules that are of astrobiological interest, such as amino acids and molecular oxygen, are formed on the surfaces of icy satellites.



College of Arts and Sciences

Chemistry & Biochemistry Department MS 3E2 4400 University Drive Fairfax, VA 22030-4444
Planetary Hall (campus map) Room 303 Phone 703-993-1070 Fax 703-993-1055


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