Nanomolecular Building Projects

Basic information

  • Dates: Summer 2022
  • Student researcher(s):
    • Krista Zogg, Kachel Bedow, Fenton Lawler, Madison Hoogstra, Dafna Heule
  • Faculty researcher(s):

Chemistry students work alongside their professor to investigate molecular building processes.

Building with molecules

When you build something, you probably put it together piece by piece. Building with molecules is no different. The difficulty is that because molecules are so small (1 billionth of a meter!), we put them in the same solution together, and then they must assemble themselves. There can be many new connections formed in solution, and we work to figure it all out. We start by taking ‘snapshot’ color measurements every step of the way as we slowly add the pieces together.

Sorting it all out

Imagine you are listening to a musical ensemble on stage...except the curtain is drawn closed so you can only hear them. Now, imagine all the musicians are playing instruments that you have never heard before. Can you figure out how many people are playing? Can you figure out what each instrument sounds like? What you are trying to do with instruments and their sounds, we do with molecules and their color. We also work on several other interesting systems including biomolecular systems with tryptophan zippers or G-protein α-complex.

Involving undergraduate researchers

Equilibrium, UV-vis spectroscopy, and chemical solutions are all topics covered in general chemistry courses. Therefore, this research is ideal for undergraduate students. Often, students who have just completed their first year at Calvin join our lab and then continue for several years. Most will co-author at least one peer-reviewed publication and attend a national meeting of the American Chemical Society. The lab also employs inmates at the Handlon Correctional Facility that participate in the Calvin Prison Initiative.

Helping researchers around the world

Many scientists around the world are developing intriguing systems in which the ensemble of molecules work together to do something useful. It might be nanomachine, or an artificial enzyme that catalyzes a special reaction, or a nanocage that encapsulates a particular guest molecule. Regardless of the specific target, methodology from our lab can help them thermodynamically characterize their system.

We have written a computer program called SIVVU that models spectrophotometric titration data to answer four key questions about complicated ensembles of molecules:

1. How many distinct chemical species form over the course of the titration?

2. What is the identity of each?

3. What is the color for each?

4. What are the equilibrium constants for the reactions between them?

With these questions answered, chemists can effectively tailor the functionality of their ensemble systems and synthesize other inviting nanosize structures. is our website that makes the useful calculations available to the world. Check it out for yourself.


Douglas Vander Griend

Douglas Vander Griend

Professor; Director, Clean Water Institute;, Department Chair
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