Cluster 8
The Chemistry of Life



Core Courses

Organic Molecules: Nature's Building Blocks and Drug Design

Organic molecules – proteins, carbohydrates, fats, etc – are the basic construction materials for all life forms.  Organic chemists spend their careers making, breaking, analyzing, and thinking about them.  We will introduce how chemists interact with nature's building blocks in the lab, with molecular models, and on paper, to show how chemistry is applied to solve real-world problems in the fields of pharmaceuticals, energy, and materials science. An emphasis will be placed the importance of the three-dimensional shape of molecules and how this property influences biological activity and the ability to treat diseases. We will discuss the organic chemistry of pharmaceutical molecules and specific drug-protein interactions that help us understand their mechanisms of action. Labs will involve chemical synthesis, renewable chemistry, and the application of computer modeling techniques to the design of new medicinal compounds.


What are organi materials and how are they used in our everyday lives?

Among many organic materials around us are dyes, pigments, including complex molecules that are used in cell phone displays, liquid crystals found in LED LCD TV sets, and a variety of polymers. Polymers (from Greek poly- "many" and -mer, "parts") are large molecules, or macromolecules, composed of many repeating subunits, or monomers. Many things we buy, eat, wear, consume, and discard are made of polymers. Our bodies are also mostly made of polymers: bones, muscles, DNA, skin, hair, to name just a few. In this course, we will discuss most common structures of organic materials, their synthesis, properties and applications. We will study the relationships between molecular structure and properties. Finally, we will cover typical applications of organic molecules and polymers in sustainable energy generation, energy storage, and consumer electronics. Labs will involve synthesis of different dyes and polymers and characterization of their properties. We will also make solar cells using naturally occurring organic dyes.


Energy Materials for a Better World

Our economy, in its current form, is not sustainable. We burn fossil fuels to drive cars, run factories, heat or cool houses. But sooner or later, fossil fuel supplies will run out and new energy sources need to be promptly explored. We will cover the fundamental principles of materials for sustainable energy harvesting, storage and transformation: thermoelectrics, Li-batteries, photocatalysts. Current challenges in materials synthesis and performance optimization will also be discussed. Labs will involve synthesis of semiconducting materials and characterization of their properties.