We are fascinated by the ways in which molecules stick together. In living systems, there are many thousands of different types of molecules, each with its own shape and polarity, and yet each molecule knows where to go—that is, it "recognizes" its partner and sticks to it selectively; this molecular recognition is a central function of biochemistry. We study the recognition of proteins by synthetic organic compounds in order to help us better understand protein interactions in living systems and to develop molecules that can control these processes. This is the foundation for medicinal chemistry and clinical diagnostics. Students are involved in every aspect of the projects, including designing and implementing the experiments, analyzing the data, and communicating the work through publications and presentations.
Students in this research group become proficient in a variety of techniques, even in their first year of college. These can include: 1) organic synthesis to make peptides and other small molecules; 2) protein expression and purification using molecular biology techniques; 3) protein semisynthesis; 3) NMR spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, and X-ray crystallography to characterize molecular structure; 3) microcalorimetry, stopped-flow spectroscopy, and gel electrophoresis to measure the thermodynamics and kinetics of binding; 4) UV-visible, fluorescence, and circular dichroism spectroscopy to study electronic and structural properties; and 5) computational modeling of intermolecular interactions. This combination of methods paints a detailed picture of the chemical processes we study, and it offers students a breadth of quantitative and qualitative technical skills and depth of insight that is an excellent foundation for further work in the areas of organic chemistry, biophysical chemistry, medicinal chemistry, biochemistry, bioengineering, and biotechnology.
An introduction for new students is available at the link at the bottom of this page. Please contact Dr. Urbach to learn more about our research and to inquire about joining the group.