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Chemistry Students Study Metal-Organic Frameworks

Posted by Pengxeu Thao '15, Roseville on Tuesday, Jul. 15, 2014


Zack Mensinger, assistant professor of chemistry, is one of 11 University of Minnesota, Morris professors working with students in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Summer Research Program. This summer Mensinger is working with Magen Nivison ’17, Plymouth (HHMI), Brandon Karels ’15, Plymouth (HHMI), Matthew Smith ’16, Willmar (Chemistry Discipline Undergraduate Research Fund), Nathan Ferrey ’16, Mahtomedi (North Star STEM Alliance), and Ena Martinez ’17, Elizabeth, New Jersey (North Star STEM Alliance).

Mensinger and his students are researching metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), molecules capable of adsorbing carbon dioxide and other gasses as well as proteins and peptides. By learning how to synthesize MOFs, students can examine and adsorb different peptide structures. The team will be researching how these properties can be applied towards selectively adsorbing peptides related to disease. One of their research interests would be the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Because certain proteins and peptides are present in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, this research might help others better target treatments for Alzheimer’s, none of which currently exist.

“Some of the protein conformations in the brain can become neurotoxic and lead to neurodegeneration like that observed in Alzheimer’s patients. Our goal is to better understand these proteins,” says Mensinger. “It’s great that we have such excellent support for undergraduate summer research opportunities here at Morris and can investigate these important topics.”

This research opportunity enables students to cultivate relevant and applicable research experiences at an undergraduate level. Not only do they get a head start with hands-on experience, but they also have the chance to engage with real-world problems and prepare for research or medical careers.

“Being part of summer undergraduate research not only has allowed me to participate in something that I enjoy, but also furthers my desire to learn more about a particular area of chemistry,” says Karels. Martinez, Nivison, and Smith agree. “The idea that we are doing research that could lead to a greater understanding of a disease that impacts so many people's lives is also amazing,” adds Ferrey.

Mensinger’s project began at the beginning of the summer, shortly after he completed his first year as a professor at Morris. By the end of the summer his students will compile their findings for an HHMI poster presentation.

The Undergraduate Summer Research Program is supported in part by a grant to the University of Minnesota, Morris from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program.

Pictured above (left to right): Matthew Smith ’16, Nathan Ferrey ’16, Ena Martinez ’17, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Zack Mensinger, Magen Nivison ’17, and Brandon Karels ’15.




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