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Campus Spotlight

John C. Williams
Clarke Science 202

Dr. John C. Williams, Professor of Chemistry

Year began at RIC: 1972

Students working on project:

Ursula Brandl, Chemistry B.S., May 2012
Kristen Chauvin, Bio-Chemistry B.S., May 2014
Sean Farrell, Psychology B.A., May 2013
Chris Funk, Chemistry B.S., May 2013
Chris Gemski, Biology B.A., May 2010; Biology M.A., May 2012
Nick Hayes, Chemistry B.S., May 2014
Angela Jackavone, Chemistry/Biochemistry B.S., December 2011
Project: Microwave Assisted Organic Synthesis

Sean Farrell, Chris Funk, Chris Gemski, Kristen Chauvin, Dr. Williams, and Ursula Brandl with the Biotage Initiator® Microwave Synthesizer

Dr. Williams joined RIC soon after the Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry was created at the college. Since then, he has advanced the role of undergraduate research in chemistry at the college, developing and promoting research as an important undergraduate experience. Dr. Williams continues to work with student teams on exciting research projects.

In the past five years, Dr. Williams has been the PI or Co-PI for more than $400,000 in grant funding from INBRE (NIH), EPSCoR (NSF), and STAC (RI Science and Technology Advisory Council) grants, RIBGHE Title II and the RIC Faculty Research Fund, including an INBRE grant that funded the purchase of the Biotage Initiator® Microwave Synthesizer used in his current research project: Microwave Assisted Organic Synthesis. The only other microwave reactor of its kind in Rhode Island is at Brown University.

The Microwave greatly increases the rate of chemical reactions, often with increased yields. In one reaction, the multistep process takes place in 1/40 of the time it would take with a "bench top" experiment. This allows time for more experiments, more learning, and more people to work in the lab. Benefits are seen in the number of students involved in Dr. Williams' studies and the practical, hands-on research experience they are receiving. In the past five years, this experience has helped more than 30 students enter graduate programs and/or find laboratory jobs at the Bachelor's level after college. Dr. Williams hopes to one day use microwave technology for all synthetic chemistry experiments in his research lab and in the organic chemistry courses' laboratory.

Work in Dr. Williams' laboratory work includes synthesis of a polypeptide for treating the consequences of traumatic brain injury (in collaboration with John Marshall, Ph.D., Professor of Medical Science at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University); synthesis of new antibiotics and antibiotic plastics that are active against resistant strains of bacteria; and developing anti-cancer agents, especially against breast cancer.

Students can concentrate on more than one specific aspect of the research effort. For example, Chris Gemski, pursuing an Biology and working on the polypeptide project, found that some of the compounds being studied are fluorescent, meaning they can be tracked and located inside a cell using a fluorescent microscope (in the RIC Biology Department). This finding has implications for targeting nuclei and mitochondria of both normal and malignant cells.

These studies could result in new drugs at a time when many of the pharmaceutical industry's major drug patents are expiring. As Dr. Williams points out, even if there is no eventual commercial application of this work, "the research projects are a great vehicle for teaching and preparing students for life after college."

Angela Jackavone and Nick Hayes in Dr. Williams' laboratory

The project described was supported by the RI-INBRE Award #P20RR016457 from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), NIH. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NCRR or the NIH.​

Page last updated: October 06, 2017