IMG_0453Blake Erickson has been named one of our Undergraduates of the Quarter for Winter term 2016.  He grew up in Fairview, Oregon where he attended Reynolds High School which has one of the largest student bodies in the state of Oregon.

Blake said he didn’t even consider an out-of-state school because it would have been too costly, but was lucky to have such a great research university here in the state of Oregon.  Upon arriving at OSU, Blake cycled through Biology and then Biochemistry/Biophysics before deciding on Chemistry as his major. Blake commented how much he enjoyed the organic chemistry sequence with Drs. Chris Beaudry, Kevin Gable and Dwight Weller, but it was the experimental labs with Drs. Christine Pastorek and Emile Firpo that really sealed his decision to be a Chem major. Blake has shown tremendous breadth in chemical interest.  His favorite course so far was the second term of Physical Chemistry with Dr. Chong Fang where they studied Quantum Chemistry. He liked it so much he took it twice, once as a student and once as an undergraduate teaching assistant. He is currently doing undergraduate research with Dr. Joe Nibler exploring the vibrational/rotational structure of perdeutero-spiropentane. They have just submitted earlier this year their first paper specifically on the ground vib/rot structure of the molecule and are currently working on analysis of some more of the upper states.

Graduate School is definitely in Blake’s future, as he’s already been accepted to UC Berkeley’s Chemistry graduate program.  He’s leaning toward academia upon getting his PhD because he loves research, but also has enjoyed teaching others about chemistry, so it will be a good balance for him.

In his spare time at OSU, Blake was also a member of the OSU Marching Band where he got to perform at a variety of sports events.

Students like Blake are the reason the Chemistry Department is so successful in educating future scientists.  Congratulations, Blake!


Dr. Chong Fang, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Oregon State University, has been awarded one of the prestigious 2015 NSF CAREER Awards.

Chong Fang
Chong Fang joined OSU Chemistry in September 2010.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide program that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. A CAREER grant should build a firm foundation for the recipient for a lifetime of research excellence and creative leadership in integrating education and research. NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from junior faculty members at all CAREER-eligible organizations and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.

This NSF CAREER Award will fund Dr. Fang’s research for the next five years. His current research focuses on developing state-of-the-art spectroscopic techniques to reveal the fluorescence mechanisms of green fluorescent protein (GFP) derivatives and emerging fluorescent protein biosensors. These colorful biomolecules originally derived from jellyfish floating in the Pacific ocean and later from coral reefs near Australia have revolutionized bioimaging for almost two decades. However, these biosensors still suffer from drawbacks in photostability, brightness, detection depth, and color contrast, etc. The key to rationally design the next-generation biosensors with improved and targeted properties lies in the mechanistic understanding of molecular fluorescence, emitted from the chromophore that is an organic moiety embedded in the center of the protein pocket.

The femtosecond Raman methodology implemented in the Fang lab will resolve the choreography of chromophore motions, to the detail of transporting a single proton upon photoexcitation, with the time resolution of a billionth of a millionth of a second. These unique and powerful experiments will provide previously hidden governing factors for the structural evolution of chromophores and the emission outcomes in emerging GFP-related biosensors, and can be extended to other photosensitive systems. The vivid molecular “movie” that is captured during chemical reactions and biological functions opens new ways to study physical chemistry and quantum mechanics in action.

“Winning this NSF CAREER award not only provides the crucial resources we need to bring our current femtosecond Raman methodology to the next level, both in technical innovation and sample applications, but also assures us that the scientific problems we are tackling hold transformative and broad impact.” Fang says. “Our group will use the newly available resources to systematically elucidate fluorescence mechanisms in an emerging group of protein biosensors, and pinpoint strategic atomic sites that protein designers and engineers can target to rationally improve the properties of those biosensors. The fundamental understanding of how things work, at the same time, is always a fascinating journey that keeps us inspired and motivated.”

Dr. Fang grew up in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China. He earned dual B.S. degrees in Chemistry and Applied Computer Science at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC). He continued on to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania under the tutelage of Prof. Robin Hochstrasser (1931-2013) and obtained his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry (2006). He performed postdoctoral research with Prof. Richard Mathies at the University of California, Berkeley, before joining the OSU Chemistry Faculty in September 2010. Dr. Fang’s research group currently boasts one postdoc and six graduate students. Some of Dr. Fang’s other noted awards are the GRF and RERF Fund Awards at OSU, Dean’s Scholar Award at UPenn and the Guo Moruo Scholarship at USTC.

Chemistry Department Chair, Dr. Rich Carter, stated, “I am thrilled to see Chong’s significant scientific and educational accomplishments acknowledged by the NSF through this award. He is one of the leading young chemists in his area internationally and this honor is well deserved.”





Name: Chong Fang

Area of Study / Position Title: Physical Chemistry, Assistant Professor

Why chemistry? (What about it initially interested you?): Understanding how everything works always fascinates me. Physical chemistry and chemical physics provide myriad powerful tools to reveal the mechanism during the transformation between molecular species.

Research focus (in non-science terms) or basic job duties? The main theme of my research group is to investigate the structural dynamics basis of functions performed by all kinds of molecules in biological systems and novel materials. Ultrafast vibrational spectroscopy enables us to capture vivid molecular “movies” of chemistry in action with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolutions.

One thing you truly love about your job? Our research is at the forefront of the field and the experimental protocol is still being developed. That gives us a sense of urgency and pride in bringing new ideas into our experiments, grasping unexpected discoveries and making sense of them. It is truly exciting to have the freedom to design, explore, execute, disseminate, revise, improve, and make an impact on the world surrounding us.

One interesting/strange factoid about yourself. I like seafood. I want to cook more and try different flavors in the future.

Fang & Hochstrasser 2012
This precious picture was taken in my lab during Prof. Robin Hochstrasser’s Linus Pauling Lecture Series in OSU Chemistry (October 2012). He was my Ph.D. advisor in Univ. of Pennsylvania, and I treasure everything that he taught me in graduate school. Though he passed away in February 2013 at the age of 82, his legacy continues in numerous research labs around the world.


By: David Stauth, OSU News and Research Communications

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers today announced the creation of an imaging technology more powerful than anything that has existed before, and is fast enough to observe life processes as they actually happen at the molecular level.

Chemical and biological actions can now be measured as they are occurring or, in old-fashioned movie parlance, one frame at a time. This will allow creation of improved biosensors to study everything from nerve impulses to cancer metastasis as it occurs.

The measurements, created by the use of short pulse lasers and bioluminescent proteins, are made in femtoseconds, which is one-millionth of one-billionth of a second. A femtosecond, compared to one second, is about the same as one second compared to 32 million years.

That’s a pretty fast shutter speed, and it should change the way biological research and physical chemistry are being done, scientists say.

Findings on the new technology were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Alberta.

“With this technology we’re going to be able to slow down the observation of living processes and understand the exact sequences of biochemical reactions,” said Chong Fang, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science, and lead author on the research.

“We believe this is the first time ever that you can really see chemistry in action inside a biosensor,” he said. “This is a much more powerful tool to study, understand and tune biological processes.”

The system uses advanced pulse laser technology that is fairly new and builds upon the use of “green fluorescent proteins” that are popular in bioimaging and biomedicine. These remarkable proteins glow when light is shined upon them. Their discovery in 1962, and the applications that followed, were the basis for a Nobel Prize in 2008.

Existing biosensor systems, however, are created largely by random chance or trial and error. By comparison, the speed of the new approach will allow scientists to “see” what is happening at the molecular level and create whatever kind of sensor they want by rational design. This will improve the study of everything from cell metabolism to nerve impulses, how a flu virus infects a person, or how a malignant tumor spreads.

“For decades, to create the sensors we have now, people have been largely shooting in the dark,” Fang said. “This is a fundamental breakthrough in how to create biosensors for medical research from the bottom up. It’s like daylight has finally come.”

The technology, for instance, can follow the proton transfer associated with the movement of calcium ions – one of the most basic aspects of almost all living systems, and also one of the fastest. This movement of protons is integral to everything from respiration to cell metabolism and even plant photosynthesis.  Scientists will now be able to identify what is going on, one step at a time, and then use that knowledge to create customized biosensors for improved imaging of life processes.

“If you think of this in photographic terms,” Fang said, “we now have a camera fast enough to capture the molecular dance of life. We’re making molecular movies. And with this, we’re going to be able to create sensors that answer some important, new questions in biophysics, biochemistry, materials science and biomedical problems.”

The research was supported by OSU, the University of Alberta, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“Reprinted with permission from the February 2014 issue of TLT, the official monthly magazine of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers, a not-for-profit professional society headquartered in Park Ridge, Ill.,”

Aluminum is continuing to be an important metal used in the manufacture of automobiles. Its  lighter weight (as compared to steel alloys), good strength and ability to elongate are important factors that enable automobiles to be produced with higher levels of fuel economy.

But aluminum does not have the mechanical strength of steel. In a previous TLT article, a new process  known as high-pressure torsion was discussed that increases the strength of aluminum to a level  comparable to carbon steel without sacrificing ductility. A well-known alloy, 7075 aluminum, was solution treated at 480 C for five hours followed by quenching in room temperature water. The resulting metal was found to display a strength of 1.0 GPa in a tensile strength test, which is comparable to a typical hardened and tempered carbon-steel alloy.

Key ConceptsAluminum is fabricated into components used in automobiles through a series of metalworking operations that occur mainly with water-based fluids. There are a number of challenges in finding optimum machining conditions for specific aluminum alloys.

But one of the intriguing issues is what happens to the aluminum alloy when it comes into contact with water, which is the primary component in a water-based  metalworking fluid. Aluminum can readily form a series of metal salts with other additives used in MWFs such as fatty acids. These salts can become water insoluble and form residues that are similar to greases.  Such contaminants are undesirable because they can degrade the performance of the MWF.

Chong Fang, assistant professor of chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., says, “Addition of aluminum to water leads to the formation of a variety of complex species that include monomeric, oligomeric and polymeric hydroxides. These species are present in water as colloidal solutions and gels, but they can also form precipitates and crystals.”

Gaining a better understanding of the composition of these species is extremely difficult. Fang says, “Many of these species cannot be readily identified because they are difficult to detect using techniques such as  27Al nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and conventional Raman spectroscopy. The problem is water  binds in many different positions with respect to aluminum, leading to the formation of different types of highly coordinated structures, and there may be transient species involved. The elucidation of aqueous aluminum speciation pathways demands a technique capable of monitoring molecular choreography.”

Some of these aluminum water species are known as hydroxide clusters that contain multiple aluminum atoms. Fang says, “Formation of aluminum clusters is dependent on factors such as reagent concentration and the method and rate of solution pH change.”

If specific aluminum clusters can be selectively synthesized, then these clusters can be studied to gain an  understanding of their respective properties and how they may form when water contacts aluminum metal. One specific “flat” aluminum cluster has now been synthesized through a pHcontrolled process monitored by a novel analytical technique.

Figure 3Fang and his fellow researchers synthesized an aqueous aluminum nanocluster known as Al13 by slowly raising the pH of a solution and following the reaction using an emerging technique known as Femtosecond Stimulated Raman Spectroscopy (FSRS). He says, “We chose to produce Al13 because this species  represents a naturally occurring mineral that is octahedral in configuration. We have also pioneered a novel technique that enables thin metal-oxide films that are a few atomic layers thick to be prepared directly from solution instead of using more expensive methods. This integrated platform will enable Al13 potentially to be used as a green solution in broad applications such as transistors, solar energy cells, catalytic converters and corrosion inhibitors.”

The researchers used an electrochemical process to slowly and precisely raise the pH of the reaction  mixture to produce Al13. Fang says, “In Stage I, we started at a pH of 2.2 where the dominant aluminum species prepared from a 1 molar aluminum nitrate solution is the monomeric aluminum hexa-aqua ion.”

The solution is placed in a two-compartment electrochemical cell, which contains an anode compartment and a cathode compartment. Nitrate ions migrate into the anode compartment where oxygen is produced.

Aluminum ions migrate into the cathode compartment where hydrogen is produced. The charge balance is maintained. An electric current is used to control the process, which exhibits a net reduction in proton  (hydrogen ions) concentration in the cathode compartment as the pH is slowly increased, wherein  condensation of aluminum species occurs to produce larger aluminum nanoclusters.

FSRS was used to follow the reaction because of the limitation of conventional Raman spectroscopy. Fang says, “We needed to detect small changes in Raman vibrational modes down to between 300 and 500 cm-1. Unfortunately, this frequency is too close to the fundamental pulse. Instead, we used non-resonant (800 nanometer) FSRS spectroscopy with a newly developed Raman probe pulse based on our photonic  advances to cover that spectral range.”

FSRS reveals that the reaction moves to stage II at a pH between 2.4 and 2.7 due to the formation of an  intermediate identified as Al7. Fang says, “As the pH increases to between 2.7 and 3.2, further  deprotonation strips positive charges at the outer shell of Al7, leading to the formation of the larger Al13 cluster, which represents Stage III of the process. The key is to catch a glimpse of aluminum speciation as the chemistry proceeds in water.”

Figure 3 shows the two-compartment electrochemical cell and the reaction process as it moves from  monomeric aluminum in Stage I to Al13 Stage III via an octahedrally coordinated Al7 intermediate in Stage II.

The researchers deliberately ran this reaction sequence at a low pH because the involving aluminum clusters could be identified using FSRS aided by computations, and they represent the onset of larger  aluminum cluster formation. Fang says, “Work is underway to characterize the different types of clusters and species that form in aqueous solution at pH values above 7. This effort might also bring us closer to the regime where dehydration and annealing yield metal oxide thin films with versatility.”

This work is also of interest to formulators of MWFs because they are designed to operate at a pH of 9. Potentially, the aluminum clusters identified at this alkaline pH may help formulators better understand how to prepare products that will minimize such concerns as staining.

Additional information can be found in a recent article2 or by contacting Dr. Fang at

1. Canter, N. (2011), “Super-Strong, Ductile Aluminum,” TLT, 67 (1), pp. 10-11.
2. Wang, W., Liu, W., Chang, I., Wills, L., Zakharov, L., Boettcher, S., Cheong, P., Fang, C. and Keszler, D. (2013), “Electrolytic Synthesis of Aqueous Aluminum Nanoclusters and In Situ Characterization by  Femtosecond Raman Spectroscopy and Computations,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 110 (46), pp.  18397-18401.

Neil Canter heads his own consulting company, Chemical Solutions, in Willow Grove, Pa. Ideas for Tech  Beat can be submitted to him at