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Chemistry and Biochemistry

mercyhurst chemistry/biochemistry dept.


Our department provides students with a student-oriented curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking and applications to interdisciplinary problems. We know that knowledge and practical experience are essential to success in the sciences, and student research is an integral part our program. We also know that college is a formative experience for developing scientists, and the direct access to faculty expertise ensures that our students have extensive support during their time at Mercyhurst.  

If you are interested in science, but unsure of a specific career path, let the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at Mercyhurst University introduce you to a student-centered curriculum that provides both the interdisciplinary breadth and individually tailored focus to ensure that graduates have the skills and knowledge they need for graduate work, medical school, or a career immediately after college.


Our department prepares students for a wide range of careers

Our students learn to be scientific problem-solvers and thinkers first. They work closely with talented faculty to learn, question and experience science, which helps them to move on to nearly any type of career in healthcare, medicine, science or technology. Recent graduates have gone on to top graduate programs in chemistry, biochemistry, and pharmacy. Others use their knowledge and scientific training for work in education, medical/health fields, and industrial settings. One of the strengths of this program is the undergraduate chemistry research opportunity.


Our majors have direct access to committed faculty and state of the art facilities

Our students have access to state-of-the-art laboratory equipment and work directly with the faculty. Chemistry and biochemistry majors regularly present their research results at regional and national conferences in chemistry, which is important professional experience for those looking to excel in graduate school or in the field.

With a 14-1 student-to-faculty ratio and an average class size of 20 students, you’re never just a number at Mercyhurst. In fact, many upper level courses average 10 or fewer students. We keep our classes small so you can get individualized attention from professors to ensure your success in class and beyond.

A degree from Mercyhurst prepares you for this exciting and dynamic career.

Major(s) Biochemistry Major
  Chemistry Major
Minor(s) Biochemistry Minor
  Chemistry Minor
  Computational Science Minor
  Physics Minor
Concentration(s) Sustainability Studies Concentration
Certificate(s) Chemistry Education Certification

Ready to begin your journey in chemistry?  Apply online today -- it's free and getting your application started takes only a few brief minutes.  Interested students may also consult the course catalog for more information.  As a liberal arts institution, all undergraduate students complete Mercyhurst's core curriculum

The Mercyhurst University Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry is committed to the education and training of the next generation of scientists. Because the nature of scientific endeavors evolves, the most important skills students in all scientific disciplines can possess are independent reasoning and problem-solving abilities. The development of these skills in our programs and courses is facilitated by the following tenets:

  • A student-centered approach to scientific inquiry within our Department. This immersion of students in the scientific process extends to all phases of our scholarly pursuits, including experimental design, data acquisition, data analysis and communication to the scientific community.
  • A focus upon the core scientific principles that constitute the foundation of all applications of science and technology. This focus is coupled with an experience-based knowledge of career related fields that are attractive to students.
  • A commitment to working with students of all experiences and backgrounds, including those who are under-represented in the sciences. An emphasis is placed upon mentoring, including the processes of academic advisement, research mentoring and sophomore review. The firm adherence to a clear set of academic standards that is necessary for the success of our students in current scientific disciplines.

These standards are upheld while providing the guidance and mentoring necessary for each student to have the opportunity for success. Students in our courses should acquire the core knowledge in the physical sciences necessary to be successful in their field and as thoughtful citizens. Graduates from our programs have the skills and flexibility to succeed in graduate or medical school, or in an applied science career such as forensics or research.

Learning Goals:   

Students will graduate from our program with:

  • An understanding of the fundamental concepts in chemistry.
  • The ability to plan and conduct scientific experiments, using appropriate techniques and procedures.
  • Effective communication skills, including interpersonal communication (both oral and written).
  • The ability to locate and understand peer-reviewed scientific literature and critically evaluate technical information.
  • The ability to recognize hazards, conduct experiments safely and to manage chemicals, including chemical wastes.

Assessed Outcomes:

Our department continually assesses its curriculum to ensure that students receive the best education that we can provide. The metrics that we use to assess curricular effectiveness include student's ability to:

  • Increase their test score on the American Chemical Society's General Chemistry Exam
  • Apply previously learned information in new contexts and situations, including using introductory information in upper-division coursework
  • Demonstrate an increased score, between matriculation in the program and the term of graduation, in the four sub-disciplines of chemistry covered on the ETS Chemistry Exam (Physical, Organic, Analytical, Inorganic).
  • Prepare for scientific experiments with appropriate background information and use the most appropriate procedures and analytical techniques for results.
  • Present scientific information in a well-organized manner and communicate in both written and oral formats.
  • Use modern scientific literature to contribute to class discussions and to complete a research-based thesis
  • Independently conduct scientific experiments in a laboratory using universally accepted safety protocols, under faculty supervision


The department of chemistry and biochemistry currently houses the following instrumentation upon which students are trained in their coursework and are used extensively in student-centered research. These instruments are used continuously in Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Instrumental Analysis, and Quantitative Analysis

Atomic Absorption Spectrometer - Accusys 211

The AA is used primarily for the identification and quantification of metals in samples. Our AA is equipped with lamps to detect most metals including Hg and Pb.

The Chemistry and Biochemistry Department now has the capability to perform electrochemical analysis with the addition of a VersaStat III potentiostat with a computer interface.



The calorimeter is used to measure the combustion energy of chemical samples. We have an IKA C200 calorimeter that is used in our Thermodynamics course and for research.

Dynamic Light Scattering (DLS) Spectroscopy

The DLS spectrometer is used to determine the size and abundance of colloidal solutions containing matter ranging in size from 4 nanometers - 2 microns in diameter. The instrument has a temperature-controlled sample compartment with a working range of 5 - 70 degrees Celsius. DLS is commonly used in the fields of materials chemistry and biochemistry for determining the sizes of nanoparticles and proteins under variable solution conditions.

Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrophotometer (FTIR)

The spectrometers are used primarily for structural identification of pure compounds in the solid, liquid or gaseous states. They are useful for determining the functional groups present in a pure compound and their chemical environments. Our PerkinElmer Spectrum 1 FTIR is equipped to handle a variety of samples. The Attenuated total reflection accessory (which may soon become a standard in the drug industry) facilitates the analysis of small solid samples.
UV-Vis Spectrometers

We currently have a Thuramed T60 UV-Vis Spectrometer with UVWin software to perform quantitation, kinetics and DNA purity tests. In addition, three Shimadzu 1201 spectrometers are equipped with kinetics and quantitation software programs.


Fourier Transform Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer (FT-NMR)

The NMR is the preferred method for the precise structural determination of organic molecules. For this reason, its use is widespread in structural determinations. Our department uses an Anasazi EM 360 Fourier Transform Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrophotometer (FTNMR). The wideband probe upgrade allows us to investigate a range of nuclei (such as Si, C, N, P, Al).

Gas Chromatograph and Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometers (GC/MS)

The GC/MS is an instrument that is used to separate and "fingerprint" components in complex organic mixtures. A typical application for the GC/MS would be for the identification and quantification of a specific compound in a mixture. For this reason, the GC/MS is used widely in the analysis of drugs and for matching specific compounds to known libraries. GC/MS or GC with an electro capture detector (ECD) is the currently accepted method for detecting polycyclic biphenyls (PCBs) in environmental water samples. An ECD detector usually comes standard on most research-grade instruments and may be easily interchanged with a flame ionization detector (FID) for additional analytes.

  • Hewlet Packert 5890 Gas Chromatograph with 5970 mass selector (GCMS)
  • PerkinElmer XL Gas Chromatograph (FID)with HS40 autosampler for headspace analysis
  • HP5890 Gas Chromatograph with Flame Ionization detector (GCFID)


HPLC-Waters 1525

The HPLC separates and identifies compounds in mixtures in the liquid state. Much like the GC-MS, its applications include the identification and quantification of substances in mixtures. HPLC is the most commonly accepted instrument for environmental water analysis involving polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); our instrument is capable of detecting these hazardous compounds to the parts-per-billion level in water. Our HPLC system is equipped with a Photodiode Array (PDA) (Waters 2296) with Binary pump system and Empower™ software. The columns include C18 and Princeton SpherC30 Reverse Phase as well as a Spherisorb that is organic and salt compatible.

Raman Spectroscopy

The Raman Systems R-3000-785 Raman spectrometer was purchased with aid from the Pittsburgh Conference Memorial National College Grant fund. This portable Raman spectrometer is an additional tool in the structural analysis of compounds and allows for the identification of samples with very little sample prep.

Student research is one of the most important aspects of our curriculum. Majors design and carry out projects with guidance from a faculty mentor of their choice, often starting research during their sophomore or junior year. These projects are excellent learning experiences for future scientists and many are of our students are published in peer-reviewed journals and have their work funded by external research grants.


Faculty Expertise

Our faculty are experts in a wide range of areas, including both traditional fields in chemistry, biochemistry and physics, and emerging interdisciplinary specialties that focus on applications in medicine and industry. 


Dr. Ron Brown (Physical and Computational Chemistry)

Students in Dr. Brown’s research group use computational techniques, including electronic structure calculations and the development of Monte Carlo simulations, to investigate surface adsorption and other localized phenomena on extended systems such as carbon nanotubes and graphene.

Current Students:

Amanda Harris, class of 2014, is investigating the energetics of small adsorbates to the surfaces of carbon nanotubes.

Kirubeal Mulugeta, class of 2015, is studying the relative stability of graphene surfaces following adsorption processes.  


Dr. Amy Danowitz (Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology)

Students in Dr. Danowitz' research group develop new reactions to make biologically active small molecules, and develop synthetic molecules that affect biological systems.

Current Students:

Megan Church, class of 2014, is developing peptides that affect quorum sensing in bacteria. 


Dr. Clint Jones (Analytical and Materials Chemistry)

Jones Lab Research Website

Dr. Jones works with intelligent hydrogel polymers to produce nanoparticles and thin films, which capture targeted chemicals from solution.


Dr. Amy Parente (Biochemistry and Environmental Analysis)

Parente Lab Research Website


Dr. Chris Taylor (Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology)

Student projects in Dr. Taylor's research group include developing novel methods to synthesize 'drug like' molecules, synthesizing artificial ligands for mosquito olfactory receptors, and using a mechanistic understanding of cancer biochemistry to find more effective drug combinations for cancer treatment.

Current Students:

Zane Taylor, class of 2015, is developing new organocatalytic reactions that will allow rapid construction of drug-like functionality. 

Autumn Walter, class of 2016, is working on a joint project with Dr. Taylor and Dr. Dyan Jones (physics) to examine combination effects from radiation and drug treatment on cancer cells.  


Dr. Jack Williams (Organic Chemistry and Natural Products)

Williams Lab Research Website

Dr. Williams's research is in the area of flavors and fragrances specifically with respect to the aroma profiles of plants and foods. This research relies heavily on both 1D and 2D Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) in addition to Gas Chromatography Olfactometry (GC-O).

Amy Danowitz Assistant Professor Office: Zurn 308b

Amy Parente Ph.D. Assistant Professor Office: Zurn 310 Phone: (814) 824-3876

Carl Voltz Ph.D Laboratory Manager Office: Zurn 309 Phone: (814) 824-2058

Christopher Taylor Ph.D. Instructor of Chemistry Office: Zurn 308c Phone: (814) 824-2048

Clint Jones Ph.D. Department Chair, Associate Professor Office: Zurn 303b Phone: (814) 824-2387

Jack Williams Ph.D Professor of Chemistry Office: Zurn 309 Phone: (814) 824-2386

Ronald Brown Ph.D. Associate Professor Office: Zurn 305 Phone: (814) 824-2389