AMHERST, Mass. - Dhandapani Venkataraman has joined the chemistry faculty at the University of Massachusetts. He received his bachelor''s degree from the University of Madras, India, and his master''s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, also in Madras. He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Venkataraman, who is called "D.V.," was a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University and the University of California, Berkeley, before joining the UMass faculty.
"We are delighted that DV has joined the chemistry department. His work embraces the concepts and tools of organic, inorganic, materials, and biological chemistry, and thus meshes with our departmental trajectory," said Lila Gierasch, head of the department. "This is the future of chemistry - to blur the traditional boundaries. DV is a gifted teacher and will contribute in many ways to the renewal of the department."
Venkataraman is working to design "smart" catalysts, chemical compounds that go beyond accelerating a chemical reaction, compounds that actually "know" when and how to stop the reaction. "I am using the underlying principles of biochemistry to design non-biological molecules which can perform functions similar to a biological molecule," Venkataraman explained. "One example is looking at enzymes, which are biological, in designing ''smart'' or ''self-regulating'' catalysts." Unlike the synthetic catalysts currently produced, enzymes have a unique ability to precisely regulate their catalytic activity. "An enzyme knows when to stop a reaction," said Venkataraman. "I want to know whether synthetic catalysts can be designed so that they can regulate the rate of a reaction, depending on certain conditions." A smart catalyst would be useful in the chemical industry, which uses the catalytic process, Venkataraman said.
He is also working on a project aimed at producing molecular-scale "sieves" from organic compounds. Molecular sieves are already used in the chemical industry, he says. These are strong, solid materials that are highly porous, and structured somewhat like a honeycomb, with regularly spaced "walls" with large open spaces between them. Using the shapes of molecules, chemists are able to control chemical separations and reactions with extreme precision. Building such materials from organic compounds would enable scientists to easily make chemical modifications in specific areas, essentially custom-designing a catalyst.
Venkataraman notes that his work draws from both organic and inorganic chemistry, along with polymer chemistry. "I''ve wanted to be a chemist since I was in seventh grade," he said. "Life is just principles of chemistry in action."