Loyola University Chicago

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry


Dr. Brazdil Receives Award for Excellence in Teaching Freshmen

Linda Brazdil Teaching Award

Loyola University Chicago values excellence in teaching as being central to its mission of providing an engaging, transformative education. The Office of the Provost formally recognizes and celebrates the exceptional faculty who demonstrate excellence in teaching by announcing university-wide teaching awards that recognize the value of the many different ways in which faculty contribute to transformative learning.

This Fall 2017, Dr. Linda Brazdil, was named the winner of The Provost's Award for Excellence in Teaching Freshmen for Fall 2017!

Dr. Brazdil is the Director of the Center for Science and Math Education, comments that the challenges college exerts on students in its expectations of growth, discovery and self-realization can be overwhelming; students need the proper support with these transitions in order to be successful. She recommends that students discover new passions and find things that will sustain them as they continue their journey through life. It is a small wonder that students came forward to nominate the professor who never tired of answering their questions and guiding their learning. As one student states, "Dr. Brazdil embodies all the ideals of Loyola. She believes in her students and in the mission to help people find their place on earth where they make a difference in the world."  In her personal statement, Dr. Brazdil describes the joy in watching students grow and mature, mind, body and spirit, as one of the main reasons she loves working at Loyola.  She delights in the many opportunities her program provides students along this journey.


Click here, to learn more of the Faculty Teaching Awards.

Graduate Student Feature: Marie Turano's Conference Experience

Marie Turano AVS story

First-year graduate student, Marie Turano (right), attends the AVS International Conference with fellow chemist, Rachael Farber.

This past winter, as temperatures began to drop in Chicago, the Killelea Research Group readied themselves for a trip to a warmer city—Nashville, TN. They were to attend the American Vacuum Society’s 63rd International Symposium—a week-long conference drawing faculty, graduate students, and other researchers from around the world to discuss advancements in vacuum science. First year graduate student, Marie Turano, takes us through the trip and experience of attending the conference, as well as describing the research that led her there.

For starters, what exactly is vacuum science? Specifically, ultra-high vacuum?

“In our group, we work under ultra-high vacuum conditions; reactions occurring under very low pressures”, explains Marie, “those which occur at a pressure of 1x10-10 Torr. We study metal surfaces under low pressures to mimic the conditions of catalysis, so that we can unravel the reaction mechanisms occurring on the metal/reaction interface”.

At the conference, Marie presented a poster on the process of “cleaning” the surface of a rhodium crystal—Rh(111). The procedure entails dosing the crystal with oxygen, so the crystal surface is completely covered with oxygen. When enough oxygen has reacted with the surface, the excess oxygen can migrate into the subsurface of the crystal. Then, using biased Argon (Ar) ions to gently knock the oxygen atoms off the top layer of the crystal, the surface is cleaned. The result is a Rh(111) crystal that is now “clean” of any surface atoms, permitting the group to study the properties of the oxygen beneath the surface. According to Marie, this is when you can begin to ask the bigger questions, such as: does subsurface oxygen play a role in reactions? If so, what is its role? And, how does the presence of subsurface oxygen influence what’s going on in the surface?
The end goal of the project is to characterize the properties of the subsurface oxygen.

Schematic of cleaning a metal surface.

Schematic of cleaning a metal surface.


What about “big picture”? In the end, what…?

Marie nods, understanding the question before it is fully asked, “whenever people ask me about my research and what we study, I say, ‘it’s studying reactions similar to those occurring in the catalytic converter in your car’. We are investigating a related process by studying a catalytically active metal, its properties, and then trying to answer fundamental questions relevant to heterogeneous catalysis.”
Although the experiments that Marie and the rest of the Killelea Research Group conduct may seem very specialized, there is actually a variety of research that occurs in the field of vacuum science.

What is one to expect from an international conference all about vacuum science?

“I wish I’d brought the program for you,” she says eagerly, as she opens and closes her hands like a book, “it was page, after page, after page of talks. It was great to see how others’ research relates to what we do. It amazed me how so many people can be researching the same area, but not quite the exact same topic.” For example, while the Killelea Group focuses their studies on molecules on the Rhodium surface, another group may be presenting their findings of a surface analysis of Nickel. The materials, methods, and instrumentation vary from group to group. Everyone has their own unique take. A lot of the same questions are being addressed, but the research presented tackles them from different angles.
The research complements each other, and suddenly the field can become very broad.
There is great benefit in attending conferences such as this one. In listening to other’s presentations, you can find common ground with other research groups, but more importantly, you get to build connections, gather new information, and find new ways to circumvent a problem you’ve been running into.


Killelea Research Group: Marie Turano, Rachael Farber, and Dr. Dan Killelea

To learn more about research conducted by the Killelea Group, go here.
The 64th AVS International Symposium will be hosted in Tampa, FL, Oct 29-Nov 3, 2017.

The fight against fentanyl abuse

DeFrancesco story

Senior Lecturer James DeFrancesco works with students conducting research during a lab section in Flanner Hall. Professor DeFrancesco played an advisory role in getting international regulations for fentanyl recently. (Photo: Natalie Battaglia)

If you pop your head into one of the newly renovated laboratories in the basement of Flanner Hall, you might see a coffee grinder sitting next to a bottle of aspirin. And next to that, you might find a container of black pepper or even poppy seeds. What, you might ask, are these doing in a science lab? 

They’re all everyday materials that senior lecturer James DeFrancesco and his undergraduate students examine to reveal the underlying legal drugs found within them that are often similar to illegal drugs. This is the root of DeFrancesco’s research: to understand and analyze the chemicals we consume. 

DeFrancesco has been at Loyola for less than two years, but he’s already made his mark on campus, across the nation, and worldwide. For nearly two decades, he served as a forensics scientist for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) laboratory in Chicago. There, he analyzed more than 4,500 drug exhibits (illegal drug evidence obtained by the agency) and participated in more than a dozen clandestine drug lab raids. 

Recently, he has played a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic. He gave key insights into the underground synthesis of fentanyl—a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more powerful than morphine—to the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs. His counsel to the group led to the recent passage of stricter international regulations on the chemicals used to synthesize fentanyl, making it harder for the drug to be produced, sold, and exported. Here, DeFrancesco talks about what people should know about fentanyl, his role in securing international controls on the drug, and his other research interests.  

What is fentanyl? 

It’s a Schedule II controlled substance at the federal level in the United States. It’s a legitimate pharmaceutical that was developed over 50 years ago when Janssen Pharmaceuticals was actively looking for new, more effective opioids. Over the last 30 years, it’s popped up on the street, particularly in street heroin. 

What do people need to know about fentanyl?

There’s no threat to the general public other than if you know anybody who has an opioid addiction and they can’t get their prescriptions anymore, they may turn to using heroin and the heroin on the street is far more powerful than they could ever handle. That’s how people overdose and die because the bad guys are replacing the heroin with fentanyl since it’s so much easier to produce. And, a lot of the news you see nowadays about opioid overdoses may involve drugs like fentanyl, or a something with new chemical structure—a lot of which aren’t even controlled. 

What was your role in the UN commission placing fentanyl ingredients on a control list? 

At the DEA, I analyzed a lot of heroin samples over the years. In late 2005, we noticed a rise in heroin and fentanyl overdoses and I noticed that the fentanyl I was seeing started to look like it was from a clandestine source (made on the street) based on the chemical markers present. So, that’s when CPD (Chicago Police Department) and the DEA started a multi-agency investigation. By mid-2006, we identified a clandestine lab in Mexico.  I went in there and processed the lab, collected the evidence, and witnessed firsthand how it operated. Then recently, the CNC (Commission on Narcotic Drugs) contacted me and said it wanted to know from people who had been in lab raids to get some information about what I saw and what materials I saw them making the fentanyl from. That information was used to seek out international controls. 

What are the implications of this new regulation? 

It’s important at the international level because the sourcing of these new opioids, especially in the last five years, has been international. So, if at the international level we’re able to agree that not only the finished product is banned but these precursors are as well, that should give countries the necessary law enforcement controls to put a stop to this. 

And finally, what other research are you working on? 

I’m working with analytical chemistry professor Paul Chiarelli on several projects involving the analysis of drug metabolites in wastewater and the breakdown of antimicrobial agent like triclosan (found in soaps and similar products) in treated waters like pools and hot tubs. Lastly, the interaction of PCBs—typically chemical/industrial products—with microplastics in fresh water bodies.