Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 3:15 p.m.
in the Marvin K. Peterson Library
(Chemist) + (Mechanical Engineer/Physicist) + (Bright Students) →
A university is a special place that supports the synergic interaction between many disciplines. UNH has supported a productive team of faculty and students who have tackled an outstanding question in chemistry – how did life start on Earth.
In less than a billion years, the early, hot Earth became home to the first cells, the ancestors to all life. Prebiotic chemistry is the study of the chemical systems, which generated the molecules needed for life. Indeed, nothing about the initiation of life makes sense without understanding chemical evolution!
Our current research is investigating computational models of chemical systems to answer two important questions. First, what chemistry supported the generation of the building blocks for proteins and nucleic acids; our models suggest that breaking of chiral symmetry and amplification of homochirality are critical, early signatures of life. Second, we are asking how did increasingly complex metabolic networks evolve from simple chemical systems. We believe are research will improve our understanding of how chemistry is the key to life.
Dr. Carl Barratt
Dr. Carl Barratt is Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the TCoE. As a high-schooler in England he quit chemistry in favor of the “cleaner” mathematics and physics, and earned a PhD in theoretical (high energy) physics (pre-superstring!) from Cambridge University in ’77. Long story short, he “moved over” to M.E. at UNH in the early 80’s. Now, decades after forsaking chemistry, he is actively involved with Dr. Schwartz and several bright recruits, exploring – and publishing in – computational chemistry. We might even have some insight into one of Nature’s greatest mysteries, namely why our amino acids are left handed and our sugars right handed!
Dr. Pauline Schwartz
Dr. Pauline M. Schwartz is Professor and University Research Scholar in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering in the Tagliatela College of Engineering. She teaches courses in Organic Chemistry and graduate courses in Pharmacology and Medicinal Chemistry. Her academic interests include using teaching technologies to facilitate learning. Her research interests include designing and exploring novel computational models of chemical systems. Recently, she, her collaborator, Dr. Carl Barratt, and several bright UNH students have explored new approaches to understanding prebiotic chemistry – the chemical basis for life on earth.