Dr. Leah R. Eller
Assistant Professor Chemistry

The Eller Research Group

Departments: Chemistry and Biochemistry
Office: Goodpaster Hall 225
Email: lreller@smcm.edu
Phone: (240) 895-4352

Education:

Postdoctoral Fellow, Oak Ridge Associated Universities (Oak Ridge National Lab, Chemical Sciences Division)
Ph.D. University of Texas, Austin
B.S. Randolph-Macon College

Courses Taught:

  • Organic Chemistry I Lecture and Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II Lecture and Lab
  • General Chemistry I Lecture
  • General Chemistry II Lecture and Lab
  • Topics in Spectroscopy

Research/Professional Interests

Research in the Eller group revolves around the concept of green chemistry. Broadly stated, we seek chemical solutions to various environmental issues, including solar energy conversion and waste remediation, and we do so in as environmentally benign a manner as possible. We are in the business of making molecules and using a variety of optical spectroscopy techniques to study the properties of those molecules. There are several ongoing projects in the Eller lab:

1. Green synthesis of substituted pyrroles. Pyrroles are nitrogen-containing heterocycles that are subunits of large aromatic macrocycles such as porphyrin, chlorophyll, calixpyrrole, cyclo[8]pyrrole, etc. Pyrrole-based macrocycles have a variety of medical and environmental applications. The long synthetic sequences and environmentally unfriendly chemicals needed to make these useful molecules are severe drawbacks to practical implementation in many cases. We seek shorter synthetic sequences that use green, sustainable materials to access these highly desirable targets efficiently and cheaply.

2. Molecular recognition and extraction of sulfate. We study the noncovalent interactions between macrocyclic host molecules and target analytes such as sulfate. Sulfate removal is necessary for certain types nuclear waste processing. Sulfate is a tetrahedral dianion that is highly solvated in water. The selective removal of sulfate from aqueous mixtures of anions presents a design challenge because other anions tend to extract more easily than the highly solvated sulfate. We are interested in improving the efficiency of nuclear waste processing by designing, synthesizing, and studying molecules that will selectively bind sulfate in complex mixtures.

3. Solar energy conversion. Organic materials are currently not commercially used much in solar energy cells. Despite being lightweight and flexible, the efficiency of organic photovoltaic (OPV) devices is currently still very low compared to silcon-based semiconductors. Our group seeks to develop materials with higher efficiencies to be used in OPVs.

4. Chemical education: the connection between the laboratory experience and student learning outcomes. We are developing and implementing a new curriculum for the undergraduate organic chemistry lab and examining the student learning outcomes as a result of the new curriculum. These results will be compared to learning outcomes under the traditional curriculum. This work is supported by an NSF-TUES grant award.

Selected Publications

Koch, A.S.; Chimento, C.; Berg, A.; Mughal, F.D.; Hovland, D.; Mbadugha, B.; Hovland, A.; Eller, L.R. J. Chem. Educ. 2014, accepted.

Grants

National Science Foundation, Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM (NSF-TUES) $600,000 (NSF-TUES Award#1323035) 9-10-13 

National Science Foundation Division of Undergraduate Education S-STEM $600,000 (Award #1154315) 9-21-12

SMCM Faculty Development grants. (2007, 2008, 2009, 2012)