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Department of

Chemistry & Biochemistry

Research Areas

Research in the Chemistry Department broadly aims to use the tools of molecular science in solving some of the world's most pressing questions, and spans organic, medicinal, theoretical, biological, analytical, physical, and inorganic chemistry. Our chemists are involved in development of next-generation cancer therapeutics, new catalytic methods for C-H bond activation, solar cell engineering, computer-guided drug design, and nanoparticle formulation chemistry, methods for bioanalytical mass spectrometry, among others. 

Drug Discovery & Medicinal Chemistry Core

Investigators: Njoo, Brah, Renganathan, Yamamoto

The Drug Discovery Core in the Chemistry Department seeks to develop novel chemical entities in treating human disease. Current targets and research campaigns in the Chemistry Department Drug Discovery core include:

  • Development of novel anticancer agents

  • Optimization of natural product bioactives for cancer

  • Antibody drug conjugate development

  • Chemical synthesis of bioactive motifs and chemical entities

  • Computer-guided drug discovery

  • Synthesis of antiretroviral compounds for treating HIV/AIDS

  • Development of novel antimicrobial and antibacterial agents

A Closer Look

Research Areas

Materials Science & Nanoengineering

Investigators: Starostina, Yamamoto, Renganathan

Several groups at ASDRP are involved in the development of novel materials for drug delivery, green energy, catalysis, and materials science. Here, we interface expertise in the molecular and physical sciences with the goal of producing functional materials 

  • Development of lipid nanoparticles for in vivo drug delivery

  • Photovoltaic cell engineering and electrochemistry

  • Graphene quantum dots (GQD) for photocatalysis

  • Green energy engineering 

Fibre Optics

Computational and Theoretical Chemistry

Investigators: Brah, Njoo, Downing (CSEN), Akl (CSEN)

At the heart of our computer-guided campaigns in the Chemistry Department are several endeavors to harness the power of machine learning, biophysical simulations, and quantum mechanical theory to inform drug design and discovery.

  • High-throughput virtual screening (HTVS) approaches

  • Protein-ligand docking & molecular dynamic simulations

  • Machine learning platform (Downing-Njoo) for drug discovery

  • Density functional theory (DFT) - informed reactivity analyses

Programming Console

Synthetic & Physical Organic Chemistry

Investigators: Njoo

The ability to build complex chemical structures from simpler building blocks has numerous applications in medicine, chemical biology, and natural product structural elucidation.

  • Methodology and reaction development for heterocycle synthesis

  • Total synthesis of bioactive natural products

  • Asymmetric catalysis & organometallics

  • Late-stage natural product derivatization

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Analytical and Environmental Chemistry

Investigators: Sangeneni, Chen, Yamamoto, Njoo

We live in a world full of molecules, and several of our chemists are investigating the role of chemical entities in our ever-changing environment. Here, we are also developing methodology on sophisticated chemical instrumentation for high-resolution detection and monitoring of molecular systems.

  • X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis of heavy metal pollution

  • Development of high-resolution mass spectrometry methods

  • Reaction monitoring by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)

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Biochemistry & Chemical Biology

Investigators: Renganathan, Yamamoto, Brah, Njoo

Several research campaigns in the chemistry department center around understanding the molecular basis of life - from understanding how pharmaceutically active small molecules affect human disease, to developing new ways to target proteins or biologics for application in medicine.

  • Development of mitosis-inhibiting small molecules

  • Chemical probes for optical readouts in enzyme kinetics

  • Antibody-drug conjugates and other biologics

  • Amyloidogenic protein diseases including Alzheimer's, etc.

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Scientist in the Lab

Advisors & Principal Investigators

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Harman Brah

Biochemistry & Chemical Biology

Experienced biochemist at UCSD Medicine; former scientist at UCSF who specializes in computational biochemistry & drug discovery. Oversees admissions process. Dr. Brah's lab uses molecular dynamics and docking simulations for understanding the interaction of small molecule therapeutic candidates and biomolecular targets. 


Raymond Chen, MS

Analytical Chemistry

Raymond Chen leads a research group at ASDRP which focuses on using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to determine chemical and biochemical stability of small molecule pharmaceuticals. Raymond is an experienced analytical chemist with several years of experience in industry.

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Zane Chen, MD, PhD

Biochemistry, Drug Discovery

Dr. Chen completed his PhD in Biochemistry at Oregon Health Sciences University with a thesis: Regulation of carnitine palmitoyltransferase I gene expression in vivo. He received his MD from Qingdao Medical College. He has done his Post-Doc at Oregon Health Sciences University.


Viktoriia Liu, PhD

Dr. Liu is a experienced computational chemist with knowledge in ML/computer vision, bioinformatics, robotics, and structural biology. She received her Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from University of California, Riverside.


Edward Njoo, MA, PhD

Organic Chemistry, Chemical Biology

Experienced organic chemist, educator, scientist, Stanford PhD chemist. Co-author on multiple peer-reviewed papers in biochemistry, chemical biology, and organic synthesis. 


Nataliya Starostina, PhD

Inorganic Materials Engineering

Dr. Starostina received her PhD in Materials Engineering, and has over fifteen years of industry and academic experience at UCLA and at Santa Clara University prior to joining the faculty at ASDRP. Dr. Starostina's research group works on development of novel materials with unique properties. 


 Joey Pazzi, PhD


Joey's current research interests include economical point of care diagnostics, the development of synthetic cells, and facilitating membrane fusion reactions with cells


Gayathri Renganathan, MS

Medicinal Chemistry, Biochemistry

Gayathri obtained her M.Pharm at Anna University and has served as a lecturer in Inorganic & Analytical Chemistry, and in her area of expertise, medicinal biochemistry.


Neelima Sangeneni, PhD

Physical Chemistry, Electrochemistry, Materials Science

Dr. Sangeneni holds a PhD in nanomaterial chemistry, and has been involved in several successful startups in the Bay Area. The Sangeneni Lab at ASDRP works on the interface of physical chemistry & nanomaterials engineering.


Akira Yamamoto, MS

Materials Science, Biomaterials Engineering

Akira received his M.Sc. from Shinsyu University in Materials Engineering and has served as the Director of Materials Science & Engineering at BioPharmX prior to coming to ASDRP. The Yamamoto group at ASDRP performs research in biomaterials engineering.


Department Lead: Dr. Edward Njoo



Edward Njoo, MA, PhD


PhD, Chemistry, Stanford University

MA, Science/Religion, Biola University

BS, Biochemistry, Loyola Marymount University

Area of Research: Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry

Dr. Njoo's research group works on synthetic modification of bioactive natural products, fluorine NMR spectroscopy, and development of small molecule therapeutic leads for antivirals and anticancer agents, and currently leads ASDRP's small molecule drug discovery program. Students from the Njoo Lab have published in several journals including ACS Omega and Canadian J. Chem. 


Dr. Njoo received his PhD in Chemistry (Organic) from Stanford University, where he worked on the synthesis of bioactive natural products tigilanol tiglate (now FDA approved Stelfonta™), and analogs of Bryostatin 1, ruthenium catalysis, and mRNA delivery.

Department Chair

Facilities & Instrumentation


The Chemistry Department at ASDRP operates over four dozen state-of-the-art research grade instruments with spectroscopic and analytical capabilities competitive with university and industry R&D laboratories. These include two cutting-edge multinuclear nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometers, two mass spectrometers (LC-MS and GC-MS), two high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) instruments, a Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectrometer, inductively-coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer (ICP-OES), X-ray fluorescence (XRF), multi-angle light scattering (MALS), six UV-visible spectrophotometers, a potentiostat, and many more. 


Nanalysis NMReady 60 MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectrometer

Our NMR spectrometers are used for characterization of small molecules. Our instruments are the only NMR spectrometers dedicated for use by high school researchers, and are both outfitted with multinuclear (1H/13C/19F/31P) capabilities along with both 1D and 2D homonuclear and heteronuclear experiments (COSY, JRES, HSQC, HMBC, NOESY, APT, BIRD, DEPT)


Perkin Elmer Lambda 11 UV-visible spectrophotometer

ASDRP operates six research grade UV-vis spectrophotometers; this one is capable of high-resolution absorbance measurements, time-resolved kinetics, and stray wavelength precision down to a tenth of a nanometer.


Rudolph Instruments Optical Polarimeter

One of our two polarimeters, this instrument is capable of measuring optical rotation of plane-polarized light by chiral compounds. Our chemists and biochemists use this to study chirality in macromolecular structure and enantiopure small molecules.


Rotary Evaporators - a.k.a. "Rotavap"

Rotary evaporators are used by chemists in the gentle removal of volatile solvents under reduced pressure in the purification process of small molecules. Our chemistry laboratory has four rotary evaportators (Buchi) equipped with two-stage rotary vacuum pumps.


Thermo Labsystems Multiskan MS Plate Reader

One of three 96-well plate readers, this instrument is designed to provide rapid screening of colorimetric optical reporters, allowing our scientists to probe hundreds of conditions for biological activity in just minutes. 


BioTek MicroQuant Fluorescence Plate Reader

Our MicroQuant instrument is capable of both fluorescence and absorbance experiments, enabling the rapid collection of large amounts of spectroscopic data for high-throughput screening of biomolecules.


Analogix IntelliFlash 280 Automated Chromatography

Our IntelliFlash system is used for purification of compounds out of complex reaction mixtures. It uses disposable silica gel normal phase or reverse phase chromatography columns with a built-in UV detector to track elution of UV-active compounds.


Hoefer Scientific DNA Fluorometer

Our Hoefer florometer is built to measure extremely low concentrations of DNA by using a UV lamp to track fluoresence of DNA nucleotide bases. This is useful for biochemists seeking to quantify DNA concentration.


Dynex Opsys MR Microplate Reader

Our Opsys MR microplate reader is built in with functions for biochemical quantification and for high-throughput screening of fluorescent optical reporters. 


Laminar Flow Hoods & Tissue culture / cell culture space

Our biosciences lab has two laminar flow hoods, which are designed to maintain a sterile environment and keep contaminants out of cell cultures and cell lines. 


Thermo Electron Spectronic Genesys 5 UV-visible spectrophotometer

Our Thermo Spectronic Genesys 5 spectrophotometer comes equipped with a wide range of detection capabilities and can be used for kinetic monitoring for reactions. 


Thermo Scientific Nicolet iS5 Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR) Spectrometer

The FT-IR spectrometer is equipped with an iD5 attenuated total reflectance (ATR) sample assembly, and is used for vibrational spectroscopy to characterize molecules and materials. IR spectra capture bond vibrational modes.


BioRad SmartSpec 3000 UV-visible spectrophotometer

ASDRP operates six research-grade UV-vis spectrophotometers. Our BioRad instrument is capable of time-resolved kinetics, full differential scan analysis, and quantification of biological macromolecules such as DNA and protein


High-Throughput Computing Server & Cluster

Our two servers are industry grade Dell Poweredge machines equipped with 48 core Xeon processors, 64 GB RAM, and 10 TB memory. This is used for powerful computing capabilities, ranging from quantum mechanical calculations to time-resolved molecular dynamics simlulations.


Millipore MilliQ Ultra High Purity Water System

Sometimes, de-ionized water simply isn't good enough! Our MilliQ Water purification systems makes sure that the aqueous environments our biochemists use to study proteins and nucleic acids meet the highest level of quality control, with filters to remove even trace impurities.


Synthesis Fume Hoods

Chemistry sometimes generates fumes and volatiles that are best to keep away from our student scientists. We have six heavy-duty synthesis fume hoods which duct air away from experimentalists. Three are equipped with carbon filters to remove volatiles from the air.


Princeton Applied Research Scanning Potentiostat

Our research-grade PAR potentiostat is used for cyclic voltammetry experiments, and allows chemists and physicists to probe redox states of particles in solution and to characterize metal ion oxidation states.


3-dimensional Laser Cutter

Our physicists and engineers use our industry-grade laser cutter to build custom-shaped and custom-sized components out of any material imaginable. The instrument uses a high-power laser to carve contours out of material.


Pelton & Crane High-Pressure Autoclave

To create super-sterile equipment and solutions, our biologists and biochemists use this autoclave to superheat solutions to temperatures upwards of 300 degrees and pressures up to 3,100 torr. 


Bausch and Lomb Melting Point Apparatus

Melting point is often used to determine the purity of a substance, and our melting point apparatus is used by extraction chemists to determine if there are impurities in their material.


721 UV-visible-near infrared spectrophotometers

We have two twin instruments that are capable of measuring single wavelength absorbances at a range from 350 nm to 1150 nm. This can be used to monitor reaction kinetics, or to obtain specific absorbances along an absorption profile of a substance. 


Thermo LC Packings Ultimate High Performace Liquid Chromatography (HPLC)

High-performace liquid chromatography (HPLC) is a method for the separation and purification of small molecules from a mixture. Our HPLC is outfitted for even the most challenging separations and has a built-in UV detector. 

Former Advisors

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Scott Clark

Organic Chemistry, Chemical Biology

Scott graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a B.S. in Biochemistry with a focus on synthetic organic chemistry. While there, he studied under Dr. Jeremy McCallum, synthesizing a library of novel polyphenol analogs that inhibits harmful amylin oligomerization in the progression of type 2 diabetes. Research in the Clark group focuses on complex organic synthesis of bioactive small molecules, including natural products with complex diketopiperazine cores, and heterocyclic compounds with biomedical applications.

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Calvin Leung

Quantum Mechanics and Applied Physics

Calvin Leung is pursuing a PhD in physics at MIT studying the phenomena of fast radio bursts: brief, intense flashes of radio-frequency light originating from outside the Milky Way. His past research interests have included quantum communication and searching for dark matter using atomic clocks. In addition, he was a vibration engineer working on the Falcon 9 at SpaceX. Students interested in joining his group should reach out to him.

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