Dr. Popescu Gets NSF Grant for Mössbauer Work

Dr. Codrina V. Popescu, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, received continuing funding from the National Science Foundation for her interdisciplinary projects in Mössbauer spectroscopy of iron proteins.  This new award is funded by the Chemistry of Life Processes Program in the Chemistry Division and the Molecular Biophysics program in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB). 

The research proposed ranges from studies of small-molecule Fe compounds to the exploration of novel Fe sites in proteins, involved in catalytic hydrogen production and biological oxidation.

Previous NSF awards allowed Dr. Popescu to establish a Mössbauer lab at Ursinus in 2004 and to complete numerous collaborative publications between 2009 and 2013.  Her most recent publications on NSF-funded projects appeared earlier in 2013 in The Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry and Chemistry. A European Journal, and include work with Ursinus students who have graduated between 2005 and 2013.

Currently, her work is with students looking at “the complexity of frontier problems in modern science, such as hydrogen production and pollution clean-up.” Iron is the most abundant transition metal in biological systems, she explains. Iron proteins and enzymes are involved in life processes, from oxidation of fuel molecules for energy generation, to detoxification, and bacterial hydrogen metabolism.  This chemical versatility of one element was achieved through millions of years of evolution, through design of structures tailored for specific catalytic functions. “Mössbauer spectroscopy can bring insight into the electronic structure of these catalysts, often allowing us to elucidate the nature of the active sites of enzymes directly, or by probing small-molecule models.  Applying Mössbauer spectroscopy to enzymes, as well as chemically synthesized molecules are naturally interdisciplinary research subjects at the interface of physics, chemistry and biochemistry,” says Dr. Popescu.

“Often iron enzymes and model complexes pose problems that challenge even the experts,” she adds. “We are thrilled to find the challenges and even more thrilled when we solve the puzzles, because that is where the creativity and perseverance of both mentor and pupils shine.”