Chemical Biology

The field of chemical biology focuses on the use of chemical approaches, particularly synthetic chemistry, to answer biological questions as well as to develop modulators of protein function. Chemical biology has roots in both chemistry and biochemistry, fostering scientific creativity from the interdisciplinary nature of chemical biology research. Research in this area includes the development of novel approaches to using small molecules to modulate the activity of proteins as well as the development of new methods to measure specific biological activities, particularly in cells.

Catalysis and Energy

The study of catalysis is concerned with developing and understanding chemical processes that use a catalyst, a molecule that makes a desirable chemical reaction occur more rapidly without being consumed. A relatively small amount of a catalyst can facilitate many hundreds of thousands of reactions before degrading, enabling energy and resource efficiency, often at large scales. Catalytic processes are used in approximately 90% of all industrial chemical processes, and catalytic reactions are central to the pharmaceutical, chemical, and energy sectors.

Biophysical Chemistry

Biophysical Chemistry seeks to explain biological mechanisms using a combination of chemical and physical concepts and techniques. Cells have a highly dynamic and complex environment composed of varying biomolecules with specific functions that we seek to understand. At UVA, we develop and apply:
(i) new measurement technologies,
(ii) various formalisms from the physical sciences, as well as
(iii) data analytics and computational modeling tools.


With roots in analytical chemistry, the bioanalytical field aims to quantify and detect varying small and macromolecules. Quantification and detection are crucial for researchers to identify and better understand molecules present in their sample of interest. Researchers utilize bioanalysis for a variety of different applications in fields such as forensic analysis, pharmacology, immunology, among others. 

From basic chemistry to new opioid biology

The worldwide opioid crisis has occasioned efforts to develop new opioids for both existing uses (pain control) as well as new indications (itch, addiction). We have focused on the discovery of compounds able to selectively activate one of the two main intracellular pathways associated with the kappa opioid receptor. This type of activity, called “functional selectivity” or “ligand bias”, has the potential to segregate many of the ultimate biological effects of therapeutic opioids.


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