Walt Whitman wrote: “A blade of grass is the journeywork of the stars,” but to Monmouth University Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dmitri Kosenkov, it is the leaf that is an efficient masterpiece of chemistry and biology. Much of Kosenkov’s research seeks to apply photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight to chemical energy, to clean energy technology, creating a more efficient solar cell.
“So far, our technology has not been efficient, but plants do it very efficiently,” Kosenkov said. “We’re trying to discover the secret inside of plants.”
Kosenkov came to Monmouth in 2012 after completing his postdoctoral training at Purdue University. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Jackson State University, after earning his master’s and bachelor of science degrees from the Taras Schevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine.
Kosenkov’s goal is to create opportunities for students to explore nature through scientific research, to deal with the complexity of natural phenomena, and to take actions for the benefit of society.
He teaches general, physical, and computational chemistry courses. Kosenkov has revised Monmouth’s physical and computational chemistry curricula to reflect current trends in the field, and under his supervision, the physical chemistry laboratory is being continuously updated. Recently, time-resolved ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy and laser-induced fluorescence experiments have been added to the physical chemistry laboratory curriculum.
“The transition from Monmouth to graduate school or professional chemistry is smooth because our students receive direct guidance,” Kosenkov said. “In our labs, the students learn to use the tools they will use throughout their careers as chemists. We take that further as a faculty because we care about their success.”
Kosenkov’s group applies computational quantum chemistry in order to understand the fundamental laws that govern chemistry in living organisms. Due to the complexity of biological molecules, the studied application of quantum mechanical methods is challenging and requires significant computational resources. Kosenkov’s current research projects also include:
- Modeling the DNA binding of small organic molecules to inhibit cancer cell growth
- Modeling light-sensitive organic molecules and proteins for noninvasive control of neurons
- Speeding up computational chemistry using graphics processing units (GPUs)
Kosenkov believes that participation in research projects in a laboratory helps Monmouth students strengthen their academic, professional, and social skills. He advocates involving students in scientific research early on in their college careers.
“I want to give students the opportunity to think like scientists,” Kosenkov said. “I want them to form an image of the world based on scientific evidence.”
Collaborations that I've been involved with
Kosenkov collaborates with Monmouth’s chemistry students within the laboratory, and with other academic and professional chemists outside of the University. Students’ formal education in chemistry is complemented by their participation in laboratory research.
“We provide them with their formal training, but, in addition, students learn outside the classroom,” Kosenkov said. “I run my research group in a similar way to how it is done in a professional setting. They learn chemistry by working as chemists, and then they present their findings to a broader audience, be it their fellow students, the community, or other scientists. That way, they learn better the role of chemistry in the real world.
“We are actively collaborating with research groups in organic and inorganic chemistry within our department, and with colleagues at Purdue University, University of Southern California, and other schools. Our group members have presented their results at numerous research conferences, including those held by the American Chemical Society (ACS), Saint Joseph’s University, the Independent College Fund of New Jersey (ICFNJ), and Bucknell University.
“With support from the School of Science, our students participate in various summer internship programs at Monmouth and other institutions, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the City University of New York, and the University of California, Los Angeles.”
Why I'm proud of Monmouth
“Monmouth is a small, private, independent school,” Kosenkov said. “We work in small groups on campus, and students work personally with their professors. There are opportunities for a lot of interactions, and I am available to all of my students almost all of the time. That means I can design research programs specifically for each student, and follow them as they progress.”
In addition to taking part in prestigious summer research programs and participating in local, national, and international conferences, Kosenkov’s students have also won research grants and awards for their work.
“I am proud of my students’ achievements and successes,” Kosenkov said. "My group members have been awarded numerous prizes and awards including the Dean’s Award of Excellence in Undergraduate Research, ICFNJ Awards, ACS Awards in Physical and Organic Chemistry, and an award for the presentation at the international conference on Current Trends in Computational Chemistry.
“After graduation, our students succeed when continuing their education at top graduate schools, which include Purdue, Penn State, University of California-Irvine, and Rowan Medical School.”
My favorite Monmouth memory
“Back in 2012, when I started to build a computational chemistry research laboratory at Monmouth, I felt so much encouragement and support from my fellow colleagues and students,” Kosenkov said. “Together with my first research students Gary Prato, Samantha Silvent, Erik Braunstein, Omkaran Menon, and Kevin Wioland, we set up a computer cluster, organized weekly group meetings, and prepared our first presentations and research papers. It was a very exciting and inspiring experience.”