Molecular Scale Understanding of Anesthetic Binding

The ability of anesthetics to induce safe and reversible loss of consciousness in patients has proven to be of inestimable value. However, the mechanism through which anesthetics work is still a long-standing mystery. Understanding the mechanism of action requires the identification of their binding sites and modes of binding. Our group takes a physical chemical approach to this mystery. We use microwave spectroscopy in order to understand the molecular interactions between anesthetics and key molecular components of the target binding sites.

Our lab does high-resolution rotational spectroscopy, which is a highly structure specific technique characterized by its superb frequency resolution. These spectra are exquisitely sensitive to the positions and orientations of the two molecules in the complexes and can unambiguously distinguish between the different binding arrangements.  In our lab we use our newly constructed chirped-pulse Fourier transform microwave (CP-FTMW) spectrometer to record our spectra. Our spectrometer uses fast digital electronics to produce broadband excitation and detection pulses that cover large spectral ranges in a single measurement cycle that occurs on the microsecond time scale.

We are a molecular spectroscopy lab which means you will gain expertise in a versatile set of skills. We are an experimental group, working with fast electronics, high vacuum, and supersonic expansions that cool the molecules within a few degrees of absolute zero. We analyze our data using quantum principles, existing software, and develop our own analysis programs. We also run electronic structure calculations to aid in the analysis and understanding of our data. You will participate in all of these endeavors, tailor-made to your own interests.

In summary the main focus of this project is to use rotational spectroscopy to provide fundamental data on the intermolecular interactions between anesthetics and key molecular components of target binding sites and determine which binding arrangements are most likely to occur.

Note: Write a one-page essay maximum answering the following questions: Why do you think MolSpec is the right fit for you? What skill set would you want to develop at MolSpec? What area of the lab (experimental, analysis, computational) would you be most interested in?

Name of research group, project, or lab
MolSpec Lab
Why join this research group or lab?

We are a new lab filled with energy and we are all ready to do some cool science. Our research has its foundation in physical chemistry but uses instrumental methods that stretch far beyond those borders. Thus, students in my lab participate in a multidisciplinary research team, that uses physics, and engineering to study chemically important problems. If you are curious about working with state-of-the-art instrumentation, solving spectroscopic puzzles, and learning how to read literature, MolSpec may be the place for you!

Logistics Information:
Project categories
Student ranks applicable
Student qualifications

The research is accessible to ALL academic levels. There are no mandatory skills or background required. Most of what you will need you will learn on the go. However, your present skills and knowledge will determine the level of responsibility you will get on the project at the beginning.

Time commitment
Summer - Full Time
Paid Research
Number of openings
Techniques learned

Depending on the part of the project you focus on:

  • Students in my lab become familiar with rotational spectroscopy, the fundamental principles behind it and how to analyze a spectrum using existing software such as PGOPHER to determine the rotational constants.
  • Students learn how to run electronic structure calculations, gain intuition for the different molecular arrangements and a stronger working knowledge of quantum principles. They also become knowledgeable about electronic structure software packages like Gaussian.
  • Students in my lab will become familiar with essential tools in information technology, including arbitrary waveform generators, digital oscilloscopes, and a wide-range of digital electronics.
Contact Information:
Alicia Hernandez-Castillo
Assistant Professor
Name of project director or principal investigator
Alicia Hernandez-Castillo
Email address of project director or principal investigator
3 sp. | 25 appl.
Hours per week
Summer - Full Time
Project categories
Physics (+1)