Every spring DISCOVER: Marquette University Research and Scholarship showcases some of the most interesting research happening on Marquette's campus. Learn more through the links below.
Marquette Research IN BRIEF FIGHTING POLLUTION, ONE MOLECULE AT A TIME In a lot of ways, for Dr. Adam Fiedler, the job of a chemist is tantamount to that of a cabinetmaker. The nature of craft is essential. Attention to detail is pivotal. And the end product is a molecule that may have never before existed. “The whole idea that we can make molecules that have never been made before,” Fiedler says, “that’s what interests me about chemistry. The process of designing, constructing and analyzing.” And those tiny molecules could have a big impact. Fiedler, an assistant professor of chemistry, studies the role certain molecules called metalloenzymes play in naturally breaking down environmental pollutants. The work won him a Faculty Early Career Development Award — and five-year grant — from the National Science Foundation. About 40 percent of all the enzymes in our body are metalloenzymes — enzymes that require a metal ion to perform their biological function. For example, when we breathe in dioxygen (O2) molecules, they bind to the iron center in hemoglobin proteins, which transport dioxygen to all the cells that need it. Other metalloenzymes use O2 to carry out oxidations within metabolic pathways. Fiedler studies a class of iron-containing enzymes called dioxygenases, which incorporate both atoms of O2 into the product of the reaction. “We’re trying to understand at a very fundamental, atomic level how specific iron-containing enzymes operate,” says Fiedler. “We want to know how these enzymes work in certain bacteria to help degrade common pollutants like PCBs, dioxins and aromatic hydrocarbons.” His findings may ultimately prove useful in practical applications down the road. “By designing and synthesizing certain complexes that mimic the function of these metalloenzymes, we’re getting to the bottom of how these dioxygenases truly work,” he says. — CN THE PHILOSOPHY OF ART For thousands of years, Chinese art remained uniquely untouched by Western influences. Now Dr. Curtis Carter, a Marquette professor of philosophy and expert in aesthetics, is studying how the East and West have influenced each other. “After Mao, there was more of an opening of ideas,” Carter explains. “By the 1980s, Chinese artists began to explore a wider range of Western-influenced modern and contemporary art including a form of pop art inspired by, but different from, Western pop art. At that time, China had no commercial culture, so its pop artists used art as a critique of Western pop art and their own Chinese political culture.” Carter has had ample opportunity to examine the evolution of Chinese art up close. Last fall, he was invited by leaders in the Chinese art world to speak at several events in Beijing. He was one of three Americans to present at the National Academy of Painting’s 30th Anniversary Symposium at the National Museum. While in Beijing, he spoke at the Sunshine International Museum, for which he is an honorary curator, during the opening ceremonies for an exhibition of contemporary Chinese artists. Carter also gave a lecture to graduate students at Beijing Normal University. And last summer, he hosted a first-of-its-kind East Meets West conference between Western and Eastern philosophers and artists at Marquette. The conference’s goal was to build a bridge between Western aesthetics and art and Chinese aesthetics and art. It’s a fascinating time to study Chinese art, says Carter. Although all Western influences were cut off during the cultural revolution, there is now more freedom for artists to explore almost any subject except for the critique of the government. “Artists in China are trying to assess how their current practices are related to traditional Chinese art and culture,” Carter says. “Contemporary ink and brush paintings are part of this effort. The latest movement is to find ways to reinsert ‘Chineseness’ into the practices of contemporary art while also maintaining their place in the international global art world.” Understanding Chinese art is even more important in today’s global society, he says. “As Americans expand political and economic engagements with Chinese colleagues, it is essential to comprehend the role art and philosophy have held in Chinese society throughout its history and continues to hold today,” says Carter. “Philosophy and art are at the roots of cultural understanding.” — KV Carter, left, at an art museum in China. 20 Discover