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Dan Sykes

Teaching Professor


Professional Appointments and Affiliations

Teaching Professor

Director of Analytical Laboratory Instruction


330 Whitmore Laboratory

University Park, PA 16802


B.S., University of Oregon, 1985

Ph.D., The University of Alberta, 1990


Chemical Education Research

Pedagogical transformation of the chemistry curriculum via the use and integration of small, mobile instruments for laboratory enhancement (SMILE). The major goal of the project is to design, develop, implement, and assess the construction and use of small-scale instruments in the chemistry curriculum at the high school and college levels. The project focuses on the use of low-cost, low-maintenance student-built instrumentation to enliven, invigorate, promote and enhance competency in STEM subject matter. The core of the proposal includes the development of materials aimed at instructing faculty and teachers in the practical implementation of scientific instrumentation, as well as modules in critical evaluation, revision and enhancement of curricular materials.  The following instruments have been a part of the SMILE program over the past eleven years: NMR solid-state probe (installed in a commercial 400 MHz instrument), colorimeter, fluorometer,  diamond-anvil cell (coupled to a commercial Raman), barcode scanner, GC-FID, ion chromatography instrument, dissolved oxygen probe, cyclic voltammeter, DNA oligomer sensor, UV-VIS grating-based photodiode array spectrometer, Spec 20 conversion to a scanning instrument, CE-chip, and a few others.  New  SMILE prototypes are in constant development.

Environmental and Forensic Chemistry Research

Discovery and targeted based detection and quantification of chemical substances of environmental and forensic concern.

1. Micro- and nano-plastics in marine and lacustrine waters: 

Plastics constitute 60% of all floating oceanic debris.  Although much attention has been devoted to the effects of macroscopic pollution, e.g., impact on visual aesthetics, injury and death due to ingestion of plastic by aquatic-dependent species, micro- and nano-plastics are now believed to be an even greater environmental and biological hazard. Unfortunately, the simultaneous detection, identification, and quantification of nanoplastics (broadly defined as 1-100 nm in particle diameter) in oceanic and lacustrine environments is hampered by several factors: Diffraction-limited resolution and the complex nature of these solutions where naturally occurring nanoparticles (i.e., non-plastic) likely outnumber plastic nanoparticles.  Available techniques for nanoparticle characterization are predominantly focused on size characterization in simple matrices of known, and often, synthetically-prepared compositionally uniform particles. However, the simultaneous determination of size and chemical composition of a targeted class of nanoparticles (i.e., plastics) in a complex matrix is still an unresolved major challenge.  Our research focuses on developing optimized sample preparative and instrumental conditions to provide for the targeted detection of micro- and nano-plastics using FTIR microscopy, Raman microprobe, nanoparticle tracking analysis, and nano-IR.  Our initial results suggest that the above methods can be used in concert for the targeted detection of nanoplastics in natural samples.

2.  Analysis and detection of antidepressants, drugs of abuse, and other environmental contaminants in water and body fluids:

Development, optimization and validation of sample extraction, clean-up, and LC-MSMS/GC-MSMS methods.   Antidepressants are the most heavily prescribed class of drugs today and are often co-factors in drug overdose cases.  Both antidepressants and many other human waste by-products survive the wastewater treatment process, and therefore, are of environmental and human health concern.

3.  Novel stationary phases:

The principal aim of the research is to develop a suite of silane coatings (HPLC, GC, SPME) with a high-degree of selectivity towards target analytes and mixed-mode phases with broad selectivity coupled with multiple component analysis to recover individual analyte information.


Method development and validation, diagnostic testing, and troubleshooting spectroscopic and chromatographic techniques applied to issues of environmental and forensic concern.  Recent work includes: developing simple diagnostic tests for automobile coating defects, conducting performance tests on novel coatings for LC-based applications; LC method development and validation for sensitive nucleic acid moieties; testing and troubleshooting LC stationary phases; and the detection and quantification of target compounds for arson and suspicious animal death investigations, suspected drug cases, and environmental monitoring.  All consulting work is performed by students in the senior-level instrumental analysis courses, CHEM 423W (spectroscopy) and 425W (chromatography), under the supervision of Dr. Sykes.  These courses are designed to provide students with hands-on training with research-grade instrumentation while working on current real-world applications.

Selected Publications

Galyamova, A., Johnson, M., Chohan, B.C., and Sykes, D.G. (2019) Small Mobile Instruments for Laboratory Enhancement:  Student-Built Conductivity Probes.  The Chemical Educator 24, 22-26.

Abu-Laban, M., Kumal, R., Casey, J., Becca, J., LaMaster, D., Pacheco, C.N., Sykes, D.G., Jensen, L., Haber, L.H., and Hayes, D.J. (2018) Comparison of Thermally Actuated Retro-Diels-Alder Release Groups for Nanoparticle Based Nucleic Acid Delivery.  Journal of Colloid & Interface Science 526, 312-321.

Sykes, D. and Morrisson, M. (2017) Chemistry of Literature, Literature of Chemistry: Developing and Promoting a Course for the Humanities and Natural Sciences.  In ACS Symposium Series:  Liberal Arts Strategies for the Chemistry Classroom; G. Crawford and K. Kloepper (Eds.); Oxford University Press: Washington, DC, 2017, 11-25.  DOI: 10.1021/bk-2017-1266.ch002

Clippard, C.M., Hughes, W., Sykes, D.G. and Chohan, B.S. (2016) Construction and Characterization of a Compact, Portable, Low-Cost Colorimeter for the Chemistry Lab.  Journal of Chemical Education 93 (7), 1242-1248.

Clippard, C., Nichisti, J, Chohan, B. and Sykes, D. (2014) The Use of a Custom-Built Coulometric Karl Fischer Instrument for the Determination of Water Content in Chocolate. Food Analytical Methods. Online version:

Mott, J., Munson, P., Chohan, B. and Sykes, D. (2014) Design, Development and Characterization of an Inexpensive Portable Cyclic Voltammeter.  Journal of Chemical Education 91 (7), 1028-1036.

Chohan, B. and Sykes, D. (2013) Teaching Bioanalytical Chemistry: Application of the SMILE initiative to Bioanalytical Chemistry Instruction.  In ACS Symposium Series:  Teaching Bioanalytical Chemistry, H. Hou (ed.); Oxford University Press: Washington, DC, 2013, 105-138.

Wigton, B., Chohan, B., Kreuter, R., and Sykes, D. (2011) The Characterization of an Easy-to-Operate Inexpensive Student-Built Fluorimeter.  Journal of Chemical Education 88 (8), 1188-1193.

McDonald, C., M., Schunk, D., Kreuter, R., Johnson, M., Wigton, B., Chohan, B. and Sykes, D. (2011) A Portable, Low-Cost, LED Fluorimeter for Middle School, High School, and Undergraduate Chemistry Labs.  Journal of Chemical Education 88 (8), 1182-1187.

Dominguez, V., McDonald, C., M., Johnson, M., Schunk, D., Kreuter, R., Wigton, B., Chohan, B. and Sykes, D. (2010) The Characterization of a Custom Built Coulometric Karl Fischer Titration Apparatus.  Journal of Chemical Education 87 (9), pp 987–991

Washton, N.M., Earnheart, K.C., Sykes, D.G., Ucak-Astarlioglu, M., and Mueller, K.T. (2007) Toward the Integration of Liquid- and Solid-State NMR across the Undergraduate Curriculum.  In ACS Symposium Series:  Modern NMR Spectroscopy in Education; D. Rovnyak and R. Stockland Jr. (Eds.); American Chemical Society:  Washington, DC., 2007, 20-35.

Bandura, A.V., Sykes, D.G., Kubicki, J.D. and Evarestov, R.A. (2004) Adsorption of water on the TiO2 (Rutile) (110) surface: A comparison of periodic and embedded cluster calculations.  Journal of Physical Chemistry A 108, No. 23, 7844-7853.

Kubicki, J.D. and Sykes, D.G. (2004) Ab initio calculation of 1H, 17O, 27Al and 29Si NMR parameters, vibrational frequencies and bonding energetics in hydrous silica and Na-aluminosilicate glasses.  Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 68, 3909-3918.

Kubicki, J.D., Sykes, D. and Apitz, S.E., (1999) Ab initio calculation of aqueous aluminum and aluminum-carboxylate energetics and NMR chemical shifts. Journal of Physical Chemistry A 103, 903-915.

Sykes, D., Kubicki, J.D. and Farrar, T.C. (1997) Molecular Orbital Calculation of 27Al and 29Si NMR Parameters in Q3 and Q4 Aluminosilicate Molecules and Implications for the Interpretation of Hydrous Aluminosilicate Glass NMR Spectra. Journal of Physical Chemistry 101, no. 14, 2715-2722.

Sykes, D. and Kubicki, J.D. (1996) Four-membered rings in silica and aluminosilicate glasses. American Mineralogist 81, no. 3 and 4, 265-272.

Kubicki, J.D. and Sykes, D. (1995) Molecular orbital calculations on the vibrational spectra of Q3 T-(OH) species and the hydrolysis of a 3-membered aluminosilicate ring. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 59, no. 23, 4791-4797.

Sykes, D., Rossman, G.R., Veblen, D. and Grew, E.S. (1994) Enhanced H and F incorporation in borian olivines from the Tayozhnoye Deposit, Russia. American Mineralogist 79, no. 9 and 10, 904-908.

Sykes, D. and Kubicki, J.D. (1993) A model for H2O solubility mechanisms in albite melts from IR spectroscopy and MO calculations. Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta 57, no. 5, 1039-1052.

Sykes, D., Poe, B., McMillan, P.F., Luth, R.W. and Sato, R.K. (1993) A spectroscopic investigation of anhydrous KAlSi3O8 and NaAlSi3O8 glasses quenched from high pressure. Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta 57, no. 8, 1753-1759.

Sykes, D., Dickinson, J.E. Jr., Luth, R.W. and Scarfe, C.M. (1993) Viscosity-temperature relationships of melts at 1 atm in the system nepheline-diopside. Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta 57, no. 6, 1291-1295.

Sykes, D., Sato, R.K., Luth, R.W., McMillan, P.F. and Poe, B. (1993) Water solubility mechanisms in KAlSi3O8 melts at high pressure. Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta 57, no.15, 3575-3584.

Kubicki, J.D. and Sykes, D. (1993) Molecular orbital calculations of vibrations in three-membered aluminosilicate rings. Physics Chemistry Minerals 19, no. 6, 381-391.

Kubicki, J.D. and Sykes, D. (1993) Molecular orbital calculations on H6Si2O7 with variable Si-O-Si angle: implications for the high-pressure vibrational spectra of silicate glasses. American Mineralogist 78, no. 3 and 4, 253-259.

Kubicki, J.D., Sykes, D. and Rossman, G.R. (1993) Calculated trends of OH infrared stretching vibrations with composition and structure in aluminosilictae molecules. Physics Chemistry Minerals 20, no. 6, 425-432.

Stebbins, J.F. and Sykes, D. (1990) The structure of NaAlSi3O8 liquid at high pressure: new constraints from NMR spectroscopy. American Mineralogist 75, no. 7 and 8, 943-946.

Sykes, D. and Scarfe, C.M. (1990) Melt structure in the system nepheline-diopside. Journal Geophysical Research 95, no. B10, 15745-15749.