Dominick J. Casadonte Jr.
2012 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar
Minnie Stevens Piper Professor,
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry,
College of Arts & Sciences
An appreciation for music has helped to drive the integrated scholarship of Professor Dominick Casadonte Jr. As a student of both chemistry and classical trombone, Casadonte combines elements from those areas in the study of sonochemistry; his research involves using high-intensity sounds to propel chemical reactions in nanomaterials, alternative fuels, and environmental remediation processes. Additionally, Casadonte carries out research in supramolecular photochemistry and chemistry education. His studies, especially in the latter research area, have carried over into laboratories and lecture halls; Casadonte's interests in chemistry education have led him to flip the traditional lecture-homework paradigm in his honors general chemistry classes. His desire to ignite the scientific interests of both young and old has led him to perform more than 250 chemical demonstration shows over two decades and to prepare teacher's aides for science class settings. Also during his more than 20-year career at Texas Tech, Casadonte has served as an adviser for more than half a dozen student organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, the Catholic Student Association, and Iota Tau Alpha.
Learn more about Integrated Scholar Dominick Casadonte Jr. in this question-and-answer session.
What are your research objectives and interests?
My research has three main focus areas. My research group is interested in the use and development of high-intensity ultrasound and ultrasonic instrumentation for nanomaterials fabrication, alternate fuel production, and environmental remediation. We also do research in the area of supramolecular photochemistry and the design of photoactive metallopolymers. In addition to these areas, We also have an active program in chemistry education research.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
Our work in sonochemistry has the real possibility of reducing the carbon footprint and providing alternate energy production schemes. The nanoalloys that we make sonochemically with controlled stoichiometries can possibly have an impact making more efficient fuel cells to power automobiles and in reducing carbon dioxide to methane. We are also working in the area of hydrogen storage and biofuel production using ultrasound to facilitate the reactions. In the area of supramolecular chemistry, we are trying to make electronic circuit elements that are light activated, in order to speed up the processes involved in circuit, chip, etc. design. In chemical education, we are trying to increase the number of young people interested in science.
What types of service projects have you been involved with?
Besides my faculty duties and trombone performance, I have been Faculty Advisor for seven different student organizations at Texas Tech over the past twenty years, including Habitat for Humanity, Mortar Board, the Catholic Student Association, Chi Rho, Iota Tau Alpha (a trombone service fraternity which I founded at Texas Tech and which has chapters in Michigan and Massachusetts), the Chemistry Graduate Student Association, and the American Chemical Society Student Affiliates. The Habitat group has been involved in the building of more than 50 houses for families in need, two neighborhoods, and a playground. I am also very involved in chemistry and science outreach efforts. I have performed more than 250 chemical demo shows since 1992 for over 30,000 people, young and old alike, in the states of Texas and New Mexico. The age range has been from three to ninety. No one is too young or too old to become enthused by science! I have done presentations for the National Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST), the F.O. Birmingham Memorial Lecture Series in the Dallas area, the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education, as well as hundreds of presentations to local K-12 schools and agencies.
What are you currently working on?
Here is one example. In Sonochemistry, besides the energy-related research, we are making superparamagnetic (SPM) alloys for magnetothermal therapy. The SPM alloys, once made, will then be protein encapsulated (also using ultrasound). The idea here is that we will then pass the material off to our biology and medical colleagues, who will tag the proteinaceous nanomaterials with antibodies for various cancer cells. We hope to then inject the nanomaterials at a tumor site. Using an induction wand, we will superheat the cancer cell tagged with the nanomaterial, killing it, and leaving the surrounding tissues unharmed. There are other projects that we are working on, but they are proprietary in nature.
My education research involves an examination of the process known as "flipping" the undergraduate classroom experience, where the traditional lecture-homework paradigm is time-shifted through the use of pre-recorded lectures. In my Honors General Chemistry class, for example, students first watch a 20-60 minute lecture over the material to be covered. They then do some on-line homework to test their comprehension. In class, rather than lecture, I review the material, trying to clear up misconceptions or muddy points. We then work more advanced problems, representative of real-world applications. This has had a tremendous impact on student performance, and we are doing research to try to improve the time-shifted format. He is also continuing his work with project SERVE, in order to generalize the use of senior citizens as teacher's aides in a variety of academic settings. Finally, he has recently begun an interest in how to teach chemical safety and in the development of a culture of safety in academic settings.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Part of my inspiration for the use of sound to drive chemical reactions comes from my interest in music. I was originally a classical trombone performance major at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM). Case Institute of Technology was across the street, and so it was a natural thing to me to study both science and music. I studied trombone with Robert Boyd and James DeSano, consecutive Principal Trombonists of the Cleveland Orchestra. I still play the bass trombone, and have been a member of the Texas Tech trombone studio since 1989. I have had the good fortune to play under Robert Deahl, Don Lucas, and James Decker. Sonochemistry allows me the ability to combine various aspects of both music and science. I find inspiration for my work in trying to solve practical problems that will have an impact on society. I also find inspiration from my colleagues, both at Texas Tech and in the broader academic community.
What advice do you have for new faculty members about balancing the components of Integrated Scholarship—teaching, research, and service—in their careers?
In terms of balancing not only the demands of teaching, research, and service within their careers, I would have the following suggestions:
- Know what is important to you. For me, family and friends have to come before work. Work comes and goes, but those parts of one's life that are permanent should be treasured. That is not to say that family and friends should be used as an excuse for not being productive. Rather, they are often the source of strength that allows one to do better work.
- Be able to articulate what you are doing in clear terms both broadly and specifically, depending on the audience. Both are essential for funding and scholarship purposes.
- Be a part of the educational process for students. Don't be a "sage on the stage", but learn with your students. And above all, be honest with them, and show them both the forefront and the limits of current knowledge. Try new ways of teaching in the classroom. It will keep your teaching fresh.
- Above all, network! By this, I mean really get to know people, especially outside of your area of scholarship, on campus. Think about how these folks might become part of team-based, trans-disciplinary, or integrated scholarship activities. In the broader community of your scholarship, get to know a good mix of leaders in the field and young faculty with promise.
After receiving an undergraduate degree in Chemistry with Honors from Case Institute of Technology of Case Western Reserve University in 1977, Dr. Casadonte earned an M.S. degree (Physical Chemistry) and Ph.D. (Inorganic Chemistry) from Purdue University under the direction of David McMillin in 1985. He then did postdoctoral work at the University of Illinois in the laboratories of Ken Suslick and Ted Brown. In 1988, Dr. Casadonte was awarded one of the first ten Scholar/Fellow Fellowships given by the Dreyfus Foundation and taught as a Dreyfus Teacher/Scholar at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. He began his academic career at Texas Tech University in the fall of 1989.
In addition to his academic work, Casadonte composes (he has written a mass for the St. Elizabeth's Catholic University Parish, various trombone pieces, and has numerous arrangements for brass quintet, handbell choir, and vocal choir), builds furniture, does stained glass work, and is an avid science fiction reader. At St. Elizabeth's he sings with the "Joyful Noise" choir, chairs the Social Justice Committee, is a lector, and teaches in the RCIA program, in addition to his work with the student ministries.