Carnegie Mellon University Department of Chemistry
photo of Catalina Achim

Catalina Achim


Carnegie Mellon University


Phone: (412) 268-9588

Fax: (412) 268-1061

Office: Mellon Institute 833

group website

Faculty & Research

Catalina Achim


Research Areas

Supramolecular chemistry, Metal-containing peptide nucleic acids, Electron transfer, Molecular electronics, Coordination complexes with spin transitions, Mossbauer spectroscopy, Molecular magnetism, Molecule-based materials

Hybrid inorganic-nucleic acid structures for nanotechonogy and biological applications

Our research is aimed at the use of molecular recognition properties of nucleic acids and transition metal ions to create nanostructures. We have shown that peptide nucleic acids can be used as scaffold for the rational organization of metal ions. Substitution of nucleobases with ligands affords PNA duplexes with affinity for metal ions at predefined positions. The properties of metal-containing duplexes depend on the interplay between interactions specific to the nucleic acid and to the metal ions, e.g. hydrogen bonding and metal coordination. Our results open opportunities for using metal-containing duplexes in biological and nanotechnological applications.

Polynuclear complexes with spin transitions for information storage applications

Materials that are bistable, i.e. which can exist in two different states under similar conditions, can be used in the construction of information storage devices. Molecules that have a demonstrated ability to exist in two different states, namely states with a different spin are Fe(II) coordination complexes. Depending on the strength of the ligand field of the Fe(II) ions in specific coordination complexes, it is possible that the Fe(II) sites undergo a spin transition between low spin (S = 0) and high spin (S = 2) states. In solid state, intermolecular interactions between the complexes influence the abruptness of the spin transition and can lead to hysteresis, an essential condition for bistability. We study Fe-containing polynuclear complexes that undergo spin transitions because the mechanical and/or exchange interactions between the metal ions in these complexes are easier to characterize than intermolecular interactions and can provide insight in how to rationally design molecule-based, bistable materials.

Education and Appointments
2012–present Professor of Chemistry, Carnegie Mellon University
2007–2012 Associate Professor of Chemistry, Carnegie Mellon University
2009–present Associate Director, Center for Nucleic Acids Science and Technology, Carnegie Mellon University
2005–present Research Associate in the Section of Minerals, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
2001–2007 Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Carnegie Mellon University
1999–2001 Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University
1998 Ph.D. Chemistry, Carnegie Mellon University
Awards and Distinctions
2010 Julius Askhin Teaching Award, Mellon College of Science, Carnegie Mellon University
2006 Sloan Research Fellowship
2004 NSF-CAREER Award
2004 "ACS PROGRESS/Dreyfus Lectureship" award
2003 Camille-Dryfus Teacher-Scholar Award
2001 NIH National Research Service Award
Selected Publications

“Binding of Eu3+ to HOPO-Modified Peptide Nucleic Acids” De Leon, A.R., Olatunde, A., Morrow, J., Achim, C., 2012, Inorg. Chem. DOI: 10.1021/ic301790v.

“Heteroleptic Fe(II) Complexes of 2,2'-Biimidazole and Its Alkylated Derivatives: Spin-Crossover and Photomagnetic Behavior”, Phan,H., Chakraborty,P., Chen, M., Calm, Y.M., Kovnir, K., Keniley, Jr., L.K., Hoyt, J., Knowles, E.S., Besnard, C., Meisel, M.W., Hauser, A., Achim, C., Shatruk, M. 2012 Chem- A Eur. J.,  18, 15805.

“Influence of the Backbone on Charge Transfer in Peptide Nucleic Acid Duplexes” Wierzbinski, E.; De Leon, A.; Yin, X., Balaeff, A., Davis, K. L., Rappiredy, S.; Keinan, S.; Venkatramani, R.; Beratan, D.N.; Ly, D.H.; Achim, C., Waldeck, D.H., 2012, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 134, 9335–9342.

“Influence of Incorporation of Zinc(II) to Bipyridine-Modified Peptide Nucleic Acids on their Charge Transfer Properties” Wierzbinski, E.; De Leon, A.; Davis, K.L., Bezer, S., Wolak, M.A.; R. Achim, C., Waldeck, D.H., 2012, Langmuir, 28, 1971–1981.

“Coordination-Driven Inversion of Handedness in Ligand-Modified PNA”, Bezer, S. Rappiredy, S.; Skorik, Y.A.; Ly, D.H.; Achim, C., 2011 Inorg. Chem., 50, 11929–11937.

“Electronic Structure of Self-Assembled Peptide Nucleic Acid Thin Films” Wolak, M.A., Balaeff, A., Gutmann, S. Helmrich, H.J., Vosloo, R., Beerbom, M.M., Wierzbinski, E., Waldeck, D.H., Bezer, S., Achim, C., Beratan, D. N., Schlaf, R. 2011, J. Phys. Chem. C., 115, 17123–17135.

“Metal Binding to Ligand-Containing PNA” Ma, Z., Olecknowicz, F., Skorik, Y.A., Achim, C., 2011, Inorg. Chem., 50, 6083–6092.

“Evidence for a Near-Resonant Charge Transfer Mechanism for Double-Stranded Peptide Nucleic Acid” Venkatramani, R. Davis, K.L., Wierzbinski, E., Bezer, S., Balaeff, A., Keinan, S., Paul, A., Kocsis, L., Beratan, D.N., Achim, C., Waldeck, D.H., 2011, J. Am. Chem. Soc, 133, 62–72.

“The Crystal Structure of Non-Modified and Bipyridine-Modified PNA Duplexes" Yeh, J.I.; Pohl, E.; Truan, D.; He, W.; Sheldrick, G.M.; Du, S.; Achim, C., 2010, Chemistry - A Eur. J., 16, 11867–11875.

“The Structure of a γ-Modified Peptide Nucleic Acid Duplex” He, W.; Crawford, M.J.; Madrid, M.; Gil, R.R.; Ly, D.H.; Achim, C., 2010, Molecular Biosystems, 6, 1619–1629.

“An Unprecedented Charge Transfer Induced Spin Transition in a Fe-Os Cluster" Hilfiger, M.G., Chen, M., Brinzari, T.V., Nocera, T.M., Shatruk, M.; Petasis, D.; Musfeldt, J.L.; Achim, C., Dunbar, K.R. 2010, Angew. Chem., Intl. Ed., Hot Article, 49, 1410–3.