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Eric Werner

Eric J. Werner
Professor of Chemistry

  • 2002 B.S. in Chemistry with Highest Honors, University of Florida; Mentor: Professor Michael J. Scott
  • 2007 Ph.D. in Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley; Mentor: Professor Kenneth N. Raymond

Research Interests

Research in our lab focuses on the synthesis of new molecules capable of binding specific lanthanide or actinide metal ions for a variety of biomedical and environmental applications. One project involves the study of compounds containing the gadolinium(III (3)) ion (Gd 3+) that show potential as novel contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The main focus of this work involves the synthesis and characterization of novel organic ligands and metal complexes, the study of the proton relaxation rate enhancement in the presence of the complex and assessment of thermodynamic chelate stability (critical for in vivo use). Students working in this area perform much of the research here at UT while also having the opportunity to conduct additional studies via off-campus collaborations with some of the leading world experts in the area of medical imaging agent development.

MRI Brain Scan

Adapted from: Runge, V. M. “Intraveneous Contrast Media” in Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Vol. 1; Partain, C. C., et al., Eds. W. B. Saunders Co.: Philadelphia, 1988, p 827.

In addition to the synthesis and study of Gd-based MRI probes, novel f-element chelators are also being prepared for applications ranging from luminescent sensors to extractants for improved lanthanide/actinide separation technologies. For example, complexes of select lanthanide ions (e.g. Eu 3+ and Tb 3+) are currently being evaluated with regard to their luminescent properties to enable imaging or sensing of biologically relevant targets. The relatively long luminescence decay lifetimes, sharp emission bands and large Stokes shifts of the sensitized emission make these ions ideal as probes under biological conditions. In addition to these sensor studies, current collaborative extensions of the work involve the encapsulation of the small molecule chelates within silica-based nanoparticles. The combination of the unique photophysical properties of the lanthanides with the well-known chemistry and diverse applicability of silica nanoparticles may yield highly emissive materials for use in a variety of areas including biomedical imaging.

Eu complex Werner

Solution of a Eu complex excited by UV light (left) and the same complex encapsulated by silica nanoparticles illuminated under identical conditions (right).

Finally, new directions within the lab have focused on the development of selective extractants of the rare earth elements and, in some cases, actinides. Due to the large volumes of nuclear waste materials already present and the need for alternative energy sources which may include nuclear, improved methods for waste remediation due to safety and environmental concerns are desirable. Fundamental to this challenge is the design of molecules with enhanced metal extraction capability, inspiring further chelator development and f-element coordination chemistry research in our group.

Tavya Benjamin
Undergraduate student Tavya Benjamin synthesizing a new macrocyclic Eu 3+ complex for luminescent sensor applications.

Undergraduate Research in My Lab

Chemistry is a hands-on, experimental science. The time students spend in the classroom learning about chemistry is essential in providing necessary theory and background; it is in the research lab where students come full circle by putting this knowledge into action. In my lab, students are given the opportunity (and the great challenge!) of conducting their own original research projects, applying what they have learned through their coursework as well as acquiring new knowledge and skills in a relevant area of modern chemical research. In carrying out the work noted above, students are involved in every aspect of the project: from the design of new molecules or novel assays to the final presentation and publication of the more promising results. Also, due to the interdisciplinary nature of the work, students are exposed to a variety of areas including inorganic and organic synthesis in preparing novel lanthanide complexes, analytical chemistry in performing various assays and through characterization of all new molecules synthesized, physical chemistry in rationalizing the magnetic and photophysical properties of the imaging agents and biomedical research in exploring potential applications. Beyond learning basic synthetic techniques, students routinely have full access to a number of sophisticated instruments on campus including NMR (300 MHz), FTIR, UV-Vis and fluorescence spectrometers.

Werner Group, Spring 2018Werner Group, Spring 2018: Eric Werner, Maya Glander, Alyssa Henry, Emily Connor, Sara Polzin

Werner Group, Spring 2016Werner Group, Spring 2016: Andrew Mulville, Sara Polzin, Emily Connor, Michael Patterson, John Dahl, Kayla Felix, Eric Werner

If you are interested in learning more or would like to discuss research opportunities in my lab, please contact me at or stop by my office.

Recent Publications (undergraduate student coauthors' names are in bold type):

Patterson, M. G.; Mulville, A. K.; Connor, E. K.; Henry, A. T.; Hudson, M. L.; Tissue, K.  (Undergraduate Student Coauthors); Biros, S. M.; Werner, E. J. “Lanthanide Extraction Selectivity of a Tripodal Carbamoylmethylphosphine Oxide Ligand System.” Dalton Trans. 2018, 47, 14318–14326.

Leach, E. G.; Shady, J. R.; Boyden, A. C.; Emig, A.; Henry, A. T.; Connor, E. K. (Undergraduate Student Coauthors); Staples, R. J.; Schaertel, S.; Werner, E. J.; Biros, S. M. “X-ray Crystallographic, Luminescence and NMR Studies of Phenacyldiphenylphosphine Oxide with the Ln(III (3)) ions Sm, Eu, Gd, Tb and Dy.” Dalton Trans.2017, 46, 15458–15469.

Coburn, K. M.; Hardy, D. A.; Patterson, M. G.; McGraw, S. N.; Peruzzi, M. T.; Boucher, F.; Beelen, B.; Sartain, H. T. (Undergraduate Student Coauthors); Neils, T.; Lawrence, C. L.; Staples, R. J.; Werner, E. J.; Biros, S. M. “ f-Element Coordination and Extraction Selectivity of a Carbamoylmethylphosphine Oxide Ligand Based on a Tripodal Phosphine Oxide Scaffold.” Inorg. Chim. Acta, 2016, 449, 96–106.

Duncan, A. K.; McBride, C. N.; Benjamin, T. G. R.; Madsen, M. P.; Bowers, K. T. (Undergraduate Student Coauthors); de Bettencourt-Dias, A.; Werner, E. J. “Tuning the Structural and Lanthanide Luminescence Properties of Macrocyclic Tetraiminodiphenolate Europium(III (3)) Complexes.” Polyhedron, 2016, 114, 451–458, Invited paper for special issue: “Undergraduate Research in Inorganic Chemistry.”

Sartain, H. T.; McGraw, S. N. (Undergraduate Student Coauthors); Lawrence, C. L.; Werner, E. J.; Biros, S. M. “A Novel Tripodal CMPO Ligand: Affinity for f-Elements, Computational Investigations and Luminescence Properties.” Inorg. Chim. Acta, 2015, 426, 126–135. 

Werner, E. J.; Benjamin, T. G. R. (Undergraduate Student Coauthors) “Molecular Gadolinium Complexes for Magnetic Resonance Imaging.” McGraw-Hill Yearbook of Science & Technology 2014; McGraw-Hill: New York, 2014.

Makhinson, B. Duncan, A. K.; Elam, A. R. (Undergraduate Student Coauthors); de Bettencourt-Dias, A.; Medley, C. D.; Smith, J. E.; Werner, E. J. “Turning on Lanthanide Luminescence via Nanoencapsulation.” Inorg. Chem. 2013, 52, 6311–6318. 

Recent off-campus presentations (undergraduate student coauthors' names are in bold type; presenting author underlined):

Martinez, A. (Undergraduate Student Coauthor and Presenting Author); Larrinaga, W. (Undergraduate Student Coauthor); Werner, E. J. “Variation of Ligand Caps and Substituents of Tripodal CMPO-Based Agents for f-Element Extraction.” 257th ACS National Meeting, Orlando, FL, March 2019.

Glander, M. (Undergraduate Student Coauthor and Presenting Author); Biros, S. M.; Werner, E. J. “Lanthanide Extraction with a Trialkylphosphine Oxide Capped Ligand: Variation of Extraction Conditions to Optimize Lanthanide Recovery.” 257th ACS National Meeting, Orlando, FL, March 2019.

Werner, E. J. (Presenting Author); Polzin, S. M.; Felix, K. H. (Undergraduate Student Coauthor) “Lanthanide luminescence and anion binding properties of tripodal iminopyridine complexes.” 255th ACS National Meeting, New Orleans, LA, March 2018.

Werner, E. J. (Presenting Author) “Development of CMPO-Based Ligands for Selective Lanthanide Extraction.” 28th Rare Earth Research Conference, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, June 2017, Invited talk.

Werner, E. J. (Presenting Author); Botta, M.; Johnson, K. R.; Madsen, M. P. (Undergraduate Student Coauthors) “Linking Fundamental Undergraduate f-Element Research to Real-World Applications: Development of Pyridine/Phosphonate Based MRI Contrast Agents.” 247th ACS National Meeting, Dallas, TX, March 2014, Invited talk.