Jason Pontrello
Shapiro Science Center

Research Website

Jason Pontrello


Jason Pontrello

Assistant Professor in Chemistry
Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Madison

Research Website

Advances in understanding about teaching and learning which have taken place in the education sciences are often not utilized by basic science departments. As one of many interdisciplinary combinations that is possible in a chemistry department in the 21st century, joining together ideas about chemistry and education is a rich frontier for exploration.

My work focuses around the development of curricular models designed to introduce undergraduate students to the interdisciplinary, collaborative nature of current scientific research, particularly in the critical introductory, or “gateway” courses where we can still lose many promising future scientists. Traditional introductory science lecture and laboratory courses rely on simple, general examples to illustrate fundamental scientific concepts in a particular field. Unfortunately, students often do not appreciate the importance of the fundamental concepts due to the simple, general nature of the textbook examples. I am developing organic chemistry lecture and laboratory curricular models that introduce students to the interdisciplinary nature of science through examples and exercises that bridge multiple disciplines such as chemistry, biology, and computer science and that develop fundamental understanding through the application of literature research examples.

To illustrate what this means: In an introductory laboratory course, students are introduced to a collaborative research environment where they develop basic technical skills through synthesizing molecules that have further application (rather than simple disposal at the end of the lab). In addition, students are developing synthetic routes to compounds based on a realistic hypothesis. As is regularly true in laboratory research, unexpected results are frequently obtained, regardless of the validity of the hypothesis. Often, these unexpected results provide significant opportunities for scientists to gain a deeper understanding of the research topic, and at the very least, provide an opportunity to facilitate discussions about the obtained results. In addition, collaboration between chemistry students and students enrolled in an introductory biology course, provides application data in another discipline, and serves to inform future synthetic design strategies. The curriculum is also designed to introduce students to the collaborative nature of scientific research through the Structured Study Group Program. This program utilizes team learning strategies by requiring students to evaluate each other’s quiz answers (Peer Review), and by having groups of students work through course questions with an underlying common theme.

I am also carrying out research on the effectiveness of these instructional activities. The abilities of students to effectively communicate scientific information indicative of conceptual understanding is being assessed. While some students learn more effectively from reading a textbook than from lecture, and vice versa, it remains unclear if this is an inherent learning trait, or if it is simply due to the presentation of material. Projects are ongoing to determine the effect of explanation exercises enacted among students in the same course, with the same access to learning resources, as opposed to exercises enacted among students in analogous courses at different institutions, where students have access to different resources. We are also interested in whether increasing students' intellectual ownership of laboratory tasks translates to a deeper and/or better understanding of the nature of science. Finally, we are interested whether imbedding this kind of work into the curriculum can be a mechanism that drives changes in the overall direction of an undergraduate teaching program.

My main areas of laboratory research interest are developing solid-phase synthetic strategies to facilitate the synthesis of biological macromolecules, and the generation of synthetic multivalent ligands used to study and control biological processes. Independent laboratory research projects in my group involve a variety of topics such as solid phase synthesis, polymer chemistry, and small molecule synthesis. I have also incorporated several of these research projects into the undergraduate organic chemistry lab program. Interested students have the option to continue project work in my independent research lab, with focus on three main projects:

1) Solid-phase synthesis of oligomeric biological ligands exploiting the N-acyl sulfonamide safety-catch linker.

2) Design and synthesis of selective metalloprotease inhibitors.

3) Studying the mechanism of onset of Huntington’s Disease through the design and synthesis of inducers/inhibitors of huntingtin protein aggregation.

A Sample of Recent Publications

Kolonko, E. M.; Pontrello, J. K.; Mangold, S. L.; Kiessling, L. L. “General Synthetic Route to Cell-Permeable Block Copolymers via ROMP.” Journal of the American Chemical Society 2009, 131(21), 7327-7333.

Courtney, A. H.; Puffer, E. B.; Pontrello, J. K.; Yang, Z.-Q.; Kiessling, L. L. “Sialylated multivalent antigens engage CD22 in trans and inhibit B cell activation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 2009, 106 (8), 2500-2505.

Puffer, E. B.; Pontrello, J. K.; Hollenbeck, J. J.; Kink, J. A.; Kiessling L. L. “Activating B Cell Signaling with Defined Multivalent Ligands.” ACS Chemical Biology 2007, 2(4), 252–262.

Pontrello, J. K.; Allen, M. J.; Underbakke, E. S.; Kiessling, L. L. “Solid Phase Synthesis of Polymers Using the Ring-Opening Metathesis Polymerization” Journal of the American Chemical Society 2005, 127(42), 14536-14537.

Kiessling, L. L.; Pontrello, J. K.; Schuster, M. C.  “Synthetic multivalent carbohydrate ligands as effectors or inhibitors of biological processes.” Carbohydrate-Based Drug Discovery 2003, 2, 575-608.

Sexton, K. E.; Lee, H. T.; Massa, M.; Padia, J.; Patt, W. C.; Liao, P.; Pontrello, J. K.; Roth, B. D.; Spahr, M. A.; Ramharack, R. “Inhibitors of lipoprotein(a) assembly.” Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry 2003, 11(22), 4827-4845.

Yang, Z. Q.; Puffer, E. B.; Pontrello, J. K.; Kiessling, L. L. “Synthesis of a multivalent display of a CD22-binding trisaccharide.” Carbohydrate Research 2002, 337(18), 1605-1613.

Clauss, A. D.; Pontrello, J. K.; Tseng, T. A. “Organic Chemistry, Chemistry 344 Laboratory Manual.” University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2002-current.

Coppola, B. P.; Daniels, D. S.; Pontrello, J. K. “Using Structured Study Groups to Create Chemistry Honors Sections.” In, Miller, J.; Groccia, J. E.; DiBiasio, D. (Eds.) “Student Assisted Teaching and Learning.” New York: Anker, 2001; pp. 116-122.


Booth, R. J.; Lee, H. T.; Pontrello, J. K.; Ramharack, R. R.; Roth, B. D. Amide inhibitors of microsomal triglyceride transfer protein. U.S. Patent 6,780,883, August 24, 2004.

Justus, S. E. A.; Lee, H. T.; Pontrello, J. K.; Roth, B. D.; Sexton, K. E.; Wilson, M. W. Thiazolidinone compounds useful as chemokine inhibitors. U.S. Patent 6,506,751, Jan 14, 2003.