Chatham University

Falk School of Sustainability

Faculty and Staff


Joseph MacNeil Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Chemistry, Interim MS Biology Program Director

Hometown : New Kensington, PA
Joined Chatham : 1997

Academic Areas of Interest

chemical pedagogy, bioremediation, semiconductors, solvothermal synthesis, X-ray crystallography


I completed an undergraduate degree in chemistry at St. Francis Xavier University in 1988 before moving on to a Ph.D. (organometallic chemistry) at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. In 1993 I moved to San Diego to begin a post-doctoral research program studying environmental and mechanistic aspects of nitrogen oxides (NOx). I have been at Chatham since 1997, and am now an associate professor in our chemistry program. I teach both semesters of general chemistry, as well as upper-level courses in inorganic and instrumental analysis. I also teach the scholars section of our general education science each year.

My research encompasses three distinct foci: chemical pedagogy, environmental remediation and synthesis of novel semiconductors. We are constantly working to keep our teaching labs current and relevant to today's students, and many of our original ideas have been incorporated into research articles and published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Chemical Education. These new labs focus on ways to incorporate more active student involvement in all stages of the learning process, through an approach called inquiry-based learning.

Part of Chatham’s mission embraces the study and stewardship of the environment around us, and this deeply-embedded cultural value was the genesis of my phytoremediation research. There are over 400 plant species well-documented to thrive on metal-contaminated soils that are toxic to most other plants. Phytoremediation is an effort to apply this knowledge in a practical way by using these plants to extract the metals from the soil, effectively straining out the toxins while leaving the remaining soil healthy and safe. In our labs, we have been focusing on ways to help sunflowers remove more cadmium from contaminated soil and water. This is a favorite project for students to work on; to date, 10 students have done senior research studies on this topic, and there is still lots more to do.

While on sabbatical during the 2009-10 academic year, I began a collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Aitken at Duquesne University. In this project, we are synthesizing and characterizing new forms semiconductors that have potential applications from solar cells to lasers to the rapidly developing field of spintronics. Dr. Aitken is well-known for her work in diamond-like semiconductors, and in her labs I learned the keys to high temperature solid state synthesis using both direct combination and flux approaches. Now I am working on preparing an analogous class of compounds with a lower temperature solvothermal approach. My first tutorial student on this project will present her work in the spring of 2011.