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Department of Chemistry James Hurst

Hurst, James


Professor Emeritus

Fulmer 164

Pullman, WA 99164-4630


509-335-7848 / 5-5334



Post-Doctoral Study, 1966-1969
Cornell  University


Ph.D. Physical Inorganic Chemistry, 1966
Stanford University


B.A. Chemistry, 1962
Cornell College





Professor Hurst, a graduate of Cornell College (Mt. Vernon, Iowa), received his Ph.D. degree in Physical Inorganic Chemistry from Stanford University. His thesis advisor was the Nobel laureate Henry Taube. Following three additional years study with Gordon Hammes at Cornell University as a NIH Postdoctoral Fellow, he joined the faculty at the Oregon Graduate Institute for Science and Technology (then the Oregon Graduate Center). In 1993 he became a member of the chemistry faculty at WSU. He has also held the position of Visiting Scientist at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, and is presently an adjunct faculty member of the WSU Biochemistry Department.My research involves characterizing the oxidative chemistry of living cells and in mimicking essential cellular functions using simpler organized chemical systems. Specific projects currently under study are described briefly in the following paragraphs.

Water oxidation — the ability to use water as a source of electrons for fuel generation (e.g., H2) may be crucial to developing alternative energy sources for the 21st century. Nature has evolved a manganese-containing cluster for this purpose in the photosynthetic reaction systems of plants and other higher organisms, although at present how water is oxidized to O2 within this cluster is only very poorly understood. Among simple chemical compounds, only a few dimeric ruthenium complex ions are actually capable of catalyzing O2 formation. We have been studying these model reactions by a variety of techniques including isotope labeling, laser Raman spectroscopy, magnetic resonance and kinetic methods. The goals of this research are to identify reaction mechanisms and use this information to design practical catalysts for artificial water-splitting systems.

Microphase-organized chemical system — Nature uses membranes to couple nutrient metabolism to biosynthesis and other forms of useful work. For example, respiration and photosynthesis are merely series of oxidation-reduction reaction that occur between membrane-embedded redox centers; the centers are organized so that electron transport down the chains leads to formation of an electrochemical potential across the membrane. This potential is then used by other membrane-localized components to drive essential physical and chemical processes (e.g. ATP synthesis, metabolite and ion transport, locomotion). In principle, any appropriately organized redox assembly could function analogously to polarize the membrane. We have been investigating ways in which artificial membrane-organized redox systems could be used to promote efficient long-lived charge separation in photochemical reactions and how transmembrane oxidation-reduction could be modulated using membranes doped with photochromic materials that act as on-off switches. These studies are important to emerging technologies such as solar photogeneration of fuels and “molecular” electronics (i.e. chemical systems that function like electronic circuits).

Bactericidal mechanisms of living cells — White blood cells generate strong oxidants to kill invading pathogenic organisms. Research in our laboratory is directed at identifying these oxidative toxins and their bactericidal mechanisms. The focus of this research has been on hypochlorous acid, i.e., bleach which we have demonstrated is produced by white blood cells by enzymatic peroxidation of chloride ion and kills bacteria by disrupting their ability to generate and utilize membrane potentials to perform essential cellular function. White blood cells are known to generate other oxidative toxins as well, but here are much less well characterized. We have been investigating the reactions of hydrogen peroxide-copper-reductant bactericidal systems and a very curious oxidant formed by reaction of peroxonitrite ion and carbon dioxide as potential alternative cell-generated oxidants.


  • James K. Hurst, Jonathan L. Cape, Aurora E. Clark, Samir Das, Changyong Qin, “Mechanisms of Water Oxidation Catalyzed by Ruthenium Diimine Complexes”, Inorganic Chemistry 47, 1753-1764 (2008)
  • Amy M. Palazzolo-Ballance, Christine Suquet, James K. Hurst, “Pathways for Intracellular Generation of Oxidants and Tyrosine Nitration by a Macrophage Cell Line”, Biochemistry 46, 7536-7548 (2007)
  • Amy Palazzolo, Christine Suquet, Michael E. Konkel & James K. Hurst, “Green Fluorescent Protein-Expressing E. coli as a Selective Probe for HOCl Generation within Neutrophils”, Biochemistry 44, 6910-6919 (2005)
  • David A. King, Diane M. Hannum, Jian-Shen Qi, & James K. Hurst, “HOCl-Mediated Cell Death and Metabolic Dysfunction in the Yeast Saccharomyces Cerevisiae”, Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 423, 170-181 (2004)