Sarah Petty


Chemistry Department

Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of Liverpool


Fields: Physical, Biophysical

Curriculum Vitae (PDF)

Office Phone: 508-793-3428
Office: Haberlin 237
Lab:  Smith Labs 358
PO Box: C
Office Hours:


Since I arrived at Holy Cross in the Fall of 2006, I have taught classes in general chemistry (CHEM 181 and CHEM 231), modern (CHEM 335) and classical (CHEM 336) physical chemistry and an elective course in Biophysical Chemistry (CHEM 361). I have also taught a first seminar on the science of color as part of a Montserrat course “Exploring Newton’s Rainbow,” and a summer writing course as part of our Passport program.

Students in my courses are encouraged to be active participants, asking questions when they need further clarification, answering the questions I pose and engaging in the problem solving we do. Some, or all, of problem sets, exams, papers, lab reports and presentations are used to evaluate student performance. There is a lab requirement for CHEM 181, 231, and 335 in which students gain hands-on experience with chemical techniques and modern chemical instrumentation and become proficient in data analysis and interpretation. Writing skills will also be honed in the lab portion of the upper level course.


Beginning with a discussion of Newton’s rainbow and culminating in an understanding of the chemistry of modern paints, this first-year seminar course explores the evolution of color from a scientific perspective. The measurable physical properties of light, the chemical structures of pigments and dyes, and the ways in which biological systems use these things are discussed to provide an objective introduction to the science of color.

This is the first of the four introductory chemistry courses required of all chemistry majors and pre-health students. The course explores the scientific method through the formulation and testing of hypotheses in the laboratory. Students discover basic principles in chemistry, e.g., stoichiometric relationships, electronic configuration and molecular structure.

This is typically the last of the four introductory chemistry courses taken by chemistry majors and pre-health students. The course focuses on the role equilibrium, thermodynamics and kinetics play in chemical systems. Laboratory focused, this course also introduces students to modern analytical instrumentation while developing critical wet chemical analytical techniques. 

This course studies the fundamental principles governing electron and molecular motions, chemical bonding and spectroscopy. It is offered annually and is typically taken by chemistry majors in their junior year.

Affectionately known as "E&R on steroids", this course focuses on thermodynamics (heat, work, enthalpy, entropy, etc) and kinetics of chemical processes. It is an optional course for majors, though is required for biochemistry concentrators. It can be taken in the junior or senior year.

This course studies the physical origin of the chemical interactions that govern the structure and function of biological molecules and the chemical techniques used to study these molecules. It is an elective course open to all chemistry majors.


My research lies in the field of biophysical chemistry. I utilize infrared spectroscopy to study structural changes in proteins and peptides, in particular the misfolding of these biological molecules into non-native structures. Most recently, our focus has been on understanding interactions that can reverse the misfolding of short peptides.

The structure of a protein is intrinsically linked to its function and so the misfolding of a protein is associated with many different diseases including Alzheimer's Disease, Cataracts, Huntington's Disease and Parkinson's Disease.

Infrared spectra of proteins reveals information about the alignment and strength of carbonyl bonds in the backbone of the amino acid chain and can be used to determine both secondary and tertiary structure. 


Current projects ongoing in my lab are focused on:

  • Reversing the misfolding of peptides associated with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Diseases
  • The stabilizing interactions in short alanine-based peptides


Undergraduate co-authors are bolded

(13)   A. T. Mullin, S A. Michelhaugh, B. R. Fitzgerald, J. E. Barnes, M. J. Calcaterra, and S. A. Petty; Vibrational Spectroscopy; 2020, 111, 103168-103173
(12)   E. A.Gooding, S. Sharma, S. A. Petty, E. A. Fouts, C. J. Palmer, B. E. Nolan and M. Volk; Chemical Physics; 2013, 422, 115-123
(11)   M. T. Bauer, K. A. Gilmore and S. A. Petty; Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications; 2011, 406, 3, 348-352
(10)   G. Liu, A. Prabhakar, D. Aucoin, M. Simon, S. Sparks, K. J. Robbins, A. Sheen, S. A. Petty and N. D. Lazo; Journal of the American Chemical Society; 2010, 132, 18223-18232
(9)     Y. Wang, S. A. Petty, A. T. Trojanowski, K. M. Knee, D. R. Goulet, I. Mukerji, and J. A. King; Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science; 2010, 51, 672-678.
(8)     D. A. Kirschner, A. A. R. Gross, M. M. Hidalgo, H. Inouye, K. A. Gleason, G. A. Abdelsayed, G. M. Castillo, A. D. Snow, A. Pozo-Ramajo, S. A. Petty, S. M. Decatur; Current Alzheimer Research, 2008,  5, 3, 288-307.
(7)     A. Pozo-Ramajo, S. A. Petty and M. Volk; Chem. Phys., 2006, 325, 1, 11-20.
(6)     S. A. Petty and S. M. Decatur; Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., U.S.A., 2005, 102, 40, 14272-14277.
(5)     S. A. Petty and S. M. Decatur; J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2005, 127, 39, 13488-13489.
(4)     A. Pozo-Ramajo, S. A. Petty, A. Starzyk, S. M. Decatur and M. Volk; J. Am. Chem. Soc, 2005, 127, 40, 13784-13785.
(3)     S. A. Petty, T. Adalsteinsson and S. M. Decatur; Biochemistry, 2005, 44, 12, 4720-4726.
(2)     S. A. Petty & M. Volk; Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2004, 6, 1022-1030.
(1)     R. W. Flood, T. P. Geller, S. A. Petty, S. M. Roberts, J. Skidmore and M. Volk; Org. Letts, 2001, 3, 5, 683-686. 


  • Xavier Callahan (’23)
  • Victoria Brady (’22)
  • Mary Pinn (’22)
  • Matthew Robertson (’22)
  • Jenna Barnes (’21)
  • Karsen Seegar (’21)
  • Jack Sweeney (’21)
  • Michael Calcaterra (’20)
  • Matthew Fernandez (’20)
  • Liam Shields (’20)
  • Sofia Von Fedak (’19)
  • Madeline Chasse ('18)
  • Christopher Fernandez (’18)
  • Benjamin Fitzgerald (’18)
  • Obi Ihuoma (’18)
  • Phallika Mon (’18)
  • Lisa Balesano (’16)
  • Benjamin Chartier (’16)
  • Jhonatan Henao (’16)
  • Sam Michelhaugh (’18)
  • Michelle Schefter (’16)
  • Mary Stuckey (’16)
  • Julia Lam (’15)
  • Andrew Mullin (’15)
  • Ray Paranal (’15)
  • Kenneth O’Connor (’14)
  • Jeremy Stewart (’14)
  • Catherine Roy (’13)
  • David Balyozian (’12)
  • Brittany Deane (’12)
  • Kelly Gilmore (’12)
  • Cristiana Pineda (’12)
  • Tiago Martins (’12)
  • Jennifer Forkel (’11)
  • Lindsey Tonge (’11)
  • Jordan Trubiano (’11)
  • Marianne Bauer (’10)
  • Kelly Lyons (’10)
  • Tim Kelly (’09)
  • Amy Trojanowski (’09)
  • Alexie Andrew (’08)
  • Daniel Goulet (’08)
  • Kristen Oats (’08)