Catherine Oertel

  • Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Areas of Study


  • BA, Oberlin College, 1999
  • MS, Cornell University, 2002
  • PhD, Cornell University, 2005


Catherine Oertel's research is focused on the synthesis of inorganic-organic materials and on studies of composition and corrosion in organ pipes and other cultural materials.

Research in the Oertel lab is in the area of inorganic materials chemistry, with projects focusing on both synthesis of new materials and conservation of historic materials. We synthesize hybrid inorganic-organic network compounds, in which metal centers are linked by ditopic organic ligands. Building blocks for these materials are selected with the goal of preparing functional materials by incorporating catalytically active sites or low-symmetry components.

Solvothermal reactions, in which reagent mixtures are heated in sealed containers to above the normal boiling points of their solvents, are used to promote crystal growth. Compounds are characterized on campus by powder X-ray diffraction and thermogravimetric analysis and are studied by single-crystal X-ray diffraction through off-campus collaborations.

A second, interdisciplinary area of research uses methods of materials chemistry to study the causes and mechanisms of corrosion of historic organ pipes. We use exposure chambers to expose representative metal samples to corrosive conditions and study the corrosion product compositions and morphologies by X-ray diffraction and scanning electron microscopy.

This project has the goal of obtaining information that can be used by organ builders and restorers to conserve historic organ pipes and prevent corrosion in new ones.

Chow, A.S.;* Zhong, X.;* Fabini, D.H.; Zeller, M.; Oertel, C.M. “(C5H6N)Pb2X5 (X= Cl, Br): Hybrid Lead Halides Based on Seven-Coordinate Pb(II),” Inorg. Chem. 2022, 61, 6530-6538.

Hammer, A.C.;* Jia, X.; Zeller, M.; Coughlin, E.J.; Guo, W.; Oertel, C.M. “Ligand Geometry Directs the Packing and Symmetry of One-Dimensional Helical Motifs in Lead Oxide Naphthoates and Biphenylcarboxylates,” CrystEngComm 2020, 22, 6465-6477.

Liu, E.E.;* Gang, C.;* Zeller, M.; Fabini, D.H.; Oertel, C.M. “Ligand-Induced Variations in Symmetry and Structural Dimensionality of Lead Oxide Carboxylates,” Cryst. Growth Des. 2017, 17, 1574-1582.

Oertel, C.M.; Richards, A. “Music and Materials – Art and Science of Organ Pipe Metal,” Mater. Res. Soc. Bull. 2017, 42, 55-61.

Easterday, C.C.;* Dedon, L.R.;* Zeller, M.; Oertel, C.M. “Helical 1[Pb2O] Chains in Polymorphs of Pb2O(C6H5COO)2,” Cryst. Growth Des. 2014, 14, 2048-2055.

Mauck, C.M.;* van den Heuvel, T.W.P.;* Hull, M.M.;* Zeller, M.; Oertel, C.M. “Synthesis and Structures of Pb3O2(CH3OO)2⋅0.5H2O and Pb2O(HCOO)2: Two Corrosion Products Revisited,” Inorg. Chem. 2010, 49, 10736-10743.

Tian, H.;* Iliff, H.A.;* Moore, L.J.;* Oertel, C.M. "Structure and Polymorphism in M(ethylenediamine)3MoS4 (M=Mn, Co, Ni)," Cryst. Growth Des. 2010, 10, 669-675.

* denotes undergraduate co-author.

Spring 2024

Inorganic Chemistry — CHEM 213

Fall 2024

Synthesis Laboratory — CHEM 327


Catherine Oertel Article Published in "Inorganic Chemistry"

July 12, 2022

Catherine Oertel recently published an article, "(C5H6N)Pb2X(X = Cl, Br): Hybrid Lead Halides Based on Seven-Coordinate Pb(II)," in Inorganic Chemistry. Coauthors on this paper were Alyssa Chow ’20 and Xinyue (Joy) Zhong ’22 as well as collaborators from Purdue University and the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Germany.

Catherine Oertel Gives Invited Talk

April 28, 2016

Associate Professor of Chemistry Catherine Oertel delivered the invited talk, “Music and Materials: Art and Science of Organ Pipe Metal,” on March 29 at the spring meeting of the Materials Research Society in Phoenix. Jointly presented with professor Annette Richards, a musicologist from Cornell University, this was an interdisciplinary discussion of the aesthetics and complexity of the organ as an instrument as well as the chemistry and conservation of its pipes. The talk included results of research on organ pipe corrosion carried out with Oberlin undergraduates.

Catherine Oertel Presents at Conference

August 15, 2014

Catherine Oertel presented a lecture at the Gordon Research Conference on Solid State Chemistry in New London, NH. Entitled "Inspired by Corrosion: Synthesis and Crystal Chemistry of Lead Oxide Carboxylates," it reported on studies of corrosion of lead-based cultural objects such as organ pipes and detailed structural analysis of the corrosion products that form. She conducted this research with undergraduate coworkers including Elaine Liu '14, Izumi Yamakawa '14, Shiva Mandala '15, and Calvin Gang '17.


Chemistry and Conservation

March 8, 2017

Noalle Fellah ’16 is combining her passion for art history and chemistry as she pursues a PhD at New York University.