2017 Connecticut Middle School Science Bowl

Science Bowl audienceOn Saturday, February 25, 2017, the Connecticut Regional Middle School Science Bowl event welcomed approximately 200 students and coaches—and their family members—to UConn for a day of learning and friendly competition. The Middle School Science Bowl is a fast-paced, question-and-answer-style event that emphasizes the importance of STEM education. This year, 32 teams from 19 different middle schools throughout Connecticut participated in the Science Bowl competition where they answered questions in the fields of biology, chemistry, Earth and space science, physics, and math. It is through the Science Bowl that students are able to engage in a challenging academic competition with peers that share a similar passion for science.

The Connecticut Middle School Science Bowl is hosted by the UConn Chemistry Department and organized by Assistant Professor in Residence Joe DePasquale and Program Assistants Aneesa Bey and Ashley Orcutt. This event would not be possible without the assistance of approximately 85 volunteers who donate their time to prepare for and participate in this exciting competition. Among the volunteers are undergraduate students, graduate students, alumni, and local high school students. Many of the volunteers are STEM-based majors who share the same affinity and aptitude for science as the young competitors.

The Department of Chemistry would like to thank Gerber Technology, the UConn College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and the UConn Institute of Materials Science for their support. The Department would also like to thank the UConn School of Engineering Diversity & Outreach Center, Connecticut Science Center, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Subway Restaurant for their contributions to this event as well.

The top teams of the day were:

First Place: Talcott Mountain Academy (Avon, CT)
Second Place: Middlesex Middle School (Darien, CT)
Semi-Finalist: Cloonan Middle School (Stamford, CT)
Semi-Finalist: Irving A. Robbins Middle School (Farmington, CT)

Talcott Mountain Academy will represent Connecticut’s middle schools at the National Science Bowl competition in Washington, D.C. April 27 – May 1.

The National Science Bowl is a nationwide academic competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy. “The National Science Bowl® continues to be one of the premier academic competitions across the country and prepares America’s students for future successes in some of the world’s fastest growing fields in science, technology, and engineering,” said Dr. J. Stephen Binkley, Acting Director of the Department’s Office of Science, which sponsors the nationwide competition, now in its 27th year. “Each year the DOE Office of Science provides this unique opportunity, and I am honored to congratulate all the competitors who are advancing to the national finals, where they will continue to showcase their talents as top students in math and science.” More than 14,000 students compete in the NSB each year.

More information can be found on the CT Middle School Science Bowl website and the National Science Bowl website.

Paper Published in Nature Chemistry

Ryan Baumgartner, Hailin Fu, Ziyuan Song, Yao Lin and Jianjun Cheng “Cooperative polymerization of α-helices induced by macromolecular architecture” Nature Chemistry, DOI: 10.1038/NCHEM.2712 (2017).
Figure in Nature Chemistry Publication
This work is a collaboration between Prof. Jianjun Cheng at UIUC and the Lin Group at UConn. This research demonstrates the use of macromolecular architecture to facilitate an unusual auto-catalytic polymerization process, and elucidate the underlying mechanism by a two-stage kinetic model using principles from nucleation-controlled protein polymerizations; the key difference being the irreversible nature of this polymerization. Ryan Baumgartner (UIUC) and Hailin Fu (UConn) made the central contribution to this work.

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Paper Published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society

Guberman-Pfeffer, M.; Greco, J. A.; Samankumara, L.; Zeller, M.; Gascón, J.; Birge, R.R.; Brückner, C. ‘Bacteriochlorins with a Twist: Discovery of a Unique Mechanism to Red-shift the Optical Spectra of Bacteriochlorins’ J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2017139 (1), 548–560. DOI: 10.1021/jacs.6b12419
Figure from ACS publication
A collaborative effort within the chemistry department brought experiment and theory together to explain the unique optical properties of a class of analogues to the bacterial photosynthetic pigments. We hope this work will point the way in the design of mechanochromic dyes, i.e., dyes that change their color when exposed to mechanical stress.

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Paper Published in the Nature Journal’s Scientific Reports

Spundana Malla, Karteek Kadimisetty, You-Jun Fu, Dharamainder Choudhary,
John B. Schenkman & James F. Rusling

Methyl-Cytosine-Driven Structural Changes Enhance Adduction Kinetics of an Exon 7 fragment of the p53 Gene. Sci. Rep. 7, 40890; doi: 10.1038/srep40890 (2017).
In a collaborative effort with UConn Health (Profs. Schenkman and Choudhary), Spundana Malla, Karteek Kadimisetty, Dr. Fu and Prof. Rusling reported a new LC-MS method to investigate the kinetics of gene damage. The paper describes the use of the method to investigate metabolite-related damage to p53 tumor suppressor gene, which is damaged in 50% of all cancers. Results show that a specific cytosine-guanine site (codon 248) on the p53 gene reacts 3-fold faster when the cytosine is methylated. 

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2nd Annual Alumni Panel

By Gabriella Reggiano

Upon earning their Ph.D., graduate students of the UConn Chemistry Department can pursue careers in fields such as government, academia, or industry. The transition to life after graduate school, however, can be daunting. In order to help students navigate this next period in their lives, the Graduate Student Advisory Committee organized the 2nd Annual Alumni Panel, which included five UConn alumni: Drs. Faith Corbo, Jun Nable, Gavin Richards, Junichi Ogikubo, and Jason McCarthy. Careers ranged from a marketing manager at a specialty chemical company to an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. The group answered questions about interviewing, the merits of industry versus academia, graduating in four years, and the job application timeline.

The panelists, many of whom are now involved in the hiring process, discussed what they tend to look for in resumes and cover letters. Dr. Jason McCarthy, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, emphasized alma maters, first author publications, and evidence of productivity and independence. Dr. Junichi Ogikubo, Manager of Radiochemistry Operations at Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, offered his perspective from industry. Dr. Ogikubo stressed the importance of applicants grabbing his attention early: “I get 20 resumes in one email, so a lot of times I’m clicking through several resumes at the same time. Usually, I look at half of your first page, and if that doesn’t work, then I move onto the next one.” Each panelist also spoke about tailoring a resume and cover letter for the job. Dr. McCarthy pointed out how simple it is to identify a generic cover letter. He recommends writing specific cover letters that say, “Here’s what I do, here’s what you do, and here’s how we can work together.”

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