There’s a special moment for most students when they discover what they really want to do with their major. For Rebecca Quardokus, Assistant Professor in Chemistry and associate faculty in IMS, that moment came as a junior at Grand Valley State University, Michigan, when her father sent her an article on Professor James Tour’s research at Rice University, Texas.
Dr. Quardokus, who had recently become a chemistry major, found the research fascinating. “His group had synthesized nano-sized cars with C60 fullerenes (buckyballs) for wheels, and they used scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) to image individual cars moving around on a gold surface,” Dr. Quardokus explains. “I was very excited to learn that STM, in addition to imaging, could manipulate individual atoms and molecules on the surface.” It was then she decided to attend graduate school to work with and master that “amazing technique.”
Now, Dr. Quardokus focuses her research on the engineering and reliability of molecular networks and two-dimensional materials for next-generation electronic devices. Her passion for learning STM has led her to begin a project working on developing new two-dimensional materials using surface-confined polymerization reactions.
“I use scanning tunneling microscopy, with its ability to measure individual atoms and molecules, to study the reactants and products,” she says. “I will also study the charge and thermal transport properties of these materials.” Her group is hoping to tune specific properties for use in next-generation electronics.
Yao Lin, Associate Professor of Chemistry in the Polymer Program of the Institute of Materials Science, has become very passionate about chemistry and polymer science—and about encouraging intercontinental collaboration on it. With a background in chemistry, polymer and molecular biology and a degree from Fudan University, China, Dr. Lin is interested in researching bio-inspired materials for the future and developing educational opportunities for students at home and abroad.
Dr. Lin and his lab are currently working on two projects which mimic certain natural protein polymers and complex enzymes to create synthetic, bio-inspired materials. One direction is trying to understand the cooperative folding and interactions between complex macromolecules containing synthetic polypeptides to mimic the dynamic process of protein polymerization. According to Dr. Lin, the protein polymerizations provide the filaments with excellent mechanical strengths for our muscles, our cells, and contribute to cell movement. The reason cells can move is partially because these protein fibers can grow on one end, and shrink on the other end.
The other direction involves mimicking an enzymatic structure that forms “teams” that can degrade cellulose into sugars. When bacteria develop complex structures like nano-machines that recruit six to ten different types of enzymes into a team, they can work much more effectively than individual enzymes. Dr. Lin and his group are researching whether they can replace that type of protein scaffold with synthetic polymers, and thus design the chemistry at interface between these polymers and proteins. This will allow them to recruit different engineered proteins in an organized manner.
Professor Emeritus of Chemistry Michael Smith, who recently retired after more than three-and-a-half decades of service, has made teaching organic chemistry to nearly 400 students seem easy. As Smith discusses his tips and tricks for managing a large class, it is difficult to picture him in any other profession. As Department Head Christian Brückner notes, “Few instructors are able to teach such large classes, and even fewer can command the stage of such large classrooms as effectively as Smith…His retirement from UConn leaves a large gap.”
But Smith did not originally imagine himself in academia. After graduating from Virginia Tech with a B.S. in Chemistry, he became an Analytical Chemist at Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., performing water analysis to keep the primary and secondary coolants of navy ships within specifications. When he realized that he wanted something different out of his career, he decided to go back to school to earn his Ph.D. Even then, he was not considering becoming a professor. “It just never entered my head that it was a possibility,” Smith recalled. “As a matter of fact, when I first went to graduate school, I had the idea to work in industry. That was really all I ever thought about. It wasn’t until I taught and I liked graduate school and I liked doing research.”
Instead, Smith entered into a long career in academia, leaving a lasting legacy as a teacher, author, and mentor at UConn. He joined the Department of Chemistry as an Assistant Professor in the fall of 1979, just two years after earning his Ph.D. Over the course of his tenure, Professor Smith has mentored 15 Ph.D. students, 13 M.S. students, and approximately 90 undergraduates. He has taught 75 semesters worth of courses, including both halves of undergraduate organic chemistry and graduate courses on organic synthesis and organic reactions. In addition to teaching at UConn, he has also taught courses at companies like Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb, as well as courses abroad in Spain and China. In the midst of all this, Dr. Smith found the time to author 25 books – which have sold in excess of over 100,000 copies.
A research team led by Professor Flavio Maran of the University of Padova (Italy), who is also a Research Professor with the Chemistry Department at UConn, reported a breakthrough in the creation of very high quality crystals formed of gold nanoparticles via electrocrytalization. This work was done in collaboration with Professor Kari Rissanen of the University of Jyväskylä (Finland). They published their recent work in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Their recent discovery has been featured in several news outlets.
Adjunct Professor Frank Galasso contributed to the article First-Hand:Discovery of Superconductivity at 93 K in YBCO: The View from GroundZero, which attempts to unravel the complicated history of superconductors.
Dr. Challa Kumar has received additional funding from CLAS and the Department of Chemistry to supplement the Provost’s Open Education Resources Award which he received for the development of an open source text book in Physical Chemistry. Dr. Kumar will be developing the open source text book from scratch as there are none currently available on the subject (Rhonda Ward, IMS).
In 2015, Dr. Yao Linspent a five-month sabbatical at the Institute for Complex Molecular Systems (ICMS) at Eindhover University. In an interview with ICMS, Dr. Lin reflects on his experiences | (Eindhoven University of Technology)
Artwork based on research between Dr. Flavio Maran and Dr. José A. Gascón has been featured in the covers of Chemical Science. The image depicts “a magnetic look into the protecting layer of Au25 clusters.”
The Department of Chemistry at the University of Connecticut is rooted in academic rigor and innovative research collaboration, supporting students and alumni in the achievement of their academic and professional goals.
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