Tomo Mani Receives NSF CAREER Award

Professor Tomo Mani has been awarded an NSF CAREER Award from the CHE division entitled, “CAREER: Control of Intramolecular Long-Range Charge-Transfer Emission.” This project will develop strategies for producing and controlling intramolecular long-range radiative charge recombination [charge transfer (CT) emission] in the condensed phase. With this award, his group aims to provide a fundamental understanding of this interesting phenomenon to improve existing technologies and develop new quantum technologies.

Students Sweep Tech Park’s First Annual Microscopy Art Contest

Often a new tool leads to a new discovery—and that’s as true for art as for science. UConn Tech Park showcases the relationship between tool and knowledge beautifully in its inaugural microscopy competition, which invited UConn researchers to submit images taken with Tech Park’s state-of-the-art equipment.

“This competition is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our students’ creativity and display the beautiful images they have captured using Tech Park’s high-tech electron microscopes. It encourages students to continue discovering art in their scientific research and gives them a richer perspective on research programs as they move forward in their careers,” says Pamir Alpay, executive director of UConn Tech Park.

UConn Today interviewed the three winners of the competition and had them shed a little light on their images’ origins.

The first-place entry, by Ph.D. student Shirley Huang.
The first-place entry, by Ph.D. student Shirley Huang.

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Classrooms Without Computers: UConn Grad Student Seeking to Change that in Ghana

UConn graduate student Ben Ahiadu says he spends at least six hours a day in front of a work computer, time he uses to plan lessons, record experiments, email colleagues, and read papers.

“The things I am doing now are all built on technology,” he says. “I cannot imagine life without computers.”

Ben Ahiadu with donated laptops.

But for Ahiadu, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry working in genotoxicity and the detection of biomarkers, that wasn’t always the case. Growing up in Ghana, Ahiadu says he didn’t touch a computer until he was around 16. He didn’t own one until he was in his third year of college.

Despite having to pass the country’s standardized Basic Education Certification Examination, which includes a section on Information Communication Technology, many Ghanaian children, particularly those in small towns, learn about computers in the abstract, says Ahiadu.

Most times, a teacher will get in front of a class and give oral instruction on how to use Google, create a PowerPoint presentation, or write a formula in Excel. Only sometimes will the teacher have their own access to a computer and be able to bring one to show students.

“These kids we are talking about are in resource-limited areas,” says Ahiadu. “They are at a disadvantage compared to children in bigger cities and towns and must take the same test as those who have spent time sitting in front of a computer.”

Ahiadu came to UConn in 2017, and the following year returned home to visit family, noting to himself the differences in his life then and now.

“What can I give to these little kids as a gift,” he says he wondered. “And then I realized, I could give them computers because we are in an era of technology.”

He scrolled through Craigslist and purchased seven used laptops, giving four to children close to him and his family and three to a school during his trip home.

“More people will benefit from them if I give them to a school, because any child at that school at one point in time could practice on them,” he says.

In 2018, an online post by Richard Appiah Akoto, a teacher in a different part of Ghana, went viral when he posted pictures of himself illustrating in chalk the interface of a word processing window. The post and social media firestorm prompted Microsoft to make an equipment donation to the school.

A YouTube video posted in May shows students with their hands at the ready on keyboards drawn on their desktops, no cords or keys or buttons in sight.

“I had to go through the same process,” says Ahiadu. “I can remember I got my first personal computer in the third year of college, prior to that I relied on friends who were so kind to me to use their laptops or desktop computers.”

In September, Ahiadu started spreading word of his laptop collection, and early this month shipped nine donated machines through an East Hartford shipping company that agreed to send them for $40 each.

“If I got a larger donation of computers I might buy space in a shipping container, which would be more cost efficient,” he says.

He plans to send future donations to three neighboring schools: Bomigo E.P. Basic, Anyanui L/A Basic, and Tunu R.C. Basic schools in the southeastern part of the country. Combined, there are hundreds of students from very young to adolescent, many of whom will go on to become professionals one day.

“If I got 100 computers, that would be so satisfying to me,” he says. “I don’t have an end to this collection. I will keep going until a good number of students get computers.”

For the sake of lower shipping costs, Ahiadu is collecting only laptops, which should be in usable condition. Also, hard drives should be cleared of all personal information.

“The students and teachers are highly grateful,” he says, “and so am I.”


To donate a laptop to Ahiadu, call 423-676-8815 to arrange for pickup. If an organization would like to collect computers from its members and get a larger donation to Ahiadu, call him to make arrangements.

Article courtesy of UConn Today

Deepthi Varghese Success Story

Deepthi Varghese is a TD Module Engineer at Intel Corporation. Deepthi earned a Ph.D. in Polymer Chemistry from UConn. “I am currently working as a process engineer in the dry etch module at Intel. My current role focuses on technology development for next-gen semiconductor technologies and sustaining for high volume manufacturing.” Deepthi has been with Intel for a year and a half.

Research Experience

When questioned about experiences that contributed to Deepthi’s success, she explained, “My current success was mainly due to my research experience at UConn.” She added that the top competencies that she gained during her research were critical thinking and problem-solving.

Visa Process

When asked if as an international student she overcame career preparation or job search obstacles Deepthi replied, “As an international student, visa requirements are one of our biggest challenges. Understanding the visa process from colleagues and ISSS helps you navigate that process as you leave the university and continue into the professional world.”

Graduate Student Senate (GSS) & Tarang

Deepthi talked about being active on campus. There is value in leveraging on-campus involvement to further gain skills and to have additional examples beyond one’s research, to feature a range of skills that a future employer seeks.

Her involvement in two particular organizations taught her life and professional skills and helped her meet individuals who aided her in career planning and subsequently in her professional role at Intel. “GSS and Tarang (cultural organization for South Asian community) have helped me understand leadership, teamwork, and build a network.”  

ISSS and Fellow Students

When asked what advice she would give to current UConn international students who are looking to work within the U.S. before or after graduation Deepthi answered, “I highly recommend current students talk to ISSS and seniors and understand the visa process and how to plan their OPT application. OPT application is a very crucial step for every international student and planning on when to start this is crucial. I also recommend students talk to doctoral students farther along in their degree program at UConn.”

Center for Career Development

Deepthi also recommended that students “talk to Career Services at UConn to understand the job search process.” Deepthi met with a career consultant on multiple occasions to prepare for an interview, and to develop her job application materials.

Article courtesy of Desiree Martino with UConn Center for Career Development

Professor Emeritus James McCue Bobbitt, in Memoriam

Dr. James McCue BobbittJames McCue Bobbitt passed away November 22, 2021 after being injured in an automobile accident in Windham, Connecticut. Born on January 18, 1930 in Charleston, West Virginia, he was on the cusp of 92.

Dr. Bobbitt graduated from West Virginia University in 1952, where he also met his wife, Jane Ann Hickman, “the smartest student in the class.” In the organic chemistry laboratory – which he disliked intensely – he earned the name of “Fire Bug Bobbitt.” However, he discovered organic chemistry as his passion and went on to study at Ohio State and Wayne State Universities before joining the Department of Chemistry at the University of Connecticut in 1956. He rose through the ranks, and served as the Head of Department (1977-82). During his tenure as Head, he hired many of the people that formed the Department as we know it today. He became Professor Emeritus in 1992, though he continued his passion of teaching organic chemistry for many more years. Notably, Jim was a bench chemist with all his heart and he continued to work in the laboratory nearly every day until 2020! “Retirement” accelerated his research activities, particularly with respect to the development of what is now known as Bobbitt’s reagent, an oxoammonium-based, transition metal-free oxidant of broad utility. Continue reading

Meet Assistant Professor Michael Kienzler

Michael KienzlerMeet Assistant Professor Michael Kienzler, an organic chemist interested in using light to manipulate molecules for biological applications.


Growing up, Michael Kienzler’s interests spanned the sciences, including fields such as chemistry and biology. Although he enjoyed chemistry, Kienzler wanted to explore various academic paths before committing to one. “It took me a while to settle on chemistry. … It was definitely not something that I had my mind set on, only because I wanted to try out a bunch of other subjects first,” he explains. In the end, his interest in the chemical field — particularly chemical ecology and molecular machines — won him over. He officially declared his major and earned his Bachelors of Science in Chemistry at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


While at Rensselaer, Kienzler joined the research lab of Prof. Brian Benicewicz, focusing on polymer synthesis. He states that the work from this lab is what made him want to continue with post-grad chemistry research: “I did lots of work with the membranes of high temperature fuel cells, and I really enjoyed the physicality of it. … There were lots of memorable reactions.” Continue reading

#FacesOfUConnChem: Meet Assistant Professor, Dr. Gaël Ung

Gael Ung

This week’s faculty highlight is on Dr. Gaël Ung!

Background: Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego with Prof. Guy Bertrand; Postdoc at the California Institute of Technology with Prof. Jonas C. Peters

Current position: Assistant Professor at UConn Storrs. He has been here since 2016 and loves the collegial environment with the students and faculty. Continue reading

Chemistry Professors’ and Ph.D. Candidate’s Invention Selected to Compete in Wolff New Venture Competition

Did you know that the prescription you picked up at the pharmacy likely once contained a host of toxic materials that were used as a catalyst for its creation?

Don’t panic. In the development process, the toxins are stripped from the medication, and the FDA has stringent guidelines ensuring its safety.

But UConn chemistry professors Eugene Pinkhassik, Sergey Dergunov, and Ph.D. candidate Kevin Rivera have an innovation that they believe can offer a better, safer, less expensive, and more environmentally sound alternative.

“We’re excited about it, because it could be revolutionary in the course of chemical manufacturing,’’ Pinkhassik says. “At the same time, it doesn’t require remaking the chemical-catalyst process from scratch, so it is not going to be disruptive to a company, and it would be easier to adopt.’’ Continue reading

#FacesOfUConnChem: Meet Assistant Professor, Dr. Steve Barshay

Dr. Barshay

Our next faculty highlight comes from Dr. Steve Barshay!

Background: Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry and Planetary Astronomy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; teaching postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Arizona; 32-year career in the nuclear power industry.

Current position: After retiring from industry, Dr. Barshay came to UConn as an Assistant Professor because of his love of teaching! He has been here for 4 years now, currently located at the Hartford campus, and teaches General Chemistry courses.

Courses taught: CHEM 1122, 1124Q, 1125Q, 1126Q, 1127Q, 1128Q, 1194

Fun fact: He loves to bicycle in the warm weather, and cross-country ski in the winter!

#FacesOfUConnChem: Meet Undergraduate Program Director, Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater

Next for our faculty highlights is Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater!

Background: Ph.D. and research fellowship at the University of Cambridge, UK; faculty position in London

Current position: Associate Professor and Undergraduate Program Director at UConn Storrs, where he has been since 2004. He chose UConn Chemistry because of its great facilities and faculty. Continue reading