2019 Undergraduate Awards

2019 Undergrad Award Ceremony



Presented to the top graduating senior.

Joshua Paolillo



Presented to a student who displays an aptitude for a career in Analytical Chemistry.

Caroline Anastasia



Recognizing achievements by an undergraduate in inorganic chemistry pursuing a career in chemistry.

Ahmed Ahmed



Presented to a student who has demonstrated excellence in organic chemistry and related fields based on research, coursework, and is committed to a career in chemistry.

Joshua Paolillo



Presented to a student who has demonstrated excellence in physical chemistry and related fields based on research, coursework, and is committed to a career in chemistry.

Mark Johnson



Presented to an outstanding senior.

Elyse Estra



Presented to undergraduate chemistry majors for achievements in General Chemistry.

Ana Magano

Ronghui You



This scholarship is presented annually to an outstanding undergraduate chemistry major. The award is made possible by family of Gary A. Epling, a former faculty member of the University.

Andrew Spielman



This is a scholarship created by the late Ulrich Müller-Westerhoff, an emeritus faculty member from the UConn Chemistry Department, to provide financial assistance to full-time undergraduate chemistry majors who have proven their commitment to the program and is participating in undergraduate research.

Cole Stearns



William R. Granquist, Jr., a chemistry major and UConn graduate (1983), died in an explosion at the Ensign-Bickford Co. on August 16, 1984. His parents, a number of friends, and Ensign-Bickford Co. have established a scholarship fund in his memory.

Hira Ilyas

Utsav Sheth

Hao Xu

Chem Café’s Susan Monroe Retires

Susan from Chem Cafe
Photo courtesy of: Milton Levin

Susan Monroe has watched the UConn campus cafés grow–including the Chem Café–since the day she first started working at UConn on March 4, 1994. April 1, 2019, we are sad to announce Susan’s retirement from the Chem Café after a wonderful 25 years of work through UConn Dining Services.

Susan grew up in Mansfield, Connecticut and attended college at Eastern Connecticut State University.  When she graduated, she became a librarian for some time before moving back to her hometown.  She’s lived all over Connecticut, including New Britain and Manchester, and has also spent some time in Massachusetts.  However, nothing has truly felt more like home than the time she has spent in Mansfield.  As she gears up for retirement, Susan says she will miss the students most, and their stories about sports and other weekly events that happen on campus.

Although she’s the constant, familiar face in the Chemistry Building, Susan didn’t always work at the Chem Café. Before coffee shops, Susan started at Jonathan’s in the old Student Union, did catering, and worked on the first mobile unit (the “Paw Pad”). She had also been a supervisor at Papa Gino’s, in Jonathan’s, and then went on to working at the cafés within UConn Dining Services.

Throughout the years with Dining Services, she has worked at “Wilbur’s Café” in Wilbur Cross, as well as “Up and Atom” when it first opened, and worked there for a total of 6 years.  However, she always found her way back to the Chem Café, reflecting, “I always like coming back because it’s like a family here.”  Getting to speak with her more, we were able to unlock some of Susan’s favorite (and least favorite!) meals at the Café.  She loves the soup, enough to eat two cups per day, but her all-time favorite is the turkey lasagna.  Along with soup, she treats herself to half a sandwich, completing her daily meal routine.  On the contrary, she’s not keen on the gluten free items, although she admittedly hasn’t tried any of the gluten free options.

When asked to describe her years of working at the Chem Café in one word, Susan replied “People. I always love being around people.”  She’ll miss the hustle and bustle of students coming in and out of class, as well as handling the upkeep of the Cafe, but most of all, she’ll miss the Chemistry Building as a whole.  Susan’s friendly greetings and warm smiles will be gone, but we will never forget her impact on making the Chem Café feel like home for so many.

From everyone in the Chemistry Building, we wish Susan a relaxing and peaceful retirement!

Article Courtesy of Kailey Huot ’19 (CLAS)

Insight into Molecular Makeup at UConn’s NMR Facility

Director of UConn's NMR facility, Vitaliy Gorbatyuk.
Director of UConn's NMR facility, Vitaliy Gorbatyuk. (Carson Stifel/UConn Photo).

Right now, there are atoms and molecules inside everything around you. These tiny particles of matter may seem insignificant as you go about your everyday life. But for many scientists and researchers, understanding the compounds that make up the materials they are working with can be critical.

At the University of Connecticut, the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) facility provides instrumentation that can identify compounds produced by chemists, biologists, or extracted from natural products.

NMR is a technique used to gain insight into the building blocks, composition, and spacing of atoms in a molecule. The equipment used in this process is called a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer. In NMR, a solution of a compound is placed inside a very strong magnet. In this magnetic environment, nuclei of atoms gain properties that allow them to absorb the electromagnetic fields applied to probe these nuclei. Once the nuclei return from the excited state to the ground state they emit the absorbed energy. There are radio antennas inside of the instrumentation that detect the radio-frequency signals which the nuclei radiate. The emitted signals make up a frequency chart (spectrum) characteristic of the compound placed in the magnet.

With approximately 150 active, registered users, the facility directly supports and impacts research programs in the following areas: chemical synthesis, pharmaceutical chemistry, molecular recognition and drug binding, macromolecules, nanomaterials, analysis of chemical mixtures, protein structure-function relationships, protein folding and design, nucleic acid structure and reactivity, and molecular dynamics.

Instead of analyzing samples for prospective users, the facility director, Vitaliy Gorbatyuk, Ph.D., trains scientists to utilize the instrumentation on their own.

“I am glad that I can train researchers to use this equipment because often the skills they gain at this facility can help them later on in their careers. Their mastery of the NMR spectrometers here can provide a foundation for them to become skilled at using even more advanced types of instrumentation in the future,” says Gorbatyuk.

The facility houses multiple spectrometers, including: Varian INOVA 600 MHz, Bruker AVANCE 500 MHz, Bruker AVANCE III 400 MHz, and Bruker AVANCE 300 MHz. Gorbatyuk has years of experience in the field of NMR spectrometry that allow him to be of great help to the users of this facility. In 2001, Gorbatyuk came to the United States as a researcher, and used NMR techniques to work on projects in structural biology related fields. He began working at UConn’s NMR facility ten years ago.

The facility is part of the university-wide Partnership for Excellence in Structural Biology and maintains collaborative ties with its sister NMR facility at UConn Health in Farmington. It is jointly operated by the Department of Chemistry and as part of the Center for Open Research Resources and Equipment (COR2E).

The services and equipment of the UConn NMR Facility are also available to industry and other academic institutions.

Gorbatyuk can be reached at vitaliy.gorbatyuk@uconn.edu or by phone at 860.486.4069.

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Story Courtesy of UConn Today

Pinkhassik Group on cover of Chemical Communications


Pinkhassik Group on Cover of Chem Comm

A paper from the Pinkhassik Group was featured on the cover of Chemical Communications. Drs. Sergey Dergunov and Eugene Pinkhassik -- working with collaborators from Saint Louis University -- uncovered evidence for freely diffusing ground-state atomic oxygen, an elusive species whose existence in solution was proposed by never proven. This study used hollow porous nanocapsules developed in the Pinkhassik Group to physically separate the donor and acceptor of an oxygen atom. Photochemical reactions in the presence of a nanometer-thin porous barrier ruled out direct oxygen atom transfer mechanisms and, for the first time, confirmed the formation of diffusing atomic oxygen. Previously produced in the gas phase, atomic oxygen is an extraordinary reactive oxygen species; it is highly reactive like hydroxyl radical, yet selective like singlet oxygen or ozone. Evidence for atomic oxygen in solution provides new insights into the mechanisms of many oxidation reactions, facilitates the search for synthetically viable sources of atomic oxygen, and lays the groundwork for studying the controlled release of small oxidants from photoactivatable precursors.

For further details, read the paper in ChemComm

Remembering Professor Ulrich T. Mueller-Westerhoff Ph.D.

Professor UlrichDear Colleagues and Students,

With sadness I must report news about one of our colleagues.

Emeritus Professor Ulrich T. Mueller-Westerhoff, Ph.D., passed away after a brief illness on January 30, 2019 in Storrs, CT. He was born in Wuppertal, Germany, and grew up in Austria and Germany. After studies in chemistry at the Universities in Marburg and Munich, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Darmstadt in 1967. A postdoctoral stay at the University of California at Berkeley where he firstly synthesized uranocene was followed by employment at the IBM Research Station in Almaden, California. He transitioned back to academia when he moved to the University of Connecticut as Head of the Department of Chemistry in 1982. He was a Guest Professor at the University of Bern, University of Würzburg, and the Max-Planck Institute for Polymer Research. He was awarded an Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation Senior US Scientist Award. He achieved emeritus status at UConn in 2002.

His research field in organometallic chemistry encompassed theoretical aspects of the bonding in sandwich complexes, the chemistry of metallocenophanes, and the utilization of metallodithiolenes. He prepared the last nickel metallodithiolene complex as a laser dye in the emeritus lab in 2017. In support of undergraduate research activities in chemistry, Ulli established the Mueller-Westerhoff Scholarship fund at the University of Connecticut, and many undergraduates have been, and continue to be, supported throughout the summers and the academic year. His sharp intellect, pointed opinions, and generous friendship will be missed.

Services are private.

Christian Brückner

A Better Way to Make Acrylics

acrylic cube
Acrylics and the closely related acrylates are the building blocks for many kinds of plastics, glues, textiles, dyes, paints, and papers. Now researchers from UConn and ExxonMobil describe a new process for making acrylics that would increase energy efficiency and reduce toxic byproducts. (Getty Images)

Acrylics are an incredibly diverse and useful family of chemicals used in all kinds of products, from diapers to nail polish. Now, a team of researchers from UConn and ExxonMobil describe a new process for making them. The new method would increase energy efficiency and reduce toxic byproducts, they report in the Feb. 8 issue of Nature Communications.

The global market for acrylic acid is enormous. The world used close to 5 million metric tonnes of it in 2013, according to industry group PetroChemicals Europe. And no wonder, for acrylics and the closely related acrylates are the building blocks for many kinds of plastics, glues, textiles, dyes, paints, and papers. Strung together in long chains, they can make all kinds of useful materials. Acrylate mixed with sodium hydroxide, for example, makes a super absorbent material used in diapers. Add extra methyl groups (carbon plus three hydrogens), and acrylate makes plexiglass.

The current industrial process for making acrylics require high temperatures close to 450 F, and produce unwanted and sometimes harmful byproducts, such as ethylene, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen cyanide.

UConn chemistry Steve Suib, director of the University's Institute for Materials Science, and colleagues at UConn and ExxonMobil have designed a new way of making acrylics at mild temperatures. Their technique can be finely tuned to avoid producing unwanted chemicals.

"Scientists at ExxonMobil Research & Engineering partnering with professors Suib's group in UConn have been probing new technologies that can lower energy intensity, skip steps, improve energy efficiency, and reduce CO2 footprint in the production process of acrylics," says Partha Nandi, a chemist at ExxonMobil. "The recent publication in Nature Communications describes discovery of a new route to produce a class of acrylate derivatives in potentially fewer steps and with less energy"

The technique uses a porous catalyst made of manganese and oxygen. Catalysts are materials used to speed up reactions. Often, they provide a surface for the molecules to sit on while they react with each other, helping them to meet up in the right configurations to do the deed. In this case, the pores fill that role. The pores are 20 to 500 Angstroms wide, big enough for fairly large molecules to fit inside. The manganese atoms in the material can trade their electrons with nearby oxygens, which makes it easier for the right chemical reactions to happen. Depending on the starting ingredients, the catalyst can facilitate all different kinds of acrylics and acrylates, with very little waste, Suib says.

"We hope this can be scaled up," he says. "We want to maximize yield, minimize temperature, and make an even more active catalyst," that will help the reaction go faster. The group also found adding a little bit of lithium helped speed things up, too. They are currently studying the exact role of lithium, and experimenting with ways of improving the manganese and oxygen catalyst

This research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Chemical, Biological, and Geological Sciences under grant DE-FG02-86ER13622.A000, as well as ExxonMobil

Article Courtesy of UConn Today

Artificial Skin Could Give Superhuman Perception

hand touching skin on shoulder

A new type of sensor could lead to artificial skin that someday helps burn victims ‘feel’ and safeguards the rest of us, University of Connecticut researchers suggest in a forthcoming paper in Advanced Materials.

Our skin’s ability to perceive pressure, heat, cold and vibration is a critical safety function that most people take for granted. But burn victims, those with prosthetic limbs, and others who have lost skin sensitivity for one reason or another, can’t take it for granted, and often injure themselves unintentionally.

Chemists Islam Mosa from UConn, and James Rusling from UConn and UConn Health, along with University of Toronto engineer Abdelsalam Ahmed, wanted to create a sensor that can mimic the sensing properties of skin. Such a sensor would need to be able to detect pressure, temperature and vibration. But perhaps it could do other things too, the researchers thought.

“It would be very cool if it had abilities human skin does not; for example, the ability to detect magnetic fields, sound waves, and abnormal behaviors,” said Mosa.

Mosa and his colleagues created such a sensor with a silicone tube wrapped in a copper wire and filled with a special fluid made of tiny particles of iron oxide just one billionth of a meter long, called nanoparticles. The nanoparticles rub around the inside of the silicone tube and create an electric current. The copper wire surrounding the silicone tube picks up the current as a signal. When this tube is bumped by something experiencing pressure, the nanoparticles move and the electric signal changes. Sound waves also create waves in the nanoparticle fluid, and the electric signal changes in a different way than when the tube is bumped.

The researchers found that magnetic fields alter the signal too, in a way distinct from pressure or sound waves. Even a person moving around while carrying the sensor changes the electrical current, and the team found they could distinguish between the electrical signals caused by walking, running, jumping, and swimming.

Metal skin might sound like a superhero power, but this skin wouldn’t make the wearer Colossus from the X-men. Rather, Mosa and his colleagues hope it could help burn victims “feel” again, and perhaps act as an early warning for workers exposed to dangerously high magnetic fields. Because the rubber exterior is completely sealed and waterproof, it could also serve as a wearable monitor to alert parents if their child fell into deep water in a pool, for example.

“The inspiration was to make something durable that would last for a very long time, and could detect multiple hazards,” Mosa says. The team has yet to test the sensor for its response to heat and cold, but they suspect it will work for those as well. The next step is to make the sensor in a flat configuration, more like skin, and see if it still works.

Among the authors of the paper are Esraa Elsanadidy and Mohamed Sharafeldin from UConn, and Islam Hassan from McMaster University and Prof. Shenqiang Ren from State University of New York at Buffalo. This work is supported by National Institute of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF) and US. Department of Energy.

Story Courtesy of UConn Today

Art at the Mall

Art at the Mall

On December 18, 2018, The Chronicle featured Kumar Group's NanoArt display at the Windham Regional Art Gallery. The front-page article, "Art at the Mall," highlighted the Jumar Group's display, as well as the work of other local artists. The NanoArt collection showcases colored electron microscope images that capture proteins in a new light. "The art aspects of this is nature's art. We're trying to connect the signs, and the art bridges that," says Kumar.

Full Story Here

Doctoral students Anka Rao and Megan Puglia, Professor Challa Vijaya Kumar, and doctoral sutdents Mensi Malhotra and Jingwen Ding

International Space Station Research Aims to Treat Blindness

Internaltional Space Station Research Aims to Treat Blindness

On Tuesday, December 4th, a product of a UConn Chemistry start-up will be launching into space on the SpaceX CRS-16! With the support of a 2016 MassChallenge CASIS/Boeing Award, a retinal implant developed by LambdaVision will be the subject of research conducted by the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory. As the ISS orbits the Earth, the retinal implant will be studied to examine the effects of microgravity in layer-by-layer manufacturing.

LambdaVision is the produce of the research group of Dr.Robert Birdge (Harold S. Schwnek Sr. Distinguished Chair Emeritus; Founder of LambdaVision), Dr. Nicole Wagner (Assistant Research Professor; CEO), and Dr.  Jordan Greco (Assistant Research Professor; CSO)

VIDEO: Assistant Research Professors Nicole Wagner & Jordan Greco dicscuss the ISS U.S. National Laboratory Retinal Implant Project

VIDEO: Water the launch live on NASA TV

Chem Club Hosts Pfizer Chemists


chem club hosts pfizer chemists picture

Thanks to everyone who came to the Chemistry Club's Pfizer event on Wednesday, Novermeber 7th! Pfizer chemists Dr. Desrosiers and Dr. Brown spoke about what it is like to work for Pfizer, projects they are involved in, and job opportunities for students with a chemistry degree. 38 students attended this event to learn more about opportunities at Pfizer and to meet with the Pfizer representatives.

PFIZER CAREER OPPORTUNITIES: Remember to check out pfizer.com/careers for more information on opportunities. To apply to be a process chemist, use the requisition #4712823 (associate scientist) or #4712828 (senior scientist). Keep your eye on http://www.pfizer.com/careers/en/us-summer-student-worker-program for summer opportunities that will be posted in the spring.

JOIN CHEMISTRY CLUB: To join the Chemistry Club email uconnchemclub@gmail.com

Any suggestions or comments from both students and faculty about this or future events is greatly appreciated.