Author: Ashley Orcutt

UConn Undergraduates Conduct Research at Fudan University

Tania Mohamed & Stuart Mehrens, UConn Chemistry Undergraduate Students

Since 2Undergraduate student at Fudan012, the Chemistry Department at the University of Connecticut (UConn) has been actively developing international collaborations with other Universitas 21 institutions (the leading global network of research universities), such as Fudan University and Shanghai Jiaotong University (SJTU) in China. The partnership has provided great channels for the exchange of students, scholars, and educational resources.

Joint research workshops were held in Shanghai in 2012 and in Connecticut in 2013. Ten undergraduates from Fudan University and SJTU have since conducted summer research at UConn. This summer, six more students are on their way to our campus, and we will visit them in Shanghai as well! Professor Michael Smith, Thomas Seery, and Yao Lin will give short courses at Fudan University and SJTU in July, and we (undergraduate students Tania Mohamed and Stuart Mehrens) will carry out organic chemistry research at Fudan University. Here, we will detail our experiences inside and outside the lab!

To follow along on our adventures in Shanghai, visit the ion uconn chem blog!

The Scarcity of Helium

Dr. Nicholas LeadbeaterDr. Nicholas Leadbeater offers WAMC Radio an analysis of the widespread uses of helium. A possible shortage of this element has sparked debate as to who has the rights to its use. Therefore, as helium may become more strictly regulated, helium-filled party balloons may soon come to an end.

For full story, courtesy of WAMC Radio, listen here.

Breaking Bad’s Bad Chemistry

UConn Today

As the final episodesDr. Nicholas Leadbeater of Breaking Bad became available for the first time on Netflix this week, UConn chemistry professor Nicholas Leadbeater offered a three-part examination of the chemistry behind the hit television show.

On Monday, he discussed why Walter White’s meth was so unique. Listen here.

On Tuesday, he discussed White’s use of acids to make evidence disappear. Listen here.

On Wednesday, he examined White’s use of instant poison gas to make one of his Greatest Escapes. Listen here.

Leadbeater is an associate professor of organic and inorganic chemistry at the University of Connecticut, where he heads the New Synthetic Methods Group. The group conducts research on cleaner and more efficient methods for creating synthetic materials. Leadbeater holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, where he was a research fellow until 1999.

These talks were first aired on WAMC, the PBS station in Albany, N.Y., as Academic Minutes, and were also hosted by Inside Higher Learning. The Academic Minute features researchers from colleges and universities around the world.

Thanks to WAMC for the station’s permission to post these spots.

A New Way to Create Porous Materials

UConn Today

A team of UConn chemisDr. Steven Suibts has discovered a new way of making a class of porous materials that allows for greater manufacturing controls and has significantly broader applications than the longtime industry standard.

The process, more than three years in the making and outlined in the December 2013 edition of Nature Communications, has resulted in the creation of more than 60 new families of materials so far, with the potential for many more. The key catalyst in the process is recyclable, making it a ‘green’ technology.

Four patent applications related to the discovery are pending. VeruTEK, a chemical innovations company based in South Windsor, Conn., has secured rights to some of the materials.

“This is definitely the most exciting project I’ve been involved in over the past 30 years,” says Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Steven L. Suib, the project’s principal investigator. “What we’ve done is similar to discovering a new insect, only now there is a series of families of these things that can be discovered. That’s pretty cool.” Continue reading

Chemistry Provides Student with Marketable Skills

UConn Today

Before SCasey Camireun Products Corp. hired UConn chemistry major Casey Camire as a summer intern, students studying engineering typically dominated the internship application pool.

Many companies, like Trumbull, Conn.-based Sun Products, which develops and markets household cleaning supplies, typically look first for chemical engineering college students when recruiting for their internship programs. But chemistry major and math minor Camire knew that with his background in chemistry and applied laboratory experience, he too could be a good fit for such a job.

“After my experiences there, they are now looking for more chemistry students,” he says.

Camire says he was able to market himself for his internship at Sun Products Corp. by showing – through a resume he posted on the Center for Career Development’s Husky Career Link – that the analytical skills he learned in his chemistry classes and his practical laboratory knowledge from three years of research experience were applicable to a real-world chemistry research environment. Continue reading

Chemist Discovers New Way to Stabilize Proteins

UConn Today

A UCochemist discovers way to stabilize proteinsnn research team has found a way to stabilize hemoglobin, the oxygen carrier protein in the blood, a discovery that could lead to the development of stable vaccines and affordable artificial blood substitutes.

The team’s novel approach involves wrapping the polymer poly(acrylic acid) around hemoglobin, protecting it from the intense heat used in sterilization and allowing it to maintain its biological function and structural integrity.

In addition to having potential applications in the stabilization of vaccines and development of inexpensive artificial blood, the stabilizing polymer also allows vaccines and other biomedical products to be stored for longer periods without refrigeration. It could also have applications in biomaterials, biosensors, and biofuels. Continue reading

Not Quite Frankenstein

UConn Today

Where can you watch a group of inanimate objects come together, form a cohesive structure, and start displaying what looks very much like organic behavior?

You might say this sounds like a modern-day Frankenstein.

But for a real-life example, you could visit the laboratory of psychologist James Dixon in Storrs, Conn.

Dixon and his colleagues at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action (CESPA) are building a research program around the idea that a lot can be learned about perception and action in living things from observing inanimate objects.

“Our observations suggest that matter that has become life has found some physical principle that we don’t quite understand yet,” says Dixon, associate professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

He calls the concept “radical,” “way out there,” and “potentially transformative.” Continue reading

TEDxUConn: 21st Century Alchemy


Faced with the world’s finite supply of fossil fuels, scientists are looking to other sources for their chemical feedstocks. One option is to convert biomass, such as plant material, vegetation, or agricultural waste, to commodity chemicals. This has advantages in economic, environmental and societal terms. But how can we achieve this goal?

Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater, an associate professor of Chemistry at the University of Connecticut, discusses the hurdles, the opportunities, and some of the breakthroughs being made in this exciting new research.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Dr. Leadbeater’s full TEDxUConn talk can be viewed here.

Bloodless sensors monitor diabetes patients

The Daily Campus

According to the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 25.8 million people in the U.S. have diabetes. This statistic includes both Type I and Type II diabetes. Diabetes is a serious, life-changing disease that requires blood sugar levels to be monitored many times a day. However, here at the university a group of research professors are developing an implantable, wireless biosensor that holds the potential of changing the face of this disease.

The research is being conducted by the laboratory teams of Board of Trustees distinguished professor of pharmaceutics Diane Burgess, chemistry professor Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos and engineering professor Faquir Jain. The ultimate goal of the project is to develop a small, wireless and completely implantable biosensor that will monitor diabetic patients’ blood sugar levels. This device will eliminate the use of a lancing device to extract a blood sample in order to check the blood sugar levels in a meter. Continue reading

Chain Reaction: NSF Programs Are Initiators of Chemist’s Success

Jennifer Bento

Author Jennifer Bento is a graduate student in the Polymer Program at UConn in the research group of Chemistry Professor Doug Adamson. In her reflection below, Jen describes the implications on her career path that resulted from her participation in the UConn chemistry REU program. She connects this experience to choosing UConn for graduate school, and her subsequent success in garnering a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

I received my undergraduate education at Simmons College in Boston where I earned a B.S. in Chemistry and Physics in 2011. During my undergraduate career, I was a teacher’s assistant, a study group leader and an ambassador through Beyond Benign in a Green Chemistry Fellowship program that performed outreach at local Boston public schools. As a Beyond Benign fellow, I was able to work with undergraduates at my institution and meet fellow scientists at local colleges and/or universities in the Boston area. Together we performed hands-on activities with students in grades K-12. I hope that our efforts motivated the students to continue their education in STEM fields. I also helped students at Simmons learn organic chemistry in my role as a TA/study group leader. These fulfilling experiences with students have inspired me to pursue a career as a college professor. My research advisor at Simmons, Dr. Richard Gurney, encouraged me to apply to a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program sponsored by the NSF to gain further research experience at a PhD-granting institution and to get a sense of what being a graduate student would feel like. I applied and was accepted to the UConn Chemistry REU the summer before my senior year of college. UConn was able to offer exciting research with a successful REU student track record. Continue reading