By Gabriella Reggiano
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.
Islam Mosa (Rusling Group) won the first place award in the 2017 Science AAAS student poster competition (Category: Physical Sciences). The award includes recognition of the poster title and the winner’s name in the March 24th issue of Science, a cash prize, certificate, and a one-year AAAS membership. A committee of 7 judges from Harvard, MIT, and industry evaluated all posters and selected the winner. The 2nd and 3rd places of the same category received honorable mentions in Science and were awarded to Hendrik Utzak and Anahita Zare from MIT and University of Missouri respectively.
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 Ground Zero, which attempts to unravel the complicated history of superconductors.
The American Chemical Society and its local sections are honoring those who have reached 50 years of membership in 2017. Lecturer Emerita Jane Knox has been recognized for her ACS membership.
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).
The 2017 cohort of University Scholars has been selected. Among them, are Chemistry undergraduates Maneesh Koneru and Vincent Pistritto. Details about the students, their projects, and their advisory committees can be found on the University Scholar website.
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).
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.