Faculty News

UConn Funds Five COVID-19 Research Projects, Announces Additional Funding

The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) recently announced a new internal funding program to support researchers at all of UConn’s campuses who are using their expertise in fields as diverse as wastewater and chemosensory testing to find novel solutions to help the nation and the world address this crisis. The program will award up to $50,000 to recipients.

The OVPR awarded five awards to researchers from UConn and UConn Health:

James Cole, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Departments of Molecular and Cell Biology, $43,439
Targeting the Endoribonuclease of Coronaviruses
Co-PIs: Mark Peczuh, Chemistry Continue reading

Teaching Chemistry in the Time of COVID-19: Memories and the Classroom

Teaching Chemistry RemotelyIn a recent Journal of Chemical Education article, Assistant Professor in Residence J. Dafhne Aguirre and Associate Professor in Residence Fatma Selampinar detail their experiences teaching general chemistry in the time of COVID-19. The publication compares the challenges, teaching strategies, laboratory methods, and discussion methods used by two different instructors teaching a three-semester chemistry course.

Read Full Article: “Teaching Chemistry in the Time of COVID-19: Memories and the Classroom”

Welcome to New Members of Our Faculty

Kerry GilmoreStephanie RuggWelcome Dr. Kerry Gilmore and Dr. Stephanie Rugg to our faculty!

Kerry joins us as an Assistant Professor from the Max-Planck Institute for Max for Colloids and Interfaces in Berlin, Germany, where his most recent position was Research Group Leader. He earned his PhD at the University of Florida and will continue his innovative research program in flow chemistry in Storrs.

Stephanie, an Assistant Professor in Residence, was previously teaching at Vassar College. She is an organic/organometallic chemist with a PhD from the University of Rochester. Her strong interest and expertise in chemical education complements our team at the Stamford campus.

We are thrilled to have been able to add both to our faculty! Continue reading

Dr. Priya Pradhan and Dr. Jie He Promoted

Priya PradhanJie HeOne of the highlights in academic life are promotions in academic rank that are awarded after rigorous and lengthy review of the academic achievements by the department, the Dean, the Provost, and with the help of a number of outside reviewers. The Board of Trustees then awards the promotions based on the evaluations and recommendations of all that reviewed the academic track record. With the beginning of this academic year, we have two such promotions to celebrate: Dr. Priya Pradhan was promoted from Assistant to Associate Professor in Residence and Dr. Jie He was promoted from Assistant to Associate Professor with tenure. Please join us in congratulating Priya and Jie!

Priya is teaching general and organic chemistry at the Hartford campus. She graduated in 2009 from UConn with a Ph.D., having worked in the research group of Professor Bill Bailey.

Jie established a thriving research group at Storrs after he joined our department in 2014. His broad range of research interests center on the integration polymers with inorganic materials (metal ions, clusters and nanoparticles).

Congratulations again! We are proud to have you both in our Department!

After 45 Years of Teaching, Professor Bailey Retires

BaileyAfter a 45-year successful career at UConn, Professor Bill Bailey retired at the beginning of this academic year. Alas, retiring is the wrong word: Bill merely stepped away from active teaching. He will still be found in the building (when anyone can be found in the building again). We certainly will also see continued scholarly work being published by him.

Bill’s research is in the realms of organolithium chemistry methodology, mechanisms, and conformational analyses. His dedication and creativity as an educator and mentor extraordinaire is to be celebrated.

Please join us in thanking and congratulating Bill!

Welcome to Fall 2020

A Message from the Department Head

Dear All,

Welcome to a new semester! The campus and building have come alive once again. We are welcoming new faculty and graduate students to the Department, we have awards and a retirement to celebrate, and we have a large group of students eagerly lining up for general or organic chemistry classes. Alas, this is not going to be a normal semester. Almost everything will be very different and difficult in ways that are predictable and unpredictable. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Lab Courses

A recent article in ACS Publications, from Prof. Kiet Tran, Prof. Anwar Beshir, and Prof. Abhay Vaze, demonstrates a comparison of the experiences of both organic and analytical lab faculty during the COVID-19 pandemic distance learning initiative is described here. Faculty of both lab courses experienced four shared challenges in the transition to the online format: (1) experimental implementation, (2) assessments and postlab activities, (3) technological inequalities, and (4) synchronization of student attendance.

Read Full Article: “A Tale of Two Lab Courses: An Account and Reflection on the Teaching Challenges Experienced by Organic and Analytical Chemistry Laboratories During the COVID-19 Period”

Rouge Group Receives $2 Million NIH Grant

Dr. Jessica RougeJessica Rouge has been awarded an R35: Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) for Early Stage Investigators grant from the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). The award, titled “Achieving enhanced cytosolic delivery and greater efficacy of therapeutic nucleic acids using DNA-surfactant conjugates,” is for $2,000,300 over a 5-year period.

The grant focuses on addressing the critical need for improving the delivery of RNA and DNA molecules to the interior of cells, with a specific focus on nucleic acids that have the ability to treat diseases. These include molecules such as DNAzymes, siRNA and other antisense oligonucleotides that target the mRNA of cells for silencing genes involved in disease pathways. These mRNA are found in the cytosol, and a number of biological barriers need to be overcome to achieve efficient delivery.

The Rouge Lab has a multi-tiered set of chemical approaches to address these issues, ranging from synthesizing new DNA surfactant conjugates that aid in penetrating cell membranes, to the synthesis and use of hybrid nanomaterials for stabilizing oligonucleotides, to the application of enzymes for tailoring the assembly of these materials. The grant will also support the synthesis of new fluorophore-labeled surfactants for assaying the efficiency of nucleic acid delivery into cells and the rate of endosomal escape – two traditionally challenging areas to study due to the chemical instability of RNA and DNA in the cytoplasm of cells.

Mercury Remains a Persistent Poison in Connecticut’s Still River

Early 20th century postcard with an image of a hat factory in Danbury, CT
Hat factories in Danbury, like the one featured on this early 20th century postcard, left mercury pollution in the Still River that researchers are still detecting today. (UConn Library Archives and Special Collections)

Western Connecticut is known for rolling hills, rich history, and industry, such as hat making. Once called the “Hat City of the World,” Danbury thrived. Anyone familiar with Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter may also be aware of the dangers of hat making, due to the industry’s use of the potent toxin mercury. Starting in the late 1700s, Danbury hat factories were a point source of pollution, dumping large quantities of mercury into the nearby Still River.

Fashions change, the use of mercury in hat making was outlawed in 1940, and now all that remains of the once-thriving hatting industry in Danbury is its history – or is it?

A group of researchers from UConn and Wesleyan University spent four years studying a stretch of the Still River, and found that the industrial waste of a century ago is still very much present in 2020.

Kayla Anatone ’12 (CAHNR), a current PhD student at Wesleyan University, was interested in the local history but also in learning if “legacy” mercury was impacting the environment and making its way into the food web. She and co-authors from the UConn Marine Sciences department – including PhD student Gunnar Hansen, Professor Robert Mason*, Assistant Research Professor Zofia Baumann and Wesleyan University Professor Barry Chernoff – recently published the findings in Chemosphere. Continue reading

Passing of Jane Knox, Emerita Faculty

KnoxJane received a BA degree in chemistry from Bryn Mawr College in 1961 and a Masters in Teaching (MAT) degree from Harvard University in 1962. After teaching high school chemistry in Pearl River, NY, she attended Boston University where she obtained an MA in chemistry in 1968. Accompanying her husband to Oxford University for two years, she joined the biophysics research group of Nobel Laureate Prof. Dorothy Hodgkin and assisted in the atomic-level structural determination of insulin. Returning to the US, she worked briefly with Prof. Frederick Richards in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University. In 1971, Jane began employment at the University of Connecticut as a Lecturer in Chemistry.

In our Department she supervised our undergraduate analytical chemistry laboratories, helping to write the department’s laboratory manual “Experiments in Analytical Chemistry” with an emphasis on electronics and instrumentation. She organized the Chemistry Olympiad for high school students in Connecticut and Massachusetts and later started a new course entitled “Chemistry for an Informed Electorate,” a longtime interest of hers. She served on several University policy committees, including on the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) Courses and Curriculum Committee. Jane was appointed an Assistant Dean in the Advisory Center of CLAS from 1992 to 1997, returning to the Chemistry Department from which she retired as Lecturer Emerita in 2003. In her retirement, Jane continued her involvement with the Connecticut Valley Section of the ACS where she championed the Chemistry Olympiad and engagement of high school teachers. She was also the driving force behind meetings of the emeritus faculty members in the Chemistry Department.

Many of you will remember Jane as an instructor dedicated to her students, holding all to a high standard. She was a true scholar — ever curious and interested in learning and exacting in all her activities. While she will be missed, her legacy of contributions to the Department and to the community will continue.

Contributions in Jane’s honor may be made to the Jorgensen JOY program through the University of Connecticut Foundation, 2390 Alumni Drive U-3206, Storrs, CT 06269. Online memories of Jane may be written at: https://www.potterfuneralhome.com/obituary/Jane-Knox.