Faculty News

Professor Kumar Wins Provost Award

Professor Challa Kumar’s proposal to The Provost’s General Education Course Enhancement Grant Competition entitled “Science Writing: Portable, adoptable and comprehensive writing course for various science departments” has been selected for funding. The proposal offered an explicit fit to the competition objectives and had multiple innovative elements, including flipped classroom exercises in which videos were combined with assignments, and assessment that involved an oral presentation, a poster, and a multimedia e-book. The course also included a substantial research component. Professor Kumar was awarded $7416 for the 2018 Fiscal Year.

Chemistry Professor Nationally Recognized for Inventions

By Jessica McBride, Office of the Vice President for Research

Altug Poyraz, left, a graduate student, with Steven Suib, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. According to Suib, some of the greatest benefits of being an academic inventor are the opportunities it allows him to provide to his students, many of whom will work in industry after graduating from UConn. (Peter Morenus/UConn File Photo)

Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Steven L. Suib has some advice for early career faculty and student researchers who are interested in inventing. Given that Suib was recently named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), it would probably be smart to grab a pencil.

“Ask a lot of questions, know the literature, don’t be afraid to move on from ideas that just aren’t working. But above all, keep an open mind and work with other people,” offered Suib.

Throughout his nearly 40-year research career, Suib has lived by these words. As a preeminent expert in solid state chemistry and the synthesis of novel materials with a strong environmental focus, his work has produced numerous discoveries with a variety of applications in several industry sectors.

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Tailoring Treatment to Combat Diseased Cells at the Genetic Level

By Jessica McBride, Office of the Vice President for Research

Jessica Rouge, Assistant Professor talking with Ph.D. student Josh Santiana in her research lab in the Chemistry building on Nov. 29, 2017. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

A new drug delivery system that uses a synthetic-biological hybrid nanocapsule could provide a smart technology for targeted treatment of a variety of serious diseases at the genetic level.

The hybrid offers a way to correct diseased cells at the genetic level – while at the same time leaving healthy cells alone – to increase the effectiveness of treatments and reduce unwanted side effects.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all delivery system,” says Jessica Rouge, assistant professor of chemistry at UConn, and author of a new paper on the technology in Bioconjugate Chemistry. “The beauty of this system is that it is programmable, modular, and has the ability to rapidly integrate diverse peptide sequences. It can be tailored to combat new disease challenges as they emerge.”

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Professor Flavio Maran Wins Baizer Award

Flavio MaranProfessor Flavio Maran, who leads the Molecular Electrochemistry and Nanosystem Group at the University of Padova and is a Research Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Connecticut, is the new winner of the Manuel M. Baizer Award, awarded by the Electrochemical Society (ECS), which is the largest electrochemical society. The Baizer Award (Manuel Baizer was a great chemist and foremost internationally recognized authority in organic electrosynthesis) was established in 1992 to recognize individuals for their outstanding scientific achievements in the electrochemistry of organics and organometallic compounds, carbon-based polymers and biomass, whether fundamental or applied, and including but not limited to synthesis, mechanistic studies, engineering of processes, electrocatalysis, devices such as sensors, pollution control, and separation/recovery. Prof. Maran will give his Award Lecture in May 2018, at the 233rd ECS Meeting in Seattle, Washington.

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Fishing for New Antibiotics

Kim Krieger, UConn Communications

Two potent antibacterials found in fish do their dirty work in unexpected ways, report UConn chemists and colleagues in a paper accepted by the FEBS Journal. The research could point the way to entirely new classes of antibiotics.

Fish suffer from bacterial infections just like humans do. It’s an especially tough problem for farmed fish, which live in close quarters where sickness can spread quickly. Fish farmers know that adding copper sulfate to the water reduces bacterial disease, but they haven’t understood why. Now, a team led by chemists from UConn has discovered that fish make antibacterial peptides that bind to copper and use it as a weapon to slay bacteria.

Peptides are small molecules, made from the same stuff as proteins but much shorter. Biologists knew that these fish peptides, called piscidin-1 and piscidin-3, were antibacterial. But it took a chemist to figure out the copper connection.

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Meet Dr. Alexander Gorka

Alexander GorkaWhen Dr. Alexander Gorka began college at Monmouth University, he did not originally intend to pursue a degree in Chemistry. Instead, he was enrolled as a criminal justice/forensic science major. As time went on, he came to realize that he most enjoyed the physical sciences courses and that a degree in Chemistry would provide the broadest opportunities. This was solidified through undergraduate research, where he “caught a glimpse of just how fun and rewarding it can be to challenge yourself with your own questions and ideas.” Hence, a chemistry career was born.

Upon graduation, Dr. Gorka moved to Washington, D.C., to earn his Ph.D. under the guidance of Prof. Paul Roepe at Georgetown University. Dr. Gorka then completed a Cancer Research Training Award (CRTA) Postdoctoral Fellowship with Dr. Martin Schnermann at the National Cancer Institute. In Fall 2017, Dr. Gorka joined the faculty at the University of Connecticut (UConn) as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry.

Dr. Gorka is excited to both teach and to launch his research lab at UConn:

“What drew me to this career was that there’s never a dull moment. Things are fun, crazy, terrifying, and fulfilling, all at the same time.” Dr. Gorka is most looking forward to mentoring students—helping them to form their own paths and careers—and exploring new ideas in his research lab. His goal is to answer important questions, do impactful science, publish high-quality articles, present at conferences, build networks to collaborate, and “be as good a mentor to [his] students as [he] can be in helping them achieve their goals.” – Dr. Alexander Gorka Continue reading

Synthesizing Pure Graphene, a ‘Miracle Material’

By Jessica McBride, Office of the Vice President for Research

Douglas Adamson, in the lab at the Institute of Materials Science on Aug. 23, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Formed deep within the earth, stronger than steel, and thinner than a human hair. These comparisons aren’t describing a new super hero. They’re describing graphene, a substance that some experts have called “the most amazing and versatile” known to mankind.

UConn chemistry professor Doug Adamson, a member of the Polymer Program in UConn’s Institute of Materials Science, has patented a one-of-a-kind process for exfoliating this wonder material in its pure (unoxidized) form, as well as manufacturing innovative graphene nanocomposites that have potential uses in a variety of applications.

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Dr. Rebecca Quardokus Shares Her Passion For Microscopy

By Amanda Campanaro, IMS

There’s a special moment for most students when they discover what they really want to do with their major. For Rebecca Quardokus, Assistant Professor in Chemistry and associate faculty in IMS, that moment came as a junior at Grand Valley State University, Michigan, when her father sent her an article on Professor James Tour’s research at Rice University, Texas.

Dr. Quardokus, who had recently become a chemistry major, found the research fascinating. “His group had synthesized nano-sized cars with C60 fullerenes (buckyballs) for wheels, and they used scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) to image individual cars moving around on a gold surface,” Dr. Quardokus explains. “I was very excited to learn that STM, in addition to imaging, could manipulate individual atoms and molecules on the surface.” It was then she decided to attend graduate school to work with and master that “amazing technique.”

Now, Dr. Quardokus focuses her research on the engineering and reliability of molecular networks and two-dimensional materials for next-generation electronic devices. Her passion for learning STM has led her to begin a project working on developing new two-dimensional materials using surface-confined polymerization reactions.

“I use scanning tunneling microscopy, with its ability to measure individual atoms and molecules, to study the reactants and products,” she says.  “I will also study the charge and thermal transport properties of these materials.” Her group is hoping to tune specific properties for use in next-generation electronics.

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