Faculty News

Years of Service 2020

We would like to thank the following faculty for their years of service to the Department. Thank you to all who have enriched the Department over so many years and for having made this place what it is!

James Rusling – 40 years
Nina Stein – 40 years
Amy Howell – 25 years
Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos – 25 years
Thomas Seery – 25 years
Sotzing Gregory – 20 years
Young-Chan Son – 20 years
Fatma Selampinar – 15 years
Xudong Yao – 15 years

Atomwise Partnership Enables UConn Researcher to Investigate COVID-19 Drug Target

University of Connecticut professor of molecular and cell biology James Cole* is working on identifying new therapeutics for COVID-19.

Through a collaboration with Atomwise, a California-based company which uses artificial intelligence to advance small molecule drug discovery, Cole is one of the 15 researchers looking at different coronavirus protein targets for COVID-19 treatment.

Cole is focusing on the NSP15/EndoU ribonuclease enzyme the COVID-19 virus needs to replicate as well as degrade viral RNA to hide it from host cell defenses. Cole is looking for a molecule that can inhibit the enzyme and thus inhibit replication of coronaviruses.

“The virus and the host carry out this war,” Cole says. “The virus has to evade the host’s innate immunity response while the host is trying to stop the virus from replicating.”

By inhibiting this enzyme, the body’s innate immune system would prevent the virus from replicating. Continue reading

UConn Researcher Invents Nanoparticle for Overcoming Leukemia Treatment Resistance

UConn associate professor of pharmaceutics Xiuling Lu, along with professor of chemistry Rajeswari M. Kasi, was part of a team that recently published a paper in Nature Cell Biology finding a commonly used chemotherapy drug may be repurposed as a treatment for resurgent or chemotherapy-resistant leukemia.

One of the largest problems with cancer treatment is the development of resistance to anticancer therapies. Few FDA-approved products directly target leukemia stem cells, which cause treatment-resistant relapses. The only known method to combat their presence is stem cell transplantation.

Leukemia presents unique treatment challenges due to the nature of this form of cancer. The disease affects bone marrow, which produces blood cells. Leukemia is a cancer of the early blood-forming cells, or stem cells. Most often, leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells. The first step of treatment is to use chemotherapy to kill the cancerous white blood cells, but if the leukemia stem cells in the bone marrow persist, the cancer may relapse in a therapy-resistant form. Continue reading

IMS Researchers Make Cover of Advanced Materials

May 26th Issue of Advanced Materials cover showing the work of Dr. Greg Sotzing and collaboratorsA molecular engineering principle in which repeat units of fairly rigid fused bicyclic structure and alkenes, separated by freely rotating single bonds, is proposed by Gregory A. Sotzing, Yang Cao, and published as a cover highlight of the May 26th Issue of Advanced Materials in article number 2000499, led by Dr. Chao Wu, a PDF at EIRC, and Ajinkya Deshmukh, a Polymer Program Ph.D. student for energy storage at elevated temperature.

The piston‐like crankshaft structure endows the system with a large bandgap of ≈5eV and flexibility, while being temperature‐invariantly stable. The piston/pendant allows engineering for temperature‐invariant dipolar polarization for energy storage. As part of a UConn lead MURI program, the design strategy uncovered in this work reveals a hitherto unexplored space for the design of scalable and efficient polymer dielectrics for electrical power and electronic systems under concurrent harsh electrical and thermal conditions.

Read More

 


Blurb courtesy of IMS News

The Journey to International Environmental Policy Starts with a Single Step

Penny Vlahos
Penny Vlahos, Assistant Professor of Marine Sciences

In the 1980s and 90s, concern about the destruction of the ozone layer was a topic on everyone’s mind. The international community rallied around the issue and the Montreal Protocol of 1987 was created to tackle the problem. As a result, the compounds causing ozone destruction, chlorofluorocarbons (called CFCs for short), were phased out. Since then, other international efforts have been undertaken to face other environmental crises, such as the Paris Agreement, the Rio Summit, and the Minamata Convention.

In the midst of the world-wide health crisis that is the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers continue forging ahead to identify steps to be taken to continue combating environmental threats and pollutants. Penny Vlahos, associate professor of Marine Sciences at UConn*, recently served on the scientific advisory panel for the International Panel on Chemical Pollution to advise United Nations policymakers on issues related to emerging environmental contaminants and pollution. The meeting was originally scheduled to be held in Zurich, Switzerland, but in light of the pandemic, was held virtually instead.

The path towards a protocol, treaty, or agreement – especially one like the universally ratified Montreal Protocol – can be a long and complex one. Vlahos shared her experience with UConn Today about some of the steps necessary to set plans into motion for tackling some of the world’s biggest environmental issues. Continue reading

LambdaVision/Birge Group Receives $5 Million from NASA

LambdaVision was awarded five million dollars from NASA to continue their work on the International Space Station (ISS) for an artificial retina that could help patients regain their sight. The award will fund flights to the ISS for the next three years to manufacture and improve the artificial retina technology previously developed by LambdaVision. The layer-by-layer process of producing the protein-based artificial retina requires less materials in a microgravity environment, reducing its cost and production time. In the future, LambdaVision hopes to begin clinical trials for their artificial retina technology.

LambdaVision was founded as part of the UConn Technology Incubator Program (TIP) and is spearheaded by Nicole Wagner (CEO) and Jordan Greco (CSO). Wagner and Greco are alumni of Dr. Robert Birge’s research group and currently serve as Assistant Research Professors in UConn’s Chemistry Department.

Read the full Business Wire article here.

“Outpouring of Support” as Researchers, Barnes & Noble Donate Lab Supplies to UConn Health

Labcoat
UConn Health is on the frontline of the response to COVID-19, and in need of supplies like those collected by Yashan Zhang and others at UConn. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

“UConn is really my home,” said Yashan Zhang.

She lives in Farmington – just minutes from UConn Health – and she’s an assistant professor in residence in the Chemistry Department on UConn’s Hartford Campus. She’s also Chinese, though she’s been in Connecticut and part of the UConn community for the past 13 years.

“I started my PhD here in the Chemistry Department, and then I got my PhD and I got a job here,” Zhang said. “So I’ve been at UConn for a long time.”

For Zhang, it feels like the coronavirus pandemic has hit home twice: first, as it threatened her family and friends still living in China, and now, as its impact grows daily in the United States. It’s overwhelming for her at times – her voice fills with emotion when she talks about images of doctors forced to wear makeshift personal protective equipment, or to use the same protective mask for their whole shift. The daily reports of increasing positive cases of COVID-19 are tough for her to hear.

“Every day I see the numbers,” she said. “I always feel like, behind those numbers, they are actual, real people. That just makes me feel really sad.”

But like so many, it’s also empowered her to take action to help her neighbors and her UConn community – and her determination to help inspired a recent campus-wide effort to help support the doctors, nurses, and medical staff on the frontlines of the pandemic at UConn Health.

Continue reading

Research Spotlight: Following your scientific passion with Gregory Sotzing

Professor Gregory Sotzing
The University of Connecticut’s Professor Gregory Sotzing, who has developed different polymers like a color-changing fabric. Photo courtesy of Sotzing Research Group

Researchers from the University of Connecticut’s Sotzing Research Group are studying conductive and dielectric polymers for a number of applications, from color-changing fabric to medical applications of chemicals in cannabis to high-speed projectile launchers for the military.

The group is led by chemistry professor Gregory Sotzing. The group’s wide-ranging base of research is due to the number of applications for the polymers they study.

Sotzing explained that studying polymers really just means making new kinds of materials.

“We’re pretty much the people who make new materials, new compositions of matter. Then the engineers will take and test out these new things and see how well they work inside of certain kinds of applications,” Sotzing said.

Continue reading

UConn Recognized As Top Producer of Fulbright Scholars

The University of Connecticut has been recognized among the top producers of Fulbright U.S. Scholars from research institutions for the second time in the past four years.

The University has six Fulbright Scholars on its faculty who are teaching and performing research around the world in the 2019-20 academic year, according to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which was featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Monday.

The Fulbright Program is the government’s flagship international educational exchange program. Scholars are selected for their academic merit and leadership potential, with the opportunity to exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program operates in more than 125 countries. The following UConn faculty are pursuing Fulbright projects abroad:

  • Associate Professor of Sociology Matthew Hughey, will conduct research on “White Racial Identity, Organizational Homogeneity, and Stratification of Benefits in Surrey” at the University of Surrey in Guildford, England.
  • Professor of Chemistry Challa Kumar, will conduct research on “BioNanoMaterials for Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) of Biobatteries” at the University of Wollongong in Wollongong, Australia.
  • Professor of Painting in the School of Fine Arts Kathryn Myers, will lecture in “Professional Practices for Studio Artists” at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India.
  • Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Malaquias Pena-Mendez, will conduct research on “Ensemble Predictions for Urban Areas” at the Federal University of Alagoas in Maceio, Brazil.
  • Associate Professor of English Bhakti Shringarpure, will conduct research on “The World Novel from Africa: Mapping Migrant Forms in East African Literature” at the University of Nairobi in Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Associate Professor of Marine Sciences Michael Whitney, will conduct research on “The Icelandic River Influences on Coastal and Open Ocean Waters” at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, Iceland.

UConn’s Office of National Scholarships & Fellowships collaborated with the Office of Global Affairs and the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute to host Fulbright Week at UConn for the first time in 2019.

This year, Fulbright Week at UConn events will be held April 13-17, 2020. Together with a representative from the Institute of International Education, which administers the Fulbright programs, information sessions for faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students will be offered, along with one-on-one faculty advising sessions with the IIE representative, a live session with a current Fulbright student abroad, and a reception for current and former UConn Fulbright Scholars.

The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation by the United States Congress to the Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations in foreign countries and the U.S. also provide direct and indirect support.


Article courtesy of UConn Today