Faculty News

Neighboring Group Participation

Mark Peczuh, Toni Planas, and GroupFor Toni Planas, a sabbatical in rural Connecticut has accelerated a sweet collaboration with Mark Peczuh’s research group.

Carbohydrate chemists are readily familiar with the concept of neighboring group participation (NPG), where the electrons of a nearby functional group accelerate reactions at a given center. A sociological version of NPG operates in the everyday world of scientific collaborations. Antoni Planas (IQS, U. Ramon Llull, Barcelona) has just completed a year-long sabbatical at the University of Connecticut in the laboratory of collaborator Mark Peczuh. His close proximity to Peczuh and his research group has hastened the progress on their project to develop glycosidase enzymes that selectively hydrolyze septanose sugars, making Planas the human equivalent of a participatory neighboring group. Planas, who lived with his family in an old farmhouse on UConn’s main campus, previously hosted Peczuh as a Fulbright Fellow at IQS in 2013 – a visit that initiated the collaboration. Continue reading

UConn Researchers Win Patent

Lu & Kasi in lab
Xiuling Lu, (right) Assoc. Professor of Pharmaceutics and Rajeswari Kasi, (left) Assoc. Professor of Chemistry inside Lu’s lab.

When a researcher develops a drug that can help treat an illness, the next challenge they face is finding a way to actually get the drug delivered to the right location in a patient’s body in the right amount.

Two University of Connecticut professors have been granted a US Patent for a novel polymer they have designed to help deliver anti-cancer drugs to tumors. Rajeswari Kasi from the Department of Chemistry and Xiuling Lu from the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, both are affiliated with the polymer program within the Institute of Materials Science, have created a new copolymer that can self-assemble into nanoparticles in aqueous solutions. The nanoparticles can carry drugs and bio-responsively release drugs in cancer cells. Continue reading

Dr. Rusling Named Krenicki Professor

Rusling

On August 1st, 2018, the University of Connecticut Board of trustees approved Dr. James Rusling as the Paul Krenicki Professor of Chemistry.

The Paul Krenicki Professorship is possible with the support of John Krenicki Jr. '84 and Donna Samson Krenicki '84. The professorship is named after Krenicki's brother, Paul, who had a passion for chemistry but whose college career was cut short. Paul was bound for a career as a chemist, but died of cancer at age 22. The Paul Krenicki Professorship of Chemistry provides the Chemistry Department with a significant boost and will help bolster UConn's rising academic stature.

"To attract faculty, having these endowed professorships is a big deal. It's a big factor in terms of recruiting and retaining key faculty. It's a permanent commitment to the university. From where we sit, it's probably the best thing we can do to advance the university," said Krenicki, a longtime, generous donor to the University.

"This professorship will strengthen our Chemistry Department's already exceptional capacity to train undergraduates for science careers and to pursue research in fields like material science, biomedicine, and environmental sustainability. UConn undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty will all benefit from this gift for years to come, and for that we are truly grateful to them," said Jeremy Teitelbaum, former dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Professor Rusling was nominated for the inaugural Krenicki Chair by a search committee of his peers within the department. The nomination was based on his truly remarkable record of research and funding. Rusling came to UConn in 1979, and has authored more than 400 research publications and book chapters, in addition to mentoring 57 Ph.D. students and 36 postdoctoral fellows. He is currently the program director of two large multi-investigator NIH projects, one involving six Irish universities and another that targets new high throughput toxicity screening arrays. He has collaborated with numerous faculty over the years, both within UConn and externally. Professor Rusling is an example of a world-class researcher, dedicated educator, and engaged departmental member. We are proud to have such a truly deserving holder of this new chair within the ranks of our department.

Excerpts courtesy of Grace Merritt, UConn Foundation

UConn Chemist Wins Patent for Tunable Metal Oxide Synthesis Method

Altug Poyraz, left, a graduate student, with Steven Suib, distinguished professor and director of chemistry on Jan. 9, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

UConn chemistry professor Steven Suib has been granted a US patent (9,908,103) for a new method developed with his former student, Altug S. Poyraz, now an inorganic chemistry professor at Kennesaw State University. The technology is capable of synthesizing and customizing a type of compound that has unique catalytic and electronic properties.

Suib and Poyraz have patented their process for synthesizing thermally stable mesoporous transitional metal oxides. Their process also allows them to control the size of the mesopores and nano-sized crystalline walls.

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Award Announcements

Two University of Connecticut Chemistry professors recently received Research Excellence Program (REP) awards. Dr. Eugene Pinkhassik recently received the award for his proposal, “Catch and Release of Nucleic Acids with Porous Nanocapsules.” Dr. Yao Lin was awarded for his proposal, “Mechanics of Processive Enzymes that Degrade Crystalline Polymers and Its Implications in Designing Macromolecular Machines.” Congratulations!

Art in Nanochemistry

Kumar Group Uses Electron Microscopes to Create Awe-Inspiring Images

Nature is a masterful artist, responsible for the sweeping vistas around us. Nature's hand is also evident on the microscopic level when microscopic objects are magnified a billion times over. Using high power electron or optical microscopes, Professor Challa V. Kumar and his Ph.D. students capture the natural world on the nano-level, creating awe-inspiring images of natural materials that are as majestic as the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls.

Over the past few years, Kumar and his students have designed an art exhibit entitled, "Art in Nanochemistry." The exhibit consists of individually framed, hand-colored electron micrograph images. Over twenty unique pieces exist in the collection. These pieces have been featured in locations such as the Homer Babbidge Library Gallery, the Bradley Airport Gallery, and the Windham Hospital Art Gallery.

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New Compound Helps Activate Cancer-Fighting T Cells

By Colin Poitras, UConn Communications

An illustration showing interactions between components of the AH10-7 compound (yellow), an immune system antigen-presenting cell (gray), and an invariant natural killer T cell (green and blue) that spark activation of iNKT cells in ‘humanized’ mice. (Image courtesy of José Gascón/UConn)
Researchers Amy Howell and José Gascón of the chemistry department discuss a molecular simulation on a laptop monitor in the academic wing of the Chemistry Building. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells are powerful weapons our body’s immune systems count on to fight infection and combat diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. Finding ways to spark these potent cells into action could lead to more effective cancer treatments and vaccines.

While several chemical compounds have shown promise stimulating iNKT cells in mice, their ability to activate human iNKT cells has been limited.

Now, an international team of top immunologists, molecular biologists, and chemists led by University of Connecticut chemistry professor Amy Howell reports in Cell Chemical Biology the creation of a new compound that appears to have the properties researchers have been looking for.

The compound – a modified version of an earlier synthesized ligand – is highly effective in activating human iNKT cells. It is also selective – encouraging iNKT cells to release a specific set of proteins known as Th1 cytokines, which stimulate anti-tumor immunity.

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New Method Unearths Climate Data from Ancient Soils

Hren By Elaina Hancock, UConn Communications

In Scientific Reports today, UConn researchers report a novel approach to reconstructing ancient climates using analyses of organic compounds in sediments and soils.

This method was developed by former UConn postdoctoral scientist Yvette Eley (now in the Department of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham, U.K.) and assistant professor Michael Hren in the UConn Center for Integrative Geosciences. Their new approach makes use of organic compounds found in the waxy, lipid-rich cuticle of plants. These waxy surfaces are critical to plant survival, as they minimize water loss and provide protection from factors such as UV radiation.

The distribution of organic compounds in leaf waxes records information about their growing environment. For instance, when confronted with stressful conditions such as shortage of water, plants can respond by changing the distribution of organic compounds in their leaf wax to combat water loss and improve their chances of survival. Various environmental parameters can therefore result in plants with different distributions of lipids, and these profiles can reveal a lot about the climate those plants were growing in. Continue reading