Graduate News

Pinkhassik Group on cover of Chemical Communications


Pinkhassik Group on Cover of Chem Comm

A paper from the Pinkhassik Group was featured on the cover of Chemical Communications. Drs. Sergey Dergunov and Eugene Pinkhassik -- working with collaborators from Saint Louis University -- uncovered evidence for freely diffusing ground-state atomic oxygen, an elusive species whose existence in solution was proposed by never proven. This study used hollow porous nanocapsules developed in the Pinkhassik Group to physically separate the donor and acceptor of an oxygen atom. Photochemical reactions in the presence of a nanometer-thin porous barrier ruled out direct oxygen atom transfer mechanisms and, for the first time, confirmed the formation of diffusing atomic oxygen. Previously produced in the gas phase, atomic oxygen is an extraordinary reactive oxygen species; it is highly reactive like hydroxyl radical, yet selective like singlet oxygen or ozone. Evidence for atomic oxygen in solution provides new insights into the mechanisms of many oxidation reactions, facilitates the search for synthetically viable sources of atomic oxygen, and lays the groundwork for studying the controlled release of small oxidants from photoactivatable precursors.

For further details, read the paper in ChemComm

Art at the Mall

Art at the Mall

On December 18, 2018, The Chronicle featured Kumar Group's NanoArt display at the Windham Regional Art Gallery. The front-page article, "Art at the Mall," highlighted the Jumar Group's display, as well as the work of other local artists. The NanoArt collection showcases colored electron microscope images that capture proteins in a new light. "The art aspects of this is nature's art. We're trying to connect the signs, and the art bridges that," says Kumar.

Full Story Here

Doctoral students Anka Rao and Megan Puglia, Professor Challa Vijaya Kumar, and doctoral sutdents Mensi Malhotra and Jingwen Ding

2017-2018 Graduate Student Awards

IC Duay Award
Department Head Christian Brückner presents Graduate Student Searle “IC” Duay with the Masterton-Hurley Teaching Award

Bobbitt-Chou Graduate Summer Research Fellowship

Lei Jin, He Group


Outstanding Research and Service Award

for outstanding performance in service and research

Sam Juliano, Angeles Group


Connecticut Chemistry Research Award

for outstanding performance in research

Hailin Fu, Lin Group


Waring Award

for outstanding academic performance

Anne Mirich, Suib Group


Masterton-Hurley Teaching Award

for outstanding performance as a teaching assistant

Julia DiSapio, Gorka Group

Searle “IC” Duay, Angeles Group

Alyssa Hartmann, Rouge Group

Veronica Hayes, Quardokus Group

Jyoti Nandi, Leadbeater Group

A Copper Bullet for Tuberculosis

Bacteria Mycobacterium TuberculosisTuberculosis is a sneaky disease. The bacteria hide from antibiotics inside the very immune cells that are supposed to kill them, making treatment long and difficult. But in the November issue of ACS Infectious Diseases, UConn chemists report a new antibiotic that can find and kill tuberculosis bacteria where they hide.

Tuberculosis is the number one cause of death from infectious disease worldwide. About 25 percent of people on the planet are currently infected. Most of those infections will stay dormant, but one in 10 will become active, infectious, and often fatal if untreated.

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Because of Mycobacterium’s unique lifestyle, in which they allow themselves to be eaten by macrophage immune cells and then grow inside of them, they are very hard to treat. People infected with tuberculosis must typically take a cocktail of antibiotics diligently over many months, because the bacteria are only susceptible to the drugs when they break out of the macrophage in which they were born and search out a new one to invade.

UConn chemist Alfredo Angeles-Boza and his then-graduate student, Daben Libardo, and colleagues from the Indian Institute of Science, the Max Planck Institute, and MIT, decided to make an antibiotic that could make its way into the macrophages and hit the Mycobacteria where they hide. Angeles-Boza and Libardo had previously worked with antibiotics produced by fish, sea squirts, and other sea creatures. Many of these sea creatures make antibiotic peptides – small pieces of protein-like material – with a special chemical talent: when they bind to copper atoms, they enable the copper to shift its electrical charge from +2 to +3 and back. Copper with this ability becomes aggressive, ripping electrons away from some molecules and adding them to others, particularly oxygen-containing molecules. The oxygen-containing molecules become free radicals, dangerous chemicals that attack anything they encounter, including Mycobacteria.

Human macrophages infected with Mycobacteria also use copper to attack the bacteria, but they do so in a less sophisticated way. They trap the bacteria in a bubble and then inject copper +1 ions – that is, plain copper atoms with a plus one charge (Cu+) – into the bubble. But the Mycobacteria can handle that. To them, the bubble is a safe haven, and the Cu+ ions are mere annoyances. The bacteria can steal an extra electron from the Cu+ to make it Cu2+. The copper becomes unreactive and safe that way. And when enough Cu2+ surrounds the Mycobacteria, other, more dangerous kinds of copper can’t get close.

Surrounded by defanged copper, “the bacteria can grow in peace. It’s elegant!” says Angeles-Boza. But if Angeles-Boza and Libardo have their way, the copper camouflage will become Mycobacteria’s downfall. If the antibiotic peptides can get close to the bacteria, they can grab onto one of the copper ions and weaponize it. The trick is getting the peptide close to the bacteria.

To do that, the chemists put the peptides into little bubbles similar to the kind cells use to move around packets of protein ingredients and other tasty stuff. When the bacteria snags one for a snack, the peptide works its chemistry and kills it.

The antibiotic peptide developed by Libardo and Angeles Boza effectively kills Mycobacteria living in macrophages in the lab, but they haven’t been able to cure tuberculosis in mice yet – peptide drugs have various problems that make them tricky to use in mammals. The next step in the research is to use the same chemistry in smaller molecules that can be taken as pills like more typical antibiotics.

This research was funded by grants from NSF.

Article by Kim Krieger, Courtesy of UConn Today

Smart Phone Soup

In the bottom drawer of your desk at home lie all the “must-haves” of yesteryear — a bundle of knotted earphones, a broken computer mouse, some overplayed CDs, a flip phone, an iPod. A study in The Global E-waste Monitor 2017 reported that in 2016 humans generated 44.7 million metric tons of electronic waste (e-waste). And in that graveyard of a desk drawer, the basement, or a landfill, all these devices will rot for hundreds, even thousands, of years before degrading. The glass used in just one cell phone takes some 500 years to decompose.

But what if the future smartphones and tablets were made of edible materials? To chemistry professor Challa Kumar, a future where you can pop your cell phone in a pot of water, swirl it around, bring it to a boil, and have yourself a yummy iPhone stew is not science fiction but a future reality of his research in bionanotechnology, or what he calls “edible chemistry.”

Kumar and his team of graduate students created a white LED light from bovine serum albumin (BSA), a waste product of the meat industry. White LEDs are used in electronics like phones and TVs that emit white light from their screens. Kumar’s “hamburger protein” LEDs emit white light at a higher resolution than current LEDs and, says Kumar, “When you are done with the device, you could eat it.”

“We are the only group in the world doing this where both products and reactants are edible ­— to humans, plants, or bacteria,” he adds.

The team’s research has clinical significance, too. The edible LED also has inexpensive pH and glucose sensing capabilities. Combined with the team’s food-based batteries, these LEDs could replace current electronic glucose meters for diabetics.

Kumar also is exploring the possibility of using lipids from coconut oil to replace the toxic elements in current cancer cell–targeting treatments. He and his students believe the uses for edible chemistry are limitless, that it is the future of tech­nology as well as environmental awareness.

In the not-too-distant future, they say, we could be watching our favorite Netflix series on screens made from the same materials as last night’s burgers.

-Cara Williams ’18 (CLAS) courtesy of UConn Magazine

Accelerate UConn Winners

Dr.James Rusling with Postdoc, Islam Mosa and Grad Student Esraa Elsanadidy

Prof. James Rusling, Postdoctoral Fellow Islam Mosa, and Graduate Student Esraa Elsanadidy are the recipients of a Fall 2018 Accelerate UConn Grant for their project “Biocap-Harvest.” This project involves harvesting energy using nanogenerators and storing it to create standalone power systems for implantable, wearable, and portable electronics. All winning teams receive special training and a $3,000 seed grant. Accelerate UConn is the University’s National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) site aiming to catalyze innovation and entrepreneurship.

Chemistry Joint Safety Team

Yale Safety PosterOn Friday, July 20, 2018, graduate students Cristin Bosko (Peczuh Group), Jasmin Portelinha (Angeles-Boza Group), and Jessica A. Martin (Pinkhassik Group) attended a “Networking with JST (Joint Safety Team)” event, hosted by Yale University. During the event, Dr. Christopher Incarvito, Director of Research Operations and Technology, led a tour of the facilities and equipment at Yale’s West Campus (formerly the site of Bayer Pharmaceuticals). JST President Victor Beaumont (Loria Group, Yale) then discussed some of the projects the JST has been working on to increase safety awareness in Yale’s Department of Chemistry. Current JST projects include: the production of informational safety posters for the various labs, raising awareness regarding laboratory safety resources, and outreach utilizing social media.

This event nicely complimented efforts by Portelinha and Martin to restart the “Stall Street Journal” publication this summer. “The Stall Street Journal,” found in the bathroom stalls of the UConn Chemistry Building’s Waring Research Wing, is a 1-page monthly flier designed to raise awareness amongst graduate students about chemical safety and to promote career development opportunities.

Given this new source of inspiration and support, these students have a great deal of interest in expanding upon the safety activities in the Department of Chemistry through collaboration with the Safety Committee currently chaired by Dr. Jing Zhao. If you are interested in being part of this endeavor, please contact Jessica A. Martin at, or stop by CHEM R414.

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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Epitope Resolved Detection of Peanut Specific IgE Antibodies by SPR Imaging

Min Shen, Amit A. Joshi, Raghu Vannam, Chandra K. Dixit, Robert G. Hamilton, Challa V. Kumar, James F. Rusling, Mark W. Peczuh*

Accurate characterization of antibodies (IgEs) in individuals exposed to allergens such as peanuts can provide insight into the clinical manifestation of an allergic reaction and also reveal how its fundamental immunobiology works. Measurement of IgEs to specific allergen epitopes in serum has been a major challenge. UConn Chemistry grad student Min Shen was the lead author on a recent paper in ChemBioChem reporting a new method that first captures IgEs from serum by using anti-IgE decorated magnetic nanoparticles, then measures IgEs binding to specific epitopes from allergen proteins using arrayed SPR imaging. The new technique was used to catalog anti-peanut IgEs in a set of patient samples and showed excellent correlation with clinical diagnostics. The cover art was prepared by Ella Maru studios.