Research News

Nature Communications Paper Publishing

Enzymes provide optimal three-dimensional structures for substrate binding and the subsequent accelerated reaction. Such folding-dependent catalytic behaviors, however, are seldom mechanistically explored with reduced structural complexity. A recent article in Nature Communications, from collaborated research between Professor Jianjun Cheng at UIUC and Professor Yao Lin at UConn, demonstrates that the α-helix, a much simpler structural motif of enzymes, can facilitate its own growth through the self-catalyzed polymerization of N-carboxyanhydride (NCA) in solvents with low dielectric constants. The leading authors with equal contributions are Ziyuan Song (UIUC), Hailin Fu (UConn) and Ryan Baumgartner (UIUC). In the paper, Hailin Fu developed a new two-stage polymerization kinetics involving a Michaelis-Menton mechanism, which helped to prove the auto-catalytic nature of the NCA polymerizations. The research was facilitated by funding from the National Science Foundation (CHE-1709820 to J.C. and DMR-1809497 to Y.L.). The editors at Nature Communications featured the article in the Editors’ Highlights of recent research on Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology (

Molecular diagrams
Photo courtesy of: Nature Communications

Song, Z., Fu, H., Baumgartner, R., Zhu, L., Shih, K.-C., Xia, Y., Zheng, X., Yin, L., Chipot, C.*, Lin, Y.* & Cheng, J.* Enzyme-mimetic self-catalyzed polymerization of polypeptide helices. Nature Communications 10, 5470 (2019).

Professor Rusling Receives Commercialization Grants


Professor Jim Rusling recently received START and SPARK Technology Commercialization Grants for Self-powered Bioelectronics.

Aiming to commercialize the world’s first battery-free implantable pacemaker, Professor Rusling and his team received two early-stage technology commercialization grants, START ($10K) and SPARK ($50K). Unlike current pacemakers which are battery-powered and require replacement surgery when the battery is drained, the new self-powered pacemaker uses nanogenerator technology to harvest the patient’s body energy and store it in a tiny biosupercapacitor to power pacemakers, potentially for the patient’s lifetime. Commercialization efforts of this product are led by VoltXon inc, a recent startup spun-off from Prof. Rusling’s research and led by Postdoctoral Fellow and CTO of VoltXon, Dr. Islam Mosa and graduate student Esraa Elsanadidy.


For more information about the START and SPARK technology commercialization grants please visit their program website.

UConn Chemistry Professor Receives NSF Grant

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded UConn Chemistry Professor José Gascón and Michigan State Professor Warren Beck a grant to study Carotenoid Photophysics in Photosynthetic Light-Harvesting.

With this $590,000 award, the Chemistry of Life Processes Program in the Chemistry Division is funding Dr. Gascón (PI) and Dr. Beck (co-PI) to investigate the energy transfer and photoprotection functions of carotenoids in the proteins of photosynthetic organisms. Continue reading

LambdaVision/Birge Group NASA Phase I SBIR Award

LambdaVision was awarded a NASA Phase I SBIR Award ($125K) to follow up on previous work that was conducted on the International Space Station. Initial experiments used a microgravity environment to manufacture their retinal implant technology, which is aimed at treating patients suffering from blinding retinal degenerative diseases. The NASA SBIR will help them continue this work and evaluate different manufacturing parameters that will allow them to construct the implants both on Earth and on the ISS.

This research was founded by the research group of Robert Birge (Harold S. Schwenk Sr. Distinguished Chair Emeritus; Founder of LambdaVision) and is led by Nicole Wagner (CEO) and Jordan Greco (CSO). Nicole Wagner and Jordan Greco both currently hold Assistance Research Professor positions in the Department.

Click here to read the press release, here to see the list of awardees and here to read a copy of their abstract.

Chemistry Faculty Dr. Jie He and Dr. Jing Zhao Receive NSF EAGER

Dr. Jie (Jay) He and Dr. Jing Zhao, both faculty members of the Chemistry Department with appointments in IMS, were recently awarded the NSF Early-Concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER). The grant supports exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches.

Dr. He was awarded $149,991 for his collaborative research entitled Hybrid Quantum Dot-Metal Nanocrystals for Photoreduction of CO2: Synthesis, Spectroscopy and Catalysis. The grant is effective 8/15/2019 to 7/31/2021.

Dr. Zhao was awarded $204,082 for her collaborative research entitled A Low-Cost, “Digital” Biosensing Platform with Single Protein Biomarker Sensitivity. The grant is effective 9/1/2019 to 8/31/2022


Continue reading

Publication in Newest Volume of Inorganic Chemistry

UConn Chemistry Department Head Dr. Christian Brueckner and Chemistry Graduate Student Adewole Atoyebi published a novel process of preparing metalloporphyrins by simply grinding the porphyrin and the metal together in a mechanized mill. The work graced the August volume of Inorganic Chemistry.

Atoyebi, A.O.; Brückner, C. “Observations on the Mechanochemical Insertion of Zinc(II), Copper(II), Magnesium(II), and Select Other Metal(II) Ions into Porphyrins” Inorg. Chem., 2019, 58, 9631–9642.

Dr. Jessica Rouge Receives NSF CAREER Grant

The National Science Foundation recently announced UConn faculty member Jessica Rouge as the recipient of a CAREER grant. The funding, which comes from the NSF’s Macromolecular Supramolecular and Nanochemistry program, will enable the Rouge group to develop novel chemical crosslinking strategies that can be incorporated into DNA nanomaterials. Using a new DNA-surfactant assembly strategy that generates DNA nanoshells compatible with cells and enzymes, the major goal of the grant is to synthesize a combination of peptide and synthetic crosslinkages that can control the nanomaterials assembly and disassembly in complex biological environments. These materials will be specifically designed to have selectivity for certain chemical stimuli that can initiate chemical and/or biochemical reactions. Such strategies are important for developing more sensitive biological sensors and more accurate drug delivery systems.

To learn more about the grant, click here.

Dr. Jessica Rouge and Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater Receive Grants Toward Development of Novel Therapeutics 

Researcher in the School of Pharmacy on Nov. 8, 2018. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) recently announced recipients in the inaugural funding round for the Program in Accelerated Therapeutics for Healthcare (PATH). PATH is a partnership that includes the OVPR, the School of Pharmacy, and the School of Medicine to accelerate the translational pathway for researchers to convert their discoveries to new medical therapeutics.

Under PATH, funding is provided to academic research programs designed to quickly develop novel therapeutic approaches focusing on well validated molecular targets for specific disease areas with an unmet treatment need in the current commercial marketplace. Projects focusing on a wide range of therapeutic interventions (small molecule, biologic, antibody, peptide, gene therapy) are eligible for consideration.

Two UConn Chemistry Professors, Dr. Jessica Rouge and Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater were recipients of the PATH grants. Continue reading

New 3D-Printed Technology Lowers Cost of Common Medical Test

A desire for a simpler, cheaper way to do common laboratory tests for medical diagnoses and to avoid “washing the dishes” led University of Connecticut researchers to develop a new technology that reduces cost and time.

Their pipette-based technology could also help make certain medical testing available in rural or remote areas where traditional methods might otherwise be prohibitively expensive and complicated to conduct.

The 3D-printed pipette-tip test developed by the researchers leverages what “has long been the gold standard for measuring proteins, pathogens, antibodies and other biomolecules in complex matrices,” they say. The method still employs the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, also known as ELISA, but through a different route. They detailed their findings in a paper recently published online in Analytical Chemistry.


UConn graduate student Mohamed Sharafeldin, and his advisor, chemistry professor James Rusling, developed a way to 3D print a pipette tip. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

For 30 years or more, ELISA has been used to test blood, cells and other biological samples for everything from certain cancers to HIV, from Lyme disease to pernicious anemia.

Traditional ELISA tests are performed on plates featuring 96 micro-wells; each well works as a separate testing chamber where samples can be combined with various agents that will then react with the sample, typically by changing color. Technicians can then analyze whether a sample contains indicators of a particular disease or condition depending on the intensity of the color produced during the reaction. Continue reading

Pinkhassik Lab SURF Undergraduate Awardees

Building Functional Nanomaterials Abstract Image
Vesicle-templated nanocapsules offer a unique combination of properties enabled by robust shells with single-nanometer thickness containing programmed uniform pores capable of fast and selective mass transfer. These capsules emerged as a versatile platform for creating functional devices, such as nanoreactors, nanosensors, and containers for the delivery of drugs and imaging agents (Pinkhassik Lab).

Pinkhassik Lab Research

The research focus of the Pinkhassik Lab in the Department of Chemistry is making nanomaterials and nanodevices with new and superior properties to address current problems in energy-related technologies, medical imaging and treatment, and environmental sensing.

An article recently published in the Accounts of Chemical Research exemplifies the research conducted by the Pinkhassik Group: “Building Functional Nanodevices with Vesicle-Templated Porous Polymer Nanocapsules” (Acc. Chem. Res. 2019 52, 1, 189-198). In this account, Assistant Research Professor Sergey Dergunov et al. discuss how unique properties of vesicle-templated nanocapsules translate into the creation of functional nanodevices. See the full article here:

Victoria Bozhulich ’21, Allison Zupan ’21, and Victoria Livingston ’21

SURF Award Recipients

The Pinkhassik Lab is looking forward to a busy summer! Three undergraduate student group members have won Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) awards to conduct work on nanocapsules during this period. Continue reading