Research News

LambdaVision Receives $5 Million from NASA

Nicole Wagner, CEO of UConn TIP company LambdaVision, works in the lab at the Cell and Genome Sciences Building in Farmington
Nicole Wagner pipettes in the lab at Lambavision at the Cell and Genome Sciences Building in Farmington on June 9, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

LambdaVision, an innovative biotech founded on UConn technology, along with implementation partner, Space Tango, has been selected by NASA for a $5 million award. This new funding will support LambdaVision’s development of the first protein-based artificial retina to restore meaningful vision for patients who are blind or have lost significant sight due to advanced retinitis pigmentosa (RP), with follow-on applications in age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness for adults over 55 years old. As part of this award, LambdaVision and Space Tango will explore the benefits of microgravity for producing the startup’s artificial retina on the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory located in low-Earth orbit (LEO). Continue reading

Matthew Howell Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Matthew HowellCongratulations to Ph.D. candidate Matthew Howell, the recent recipient of a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. This fellowship will begin in Fall 2020 and continue through Spring 2023. Given the growing crisis of antibiotic resistant bacteria, Matthew—in collaboration with advisor Dr. Alfredo Angeles—is interested in examining the relationships between peptides, metal ions, and antibiotics. Together, they are searching for combinations that demonstrate synergistic killing of these bacteria.

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

Across the Pond and Back: Chemical Biology in Edinburgh, Scotland

Eric Mohan-University of Edinburgh Photos
Eric Mohan, Chemistry Department, UConn. Summer 2019: University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Undergraduate student Eric Mohan ’20 (CLAS), recipient of an Office of Undergraduate Research award, shares his experience conducting research abroad.

“I am the recipient of the 2019 Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) award, and I had the privilege of spending last summer in the laboratory of Professor Dominic Campopiano, in the School of Chemistry at the prestigious University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. This was an amazing experience to work with a renowned professor helping solve an unmet and urgent medical need related to the resurgence of antibiotic resistance. My project focused on the inhibition of an important enzyme found in many infectious bacteria, such as those causing Tuberculosis. I was tasked with synthesizing, modeling, and characterizing the pathway by which a compound, ERG240, blocked the branch chain amino acid aminotransferase enzyme. I used optically active coupled reactions in this work. We then co-crystallized the inhibitor with the enzyme and employed x-ray crystallography to fully understand the mechanism of the enzyme. My research was presented as a poster at the Fall Frontiers program 2019 at UConn, Storrs. Continue reading

Research Safety Workshop

The Department of Chemistry held their 2020 Research Safety Workshop for first year graduate students and Laboratory Safety Officers (LSOs) on Wednesday, January 15.  The Workshop was organized by the Department Safety Committee and the Joint Safety Team (JST) in conjunction with EH&S. Presentations were made by Dr. Jing Zhao (Chair of the Department Safety Committee), Jessica A. Martin (Head of JST), Eric Krantz (Head of Teaching Laboratory Services), and Brent Lewchik (Chemical Safety Manager, EH&S).  In all, 44 students were in attendance. A survey revealed that the vast majority of attendees found the material covered to be useful.

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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 (https://www.nature.com/collections/wdzvyhgxft/content/prabhjot-saini).

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). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-13502-w

Professor Rusling Receives Commercialization Grants

Rusling

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.