Month: October 2014

CBE Professor 2014 Kunesh Award Recipient

By Sydney Souder

mccutcheon_jeffrey2012_profileDr. Jeffrey McCutcheon, Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is the recipient of the prestigious 2014 FRI/ John G. Kunesh Award. This award, presented by the Separations Division of AIChE, acknowledges outstanding separations scientists under the age of 40. Dr. McCutcheon received this highly competitive international award for his outstanding achievements and contributions in the field of osmotic separations. “I have long made AIChE a part of my professional network,” says McCutcheon. “And I am eager to continue that throughout my career.”

Dr. McCutcheon is a leading scholar in the development, characterization, and performance testing of novel membranes for forward osmosis applications. His substantial contributions have been recognized by the industrial community. In the past three years, he has received the Solvay Specialty Polymers Young Faculty Award, the 3M Faculty award, and the DuPont Young Professor award.

Dr. McCutcheon is the Director of the Sustainable Water and Energy Learning Laboratory (SWELL). His early work included pioneering studies on forward osmosis (FO), a salinity gradient process that uses osmotic potential for driving a desalination process. This work has since expanded to consider other osmotically driven membrane processes.

“Water is a key component of economic growth, and it is a necessary commodity to help humanity emerge from the global economic slowdown. My research seeks to reduce the cost of producing drinking quality water from saline or otherwise impaired water sources,” he says. “I am excited by revolutionary technologies that approach the challenges of desalination and water reuse in a unique and cost effective manner.”

Student Researchers Win EPA Sustainability Grant

By Sheila Foran

A student team from the University of Connecticut is one of five winners in the Northeast in the Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 student design competition for sustainability research. Their achievement carries a monetary award of up to $15,000 to help fund their work, as well as an opportunity to compete for $90,000 during the second phase of the competition.p3

The goal of UConn’s entry, one of 42 selected nationally, is the development of a cost-effective, environmentally friendly flame retardant to be used in fire prevention and containment. In comparison to existing flame retardants, UConn’s proposal, “Environmentally Friendly Flame Retardants Based on Inorganic Nanosheets,” is designed to have similar or higher performance than products currently in use but with only a minimum release of toxic gases during combustion, and with no leak of toxic chemicals during production, transportation, and use. An additional benefit is that the cost will be similar or lower than that of currently used retardants.

Dr. Luyi Sun, associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, says that current fire retardants have significant environmental and health issues. The product designed by UConn students will be a waterborne, halogen-free coating composed of hundreds of layers of well-aligned inorganic nanosheets that can physically block the heat/oxygen transfer and thus effectively retard flames. Its waterborne nature ensures that no volatile organic compounds will be released during the coating formation process.

The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between students from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the Institute of Materials Science, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Team members include Ph.D. candidates Jingjing Liu from Materials Science, and Jingfang Yu, from Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; seniors Lauren Kovacs, Brittany Bendel, and Arie Havasov who are Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering majors; and junior William Masinda, a Materials Science and Engineering major.

The three P’s in the EPA competition’s title stand for People, Prosperity, and the Planet. It is a two-phase team contest, where students initially prepare proposals that compete for funding of up to $15,000 to pursue their research. In April, the funded teams bring their projects to Washington, D.C., where they are judged by a panel of experts convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science at the annual National Sustainable Design Expo. The winning team will receive a grant of $90,000 to take its design to real-world application.

Grad Student Spotlight: David Gamliel

By Sydney Souder

Gamliel CaptionGraduate students have many reasons to choose UConn, from conducting research in world class facilities, to a welcoming learning environment, and no shortage of school pride (not everyone wins dual National Championships in basketball).

“Don’t go anywhere else!” says second year PhD student David Gamliel of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Graduate Program. David hails from Amherst, Mass., and received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UMass Amherst, but his decision to pursue his PhD in Storrs was simple.

“I picked UConn because I was really interested in energy engineering, and I enjoyed the orientation. I am very lucky I ended up at the Center for Clean and Energy Engineering (C2E2),” he says.

Gamliel Kids CaptionDavid’s faculty advisor is Dr. Julia Valla. His research focus involves converting biomass into energy through pyrolysis. Pyrolysis, which occurs when biomass is brought to elevated temperatures without oxygen, produces an array of useful chemicals. Some of these are the same as those found in gasoline. David is studying the best operating conditions for pyrolysis, and how small scale microreactors can be scaled up to maximize the conversion of biomass to useful products.

“I feel like I am doing meaningful and impactful research,” he says of his work, which can be viewed at iknowgreen.uconn.edu. “The level of independence given to me as a student researcher was beyond my expectations.”

Another advantage of studying at UConn, David adds, “I really enjoy the opportunities to travel and present my research.” He presented at the ACS Conference in March, and attended the Energy and Fuels section dinner, a great networking event. This November he will present a poster and give a lecture at AIChE in Atlanta.

David is involved outside of the lab, too. He is the treasurer of the Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association, and participates in outreach work. As a GK12 fellow, David shares weekly lessons about science, math and engineering at Wolcott Technical High School in Torrington, Connecticut. He is also an outreach ambassador for C2E2, and has participated in the Joule fellowship program.

“I would like to go into industry,” says David, “But I am still open to the idea of becoming a professor. “

CBE Professor Awarded Prestigious NARSAD Grant

By Sydney Souder

cho_yongku_profileDr. Yongku Cho, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, has received a prestigious and highly competitive NARSAD Young Investigator Grant. Funded through the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, NARSAD grants are dedicated to research in brain and behavior disorders. The Young Investigator Grant supports promising young scientists conducting neurobiological research.

Dr. Cho’s two-year grant offers cho microscope captioncritical backing to enable him to collect pilot data for his innovative ideas. His grant will support Dr. Cho’s research group to develop a novel approach for rapid and reversible knockout of target genes. His group will research which regulated protein levels affect brain circuits. They will specifically study the mechanism of GABAA receptor dysfunction. Deficits in GABAA receptor function have been linked to multiple neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as epilepsy and schizophrenia. With his new technique, he intends to study the role of GABAA receptor interacting proteins, which may lead to therapeutic targets for such diseases.

First exposed to engineered antibodies during his graduate cho cell captionresearch at Wisconsin, Dr. Cho is now interested in manipulating these proteins to include new functions. “The broader objective of the work is to engineer antibodies with useful functionalities that they normally would not have,” says Dr. Cho.

If successful, this project could have wide applications and might connect with UConn’s interests as well. Dr. Cho foresees a potential collaboration with the Jackson laboratory for Genomic Medicine. The new laboratory at UConn’s Farmington campus seeks genomic solutions to disease, making medicine more precise and predictable. They are one of world’s leading institutes for transgenic mouse research.

“With the methods from this research, we might be able to pinpoint gene functions within such model organisms,” says Cho. For more information on Dr. Cho and his research, please visit his website.

 

REU Summer A Success

By Sydney Souder

reu caption 1For the third consecutive summer, UConn’s Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) Department hosed an NSF sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) summer program.

“The unique aspect of our REU,” said Dr. Jeff McCutcheon, principal investigator for the NSF grant supporting the program, “is that we connected student participants with faculty mentors and company sponsors for a true entrepreneurial or business oriented research experience.”

Lasting ten weeks this past summer, participating students were advised by both faculty and industrial partners, providing them with a unique experience at the interface of academic research and commercialization.

Projects varied across the spectrum of chemical engineering and materials science. This summer produced the following projects: Ceramic Nanofilm Depostion for Vapor Detection Devices (Proton OnSite), Implantable, Wireless Biosensors for Diabetes Care (Biorais), Graphene Polymer Nanocomposites (Cabot Corporation), Water Based Anodes for Lithium Ion Batteries (BYK Additives & reu caption 3Instruments), High-Performance Nanostructured Organic/Inorganic Hybrids for Functional Applications (Nanocor), Development of Scalable Droplet Microfluidic Devices (BASF), Increasing Soil Water Retention with Bacteria (DuPont), Characterization of TiO2 Thin Films on 316L Stainless Steel Formed using a Sol-Gel Technique (VeruTEK Technologies), Plasmonic Nanodevices for Solar Energy Harvesting (Scitech Solar), and Sustainable Biofuels Production (RPM Sustainable Technologies).

reu caption 2Students spent their summer in a world-class academic research laboratory with state-of-the art instrumentation. They also toured local incubator spaces, and participated in an Innovation Accelerator event at a local private incubator.

Laboratory time was balanced with workshops to improve students’ writing and presenting skills. One unique aspect of the program was the short business seminar during which students experienced a flavor of the business side of innovation.

This preparation came in handy for the “Innovation Connection” networking event at summer’s end. Participants pitched their work to the region’s business community during their poster session, and networked with over one hundred people in the field.

The REU experience did much more than the name may imply. This summer’s group of students also held their own barbeques, organized outings to UConn’s Avery Point campus, Mystic, and even attended a New Britain Rock Cats baseball game. These recreational events enriched the already memorable program to an unforgettable summer experience.