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Faculty Spotlight: Professor Yu Lei Inducted into AIMBE, Looks to the Future

By: Taylor Caron

Professor Yu Lei (left) with graduate students Qiuchen Dong and Xiaoyu Ma. (Peter Morenus for UConn)

Professor Yu Lei has been inducted into the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering for his work in biological sensor design and testing. AIMBE is a one of the most prestigious institutes for medical and biomedical engineers as it comprises of only the top 2% of professionals in the field. While he is proud of his achievements, he said he has no intention of resting on his laurels. His research is heading toward a focus on digital technology which would make biosensors more affordable for individuals.

Lei spoke of the nature of his work that AIMBE is recognizing: “AIMBE considers professionals whose accomplishments are related to medical issues. It has always been my desire to work toward innovating more effective and affordable tools for medical professionals which is why this is so rewarding,” he said.

Lei has been credited with adapting the traditional area of electrochemistry for nanoscale structures for not only sensing, but also for applications in biocatalysis and chemical catalysis. The institute recognizes him as the pioneer in developing nanostructured metal oxide based enzymatic and non-enzymatic glucose biosensors with strong success in combating diabetes. AIMBE has seen these achievements, among others, as seminal advancements in public health.

 

He spoke about the process of induction which includes nomination, rigorous screen testing, and voting by the College of Fellows. He said there must be an affirmative vote of at least 74.5% in order to be inducted.

 

“It was certainly surprising to know that so many of AIMBE’s incredibly prestigious College affirmed my induction, but also was an excellent feeling that all this hard work paid off,” he said.

According to Lei, a professional network of AIMBE’s stature can significantly promote and advance a researcher and their university. He said that UConn is increasingly becoming a more recognized and accolated research university, and that being able to represent the Chemical Engineering and Biomolecular Department at AIMBE will only further highlight the program on a national level.

Lei said that networking opportunities with AIMBE can aid with research projects going forward. As previously mentioned, Lei believes the future of biosensors, a field in which he already is seen as a pioneer, needs to look to digital technology. A digital biosensor will not only be more affordable than electrochemical biosensors, but also can be more precise in detecting targeted molecules.

 

“We are looking to develop a biosensor which can detect a small molecule, allowing for medical professionals to detect and track dangerous or toxic molecules early on. This is the kind of technology which is available in some hospitals, but it is very large and expensive equipment. This technology needs to be available for individuals so they can communicate with their doctors regularly about the concentration level of toxic molecules or biomarkers for diseases,” Lei said.

 

Though Lei cannot disclose too much about the specificities of his current research, he was happy to comment that there have been reassuring successes. He mentioned that even the current biosensors used in hospitals can error in their use of the universal standard, and that a more personalized system is necessary.

“So different people have different thresholds regarding biomarker concentration. What is dangerous for me might not necessarily be dangerous for someone else and vice versa. What we’re looking for is home-use, so that different persons can track their own individual molecule concentration. If there’s a sudden spike one day, they can contact their doctor earlier rather than later.”

Lei’s research group consists of undergraduate and graduate students who work closely with the professor on this relatively new area of research. Lei admits that he has high expectations for his students, but it is because he believes in the power of this technology for the public health and beyond.

“Yes, sometimes I push them hard but I selected them because I know they are capable of pursuing this research with me. These kinds of biosensors could also have significant applications in environmental work. This is what excites me: I think it’s important to always be pushing forward, always looking to the future for new opportunities,” he said.

Professor Cato T. Laurencin to Receive 2016 Connecticut Medal of Technology

By: SoE News (http://news.engr.uconn.edu/professor-cato-t-laurencin-to-receive-2016-connecticut-medal-of-technology.php)

Dr. Cato T. Laurencin has been named the 2016 recipient of the Connecticut Medal of Technology (Photo: Sarah Turker/UConn Health).

Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, a world-renowned physician-scientist in orthopaedic surgery, engineering, and materials science, has been named the 2016 recipient of the Connecticut Medal of Technology. Laurencin, of the University of Connecticut will accept the award at the 41st Annual Meeting & Dinner of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) on May 24.

Laurencin, a CASE member since 2009, is a pioneer who has developed technologies that are revolutionary and that are in use in important applications in the marketplace. He has exhibited leadership and courage in the development of new initiatives for science and entrepreneurship.

Laurencin is a University Professor at UConn. He is the 8th University Professor in the school’s history. This rare title is awarded to individuals for extraordinary academic excellence, and sustained, high-level achievements in administration at the school and is UConn’s highest faculty distinction. He currently is chief executive officer of the Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, where he leads the university’s translational science research infrastructure. He is the founding director of the Institute for Regenerative Engineering and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for Biomedical, Biological, Physical, and Engineering Sciences at UConn Health. In addition, he is a professor across the university, as well as a board certified orthopaedic surgeon, endowed professor of orthopaedic surgery, and fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Biomedical Engineering Society, the Materials Research Society, and the American Chemical Society.

Laurencin has achieved not only a breadth of experience across multiple fields, but also a depth of accomplishments that places him at the highest echelon of each area in which he has been involved.

He is the scientific founder of Soft Tissue Regeneration (STR), a Connecticut company. STR is commercializing breakthrough technologies for anterior cruciate ligament regeneration (knee) and rotator cuff regeneration (shoulder). The shoulder rotator cuff regeneration device has been cleared for use by the FDA, and the anterior cruciate ligament device is now in clinical trials in Europe. In addition to STR, Laurencin is scientific co-founder of Natural Polymer Devices (NPD). NPD is a Connecticut company that focuses on developing polysaccharide polymer technologies for bone regeneration. The company is in the process of seeking FDA clearance of a novel fracture repair device for the treatment of cervical spine fractures.

Laurencin was named one of the 100 Engineers of the Modern Era by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers at their Centennial Celebration in 2009. He was named for his seminal work in the development of polymerceramic systems for bone repair. In seminal papers and patents, he described the development of composite matrix systems that could foster bone healing. That research, which has continued to this day, has been the inspiration for the biocomposite interference screw, a principal means of fixation bone. Laurencin’s work in the development of sintered polymer microspheres for bone repair has inspired products now on the market. His research has also focused on the development of degradable polymers for drug delivery applications based on the polyanhydrides. Work in that area resulted in the development of products for bone infection treatment and brain tumor treatment.

Laurencin has shown leadership nationally and in Connecticut in the fostering of new technology. He served as a permanent member of the orthopaedic device panel for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Later he was appointed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services to the National Science Advisory Board (Science Board) of the FDA, the overseeing body of that agency. There he helped revamp the FDA and its mission of providing scientifically based decisions on the approval of devices, drugs, and biologics.

In Connecticut, Laurencin has performed distinguished service of the highest order. He was the faculty leader in the development of the state’s Bioscience Connecticut Initiative. This initiative calls for doubling incubator space for new companies at UConn, while otherwise fostering a collaborative environment that encourages inventorship and innovation. Much of the success in the passage of Bioscience Connecticut, especially in educating individuals on the benefits of the initiative, has been attributed to Laurencin.

“The State of Connecticut is proud to award the Connecticut Medal of Technology to Dr. Cato T. Laurencin for his internationally recognized work developing revolutionary technologies using his combined background in medicine and engineering,” said Governor Dannel P. Malloy. “In addition, we honor Dr. Laurencin’s success both as an inventor and as someone who creates environments that allow innovation to grow.”

Laurencin is recognized regionally, nationally and internationally for his work in developing new technologies. In Connecticut, Laurencin was named the 2014 CURE Connecticut Academic Entrepreneur of the Year. He received the Technology Innovation and Development Award from the Society for Biomaterials, their highest award for inventorship, and in 2013 was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors.

Laurencin is an elected member of both the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering, the first orthopaedic surgeon in history to achieve dual election. Internationally, he is a fellow of the Indian National Academy of Sciences, a foreign fellow of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, an associate fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of The World Academy of Sciences. He was named a recipient of the National Medal of Technology & Innovation in December 2015.

Published: April 15, 2016

Remembering Dr. Michael Howard

By: SoE News (http://news.engr.uconn.edu/remembering-dr-michael-howard.php)

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Dr. G. Michael Howard, 81, professor emeritus of chemical engineering and beloved husband for 57 years of Jane Deans Howard, passed away on December 21, 2016. Professor Howard served as associate dean for UConn Engineering, as well as department head of chemical engineering during his 36 year tenure as a full time professor.  Born in Washington, DC on July 4, 1935, he graduated from the University of Rochester in 1957. He subsequently earned his master’s degree from Yale before coming to UConn to receive his Ph.D.

In 1961 he began his 50 year affiliation with the chemical engineering department at UConn, which is now called the chemical and biomolecular engineering department. Throughout Dr. Howard’s time at UConn he was a favorite of his students and well-respected by his peers. He received numerous teaching honors and awards, including the Outstanding Teacher Award from the Student Government, two-time winner of the Rogers Corp. Outstanding Teacher Award in Chemical Engineering, induction into the UConn School of Engineering Academy of Distinguished Engineers, and the Mike Howard Educational Excellence Fund in Chemical Engineering was established by his peers and former students upon his retirement.

Nationally, Dr. Howard chaired the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) National Program Committee on Education and the Liaison Committee between AIChE and the ASEE Chemical Engineering Division.

While at the University of Rochester, Mike was a crafty undersized center on the basketball team and was coached by Louis Alexander, a former UConn player and coach. Mike was also the captain and number one player on the tennis team. For more than 30 years he was a regular at the lunchtime pick-up basketball games in Guyer Gym on the UConn campus. Mike was a devoted UConn sports fan, particularly of the men’s and women’s basketball and soccer teams, and the football team. He enjoyed serving UConn through various positions on athletic advisory committees.

In 2011 Mike was honored with induction into the Hastings High School Hall of Excellence for his contributions to higher education. Two Nobel Prize winners are in the same Hall of Excellence, and in his induction speech, Mike proudly and humbly shared his belief that if you couldn’t win a Nobel Prize yourself, you could still make a wonderful contribution by striving to lay the groundwork for someone else to win one.

Mike was committed to his family and students, making sure that all knew through his support and generosity that he was there to help them reach their highest potential. He was a lover of crossword and number puzzles of all kinds, had endless knowledge of many subjects, loved trivia games and quizzes, and was known to enjoy a good pun.

Mike is survived by Jane, and his three children, Russell Howard and his wife Christina of Williamstown, MA, James Howard and his wife Kateri of Glastonbury, CT, and Ann Howard Phillips and her husband Todd of Wexford, PA. He also leaves his sister, Helen Howard Harmon of San Francisco, CA, brother and sister-in-law William and Nancy Deans of Acton, ME, eight cherished grandchildren, two nieces and one nephew. His family will deeply miss his wisdom, sense of humor, wit and generosity, particularly at the family gatherings on Candlewood Lake.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Mike Howard Educational Excellence Fund by contributing to the UConn Foundation, Inc. 2390 Alumni Drive Unit 3206, Storrs Ct 06269, and referencing the Mike Howard Educational Excellence Fund #22084.

Published: January 12, 2017

Professor Yongku Cho receives Best of BIOT Award

By: Taylor Caron

Cho Lab

Professor Yongku Cho of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department has received a Best of BIOT (biochemical technology) award for his presentation at the American Chemical Society’s 2016 National Meeting.

 

His presentation was entitled “Engineering Antibody Specificity Through Multi-Dimensional High-Throughput Screens,” and is related to his research on creating a more effective antibody to potentially detect Alzheimer’s disease for which he has received a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH).
Professor Cho’s work involves developing an antibody which will be more effective at binding to the desired target. More precisely, Professor Cho and his lab are developing an antibody which will be more specific in targeting a particular modification that occurs on the target protein known as the Tau protein. He said that his presentation at ACS was focused on their new technology that enables the precise measurement of the antibody’s ability to specifically bind to the desire target.

 

“The BIOT Award had to do with describing the technology of quantifying antibody specificity,” he said. “Many researchers have focused on what is called affinity, which has to do with an antibody’s strength of attracting other proteins, but specificity is the degree to which an antibody can isolate a single target. Both of these properties are equally important to make a good quality antibody.”

 

Professor Cho presented a webinar (an online seminar http://www.acsbiot.org/index.php/2016-best-biot/) in September on this subject on behalf of the ACS. He and his research team are currently applying this knowledge to develop a highly specific and reactive antibody.

UConn CBE Welcomes Assistant Professor in Residence Jennifer Pascal

Jennifer Pascal on Sept. 15, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Assistant Professor Jennifer Pascal  (Peter Morenus)

 

By: Adam M. Rainear

The Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department is pleased to announce Jennifer Pascal as an Assistant-Professor in Residence, who will mainly have a teaching emphasis for the department.

Joining UConn after spending three years teaching at her alma mater, Tennessee Technological University (TTU), Dr. Pascal attributes her passion for teaching and education as one of the main reasons for joining UConn.

“The school I was at – I thought – had a nice balance between research and teaching,” she said. “But, it turns out they’re really pushing research.  [And] I really wanted to focus on teaching and engineering education.”

With her new role, Dr. Pascal is most looking forward to improving her classes and refining her teaching abilities.

“Just actually getting to focus on your classes, and try to make them good,” she said.  “Trying new things, because you have time now to prepare and do some different activities and stuff like that.  And then, getting to go to some of the workshops at CETL, and interacting with some of the folks over there.  It’s been exciting, those were the meetings I always liked going to.”

In her first semester here in Storrs, Dr. Pascal co-taught Introduction to Chemical Engineering (CHEG 2103), in addition to Unit Operations and Process Simulation (CHEG 4142). In the upcoming spring semester, she will teach two advanced transport special topics courses and will co-teach the chemical engineering senior laboratory.

Dr. Pascal received her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from TTU in 2011, researching Modeling Electrokinetic-based Bioseparations and Learning Transport Phenomena for her dissertation.  From there, she went on to begin her career at the University of New Mexico on a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship, where she could devote a portion of her fellowship to teaching at a minority serving institution in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Though she doesn’t have specific research requirements, moving forward Dr. Pascal hopes to continue engaging in research with her new colleagues.

“I’m interested in engineering education research, so I’m trying to get some things going with that and build that up. Before I did mathematical modeling of bio-transport systems, so I’m open.”

Dr. Pascal denotes her father, a former television weatherman in Tennessee, for her passion of all-things science when she was younger.

“I grew up with all this science stuff around – he’s a big nerd – so, weather stations in our house and experiments all the time,” Pascal noted.  “He got me a microscope when I was five – and growing up around that – I’m sure influenced me.”

Professor Emeritus G. Michael Howard Passes Away

 

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Prof. Howard at work in his UConn lab.

 

It is with great sadness that we say farewell to our beloved friend and colleague Prof. Emeritus G. Michael Howard.  Prof. Howard was a Professor and former Department Head of Chemical Engineering, as well as former Associate Dean for the School of Engineering during his tenure here at UConn (1961-97).  He will be greatly missed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Professor Yongku Cho Receives National Institute of Health Grant

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By: Taylor Caron

 

Professor Yongku Cho of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department has received a research grant from the National Institute of Health, a primary Federal funding source, this past August. His research centers on engineering an antibody that could potentially elucidate the mechanism of neurotoxicity in Alzheimer’s disease.

 

The project, which is being led by Professor Cho, began in September with his graduate student Dan Li, and is focusing on what is known as the Tau protein. The Tau protein exists in brain tissue and is thought to result in neurodegeneration when improperly modified. According to Professor Cho, antibodies are a valuable tool in Alzheimer’s research because they are capable of recognizing these modifications, such as phosphorylation and acetylation of the Tau. However, a critical issue with many antibodies is that they bind unmodified Tau and proteins other than the desired target. This process is called cross-reactivity and can mislead research in Alzheimer’s disease. The focus of Professor Cho and his lab is to develop an antibody which will be more accurate in targeting the defective Tau alone.

 

“One study estimated that half of the antibodies currently sold on the market do not work as intended. A primary reason for this is cross-reactivity,” Professor Cho said.

Professor Cho’s project is entitled Early Detection of Tau Acetylation Using Ultra-High Affinity Antibodies.  There are two primary functions to determine an antibody’s effectiveness: affinity and specificity. Affinity refers to the strength with which an antibody attracts other proteins, and specificity refers to an antibody’s ability so single out an individual protein like the Tau, without cross-reactivity. Professor Cho said much attention has been placed on affinity to the neglect of specificity, but that his project will focus on both.

“The proposal is about affinity and specificity, but I believe it is essential to develop a high-quality antibody that can both isolate the Tau and sufficiently attract it. Affinity and specificity go hand in hand,” he said.

 

Professor Cho spoke about what the Tau looks like under a harmful modification called acetylation, and how the grant from NIH will help him and his team detect it with high sensitivity, allowing to better elucidate its effect on Alzheimer’s disease.

 

“The Tau protein forms a tangle inside the brain that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease,” Professor Cho said. “There are many forms or modifications of the protein, and one is known as acetylation which we believe may be the cause of the neurotoxicity.”

 

Professor Cho and his lab will be working with Dr. Benjamin Wolozin from Boston University to test their antibodies on human tissue samples. He is hopeful that this antibody could someday be used in detecting the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and enable the development of therapeutics.

ChEGSA Hosts Halloween Party for Students & Faculty

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By: Taylor Caron

The Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association (ChEGSA) hosted a Halloween party for graduate students and CBE faculty on the Friday before Halloween.

 

The room in Engineering II was filled with video games, large pizzas, and tabletops games as CBE members mingled with some decked out in Halloween costumes.

 

Travis Omasta, a graduate student who organized the event, said the aim was to allow for faculty and students to meet and talk with another, which is often the catalyst for both friendship and networking.

 

“The main goal of many of our events, the Halloween party included, is to build comradery and community within the CBE graduates.” Omasta said. “This particular event was held on Friday afternoon during typical work hours so it is easy for students and faculty to come by and socialize.”

 

Introductions and lively conversation was abundant throughout the event. According to Omasta, this is the kind of function ChEGSA regularly hopes to provide to the department, and there are many more events to come.

 

“We consider this event successful as we have all of our events this year, with our primary focus of getting more students involved, especially the ones that don’t know as many people around campus,” he said. “ChEGSA also hosts enriching events such as rapid fire presentations competitions, seminars on job and real work skills, and practices for conference presentations.”

Graduate Student Jian Ren Wins NAMS Student Fellowship and AIChE Research Award

img_8698By: Taylor Caron

UConn Chemical Engineering graduate student Jian Ren has received two national awards for her innovative research on water purification. The North American Membrane Society (NAMS) awarded her a Student Fellowship Award this past May, and she will receive a Graduate Student Research Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineering (AIChE) at the annual meeting this upcoming November.

Both awards are highly selective as the NAMS Fellowship is given to only three students annually, and the AIChE Research Award to only six or eight. Ren said she was very honored to receive the awards, especially the NAMS Fellowship.

“The NAMS Student Fellowship is the highest student award to receive from NAMS, so I am really honored and grateful to receive this recognition in the field of membrane science and technology,” she said. “This would not be possible without the continuous support from my advisor and colleagues.”

Ren has been working with Professor Jeffrey McCutcheon on an energy efficient and cost effective method of purifying water. Conventionally, a process called reverse osmosis is used in seawater desalination and wastewater treatment. Ren’s work uses a process called forward osmosis which utilizes natural osmotic tendency at a lower cost to separate water from contaminants. Her research focuses on developing innovative hollow fiber membranes (HFM) for this process. The HFM is a semi-permeable membrane which requires much less energy than the standard membrane used in reverse osmosis.

These membranes have a straw-like shape and can achieve a high packing density, Ren said. Not only is it more effective while enabling small footprint system, but it is easier to manufacture at a large scale

“The HFM is also self-supported, which makes it easy to prototype in academic labs and manufacture in industry,” she said.

Part of what makes Ren’s research so impressive is that she built her own hollow fiber spinning system at UConn from scratch.

“Professor McCutcheon encouraged me to build the system, and I accepted because I like to challenge myself. Unless you challenge yourself you never know you had such potential,” Ren said.

Toward a Test Strip for Detecting TNT and Other Explosives in Water

Professor Yu Lei and Ph.D. student Ying Wang describe the development of a new explosives detector that can sense small amounts of TNT and other common explosives in liquids instantly with a sensitivity that rivals bomb-sniffing dogs, the current gold standard in protecting the public from terrorist bombs. They report on the technology at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Watch the video.