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UConn Chemical Engineering Professor Richard Parnas is co-founder and CTO of RPM Sustainable Technologies (RPM ST), a local biofuel and chemical engineering service company whose mission is to supply process technology to the biofuels and chemistry industries. Aided by research conducted at UConn’s Biodiesel lab, RPM ST has developed a process to convert waste, in the form of brown kitchen grease, into fuel, in the form of biodiesel. Previous to this innovation, Dr. Parnas converted yellow grease into biodiesel that then powered the UConn campus buses. However, this process grew to be economically inviable as it gained popularity and drove up the demand for and cost of yellow grease.
Brown grease, the thick waste that accumulates in the grease traps of fryers, is both less expensive and widely accessible. Restaurants and companies usually transport this waste to treatment plants for incineration or disposal, but this is an expensive process that poses detriment to both human health and the environment. RPM’s innovation makes use of this waste by splitting it into oils, used to make biodiesel, and biosolids, which are converted to another fuel source, synthesis gas. In all, Parnas says, the conversion of brown grease is a multi-billion dollar opportunity that benefits both business and the environment.
UConn Chemical Engineering Professor Yong Wang and his students (Mark Battig and Boonchoy Soontornworajit) have made innovative and invaluable improvements to the drug-loaded implantable hydrogels used for drug delivery. Previously, implants could be externally triggered to release medication to diseased tissue at a given time, but such implants could only deliver one single drug. With Dr. Wang’s research, implants can now deliver multiple drugs, one at a time, at specified intervals. To create such gels, Dr. Wang and his research team added DNA aptamers to the existing gels. To release the drug, the gel is injected with a short DNA strand that binds to the protein-binding site of the aptamer, triggering it to release the protein. The gel releases a given drug depending on the DNA sequence injected. This innovation will allow medical professionals to both treat complex disease and facilitate the healing process in stages.
This research was published in JACS, one of the most prestigious journals in the chemistry and chemical engineering fields and highlighted in the prestigious magazines, C&EN and the Royal Society of Chemistry. The paper detailing the research is entitled “Programmable Release of Multiple Protein Drugs from Aptamer-Functionalized Hydrogels via Nucleic Acid Hybridization”.
This fall, the Chemical Engineering program will proudly welcome Assistant Research Professor Dr. Kevin Brown to the ranks of its faculty members. Dr. Brown received his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from Cornell University in 2003, before moving on to complete a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University (2004-2007) and a term as postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physics and Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (2007-2011). Before joining the University of Connecticut, Dr. Brown was employed with the UCSB Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies as Assistant Project Scientist. His primary research interests include complex systems, networks systems biology, and biomolecular signaling pathways. Further information on Dr. Brown can be found here.
Dr. Richard Parnas visited Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, from May 11 to July 17, 2012. During the first four weeks, he taught the honors section of Chemical Reaction Engineering, a 3rd year core undergraduate course, by presenting several examples of multi-phase reactors. Upon the realization that partial differential equations and complex variables are included in the freshman year curriculum, Dr. Parnas also included heat transfer effects and wall boundary conditions.
Over the next few weeks, the class developed research ideas and started a project with switchable polarity solvents for biomass extraction. Many of the discussions occurred at social events, such as the birthday party of Dr. Parnas’s host, Dean of the College of Chemical Engineering Professor Bin Liang.
They then began a week of travel. Dr. Parnas gave a presentation to the Chinese Academy of Engineering in Beijing on the importance of separation processes in biomass conversion. Next they flew to Gansu province to visit a near-zero-emission combined steel, plastics, and fertilizer complex designed by Professor Liang and a team from Sichuan University. A series of meetings with the governor’s Minister of Industry, the mayor of Jin Chuan city (where the complex is located), and the 10 CEOs of the companies involved in the complex illustrated the fast pace of development that is possible when public / private partnerships are executed with a cooperative attitude.