Awards

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 critical 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 research 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.

 

Leslie Shor Named a DuPont Young Professor

Momentum logoRepublished with permission of Momentum,

a School of Engineering electronic publication.

 

Dr. Leslie Shorshor caption of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering specializes in recreating very small habitats – smaller than the width of a human hair in some cases. Building from scratch a simulated habitat that might sustain up to a thousand different organisms that each need different conditions to survive is no easy trick.

But the potential payoffs can be huge – more sustainable agriculture, better ways to fight infection, or more sustainable energy production from biofuels.

One particular project in her lab prompted DuPont to name her a 2014 Young Professor. The annual program recognizes professors engaged in innovative research that addresses global challenges regarding food, energy and production. Shor, one of 10 professors to receive the appointment, will receive $75,000 over the next three years to support their research.

The project that won DuPont’s attention is the same one that won a Grand Challenges Exploration grant of $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2012.

Hunger and poverty affect 1 billion people. Population growth, changing consumption habits, and a shifting climate will only magnify the problem. So developing new ways to increase food production is crucial. To that end, Shor and other researchers in her lab hope to find a new way to increase crop yields. For this research, she teamed up with Daniel J. Gage (Molecular & Cell Biology), a microbiologist with expertise in the rhizosphere. That’s the region of soil around a plant’s roots where crucial nutrients are absorbed. Beneficial bacteria in the rhizosphere can help plants by inhibiting pathogens and producing antibiotics. The rhizosphere is also home to protozoa – a kingdom of single-celled animals with the ability to move efficiently in soil. That’s where Shor comes in, with her knowledge of artificial microbial habitats and how protozoa migrate in micro-structured environments.

With her collaborators and students, Shor seeks to increase crop yields by using protozoa to distribute bacteria along growing roots. Currently, applications of biologicals or agrichemicals are not targeted, leading to inefficiency and adverse environmental impacts. Solving one problem might lead to the creation of several more. In Shor’s lab, they’re trying to use the environment as part its own solution.

“The soil system is an incredibly complex habitat, and it’s home to organisms from all five kingdoms – plants, animals protista fungi and archae – are all present in the soil,” she said. They interact with each other, and with the air, water, organic matter and soil grains in complex ways. Typically, microbiologists will take organisms out of their natural habitat and put them into an overly simplified lab habitat.

“There’s no microstructure in those habitats, typically,” she said. “Our microhabitats are not the same thing as real soil, but they do contain some of its features. Our microhabitats offer a window into the microworld.”

 

Fellow of the American Chemical Society named

By: William Weir

laurencinDr. Cato T. Laurencin, a Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and designated University Professor at UCONN has been named a Fellow of the American Chemical Society.

“The scientists selected as this year’s class of ACS fellows are truly a dedicated group,” said ACS President Tom Barton, Ph.D. “Their outstanding contributions to advancing chemistry through service to the Society are many. In their quest to improve people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry, they are helping us to fulfill the vision of the American Chemical Society.”

Laurencin, an internationally recognized engineer, scientist and orthopedic surgeon, holds the titles of University Professor and Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery. He also is a Professor of Materials Sciences and Engineering, and a Professor of Biomedical Engineering. He is the director of UConn Health’s Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for Biomedical, Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences and founding director of UConn Health’s Institute for Regenerative Engineering. He is the Chief Executive Officer of UConn’s cross-university translational institute, the Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science.

“This is a great honor,” Laurencin said. “The American Chemical Society is one of our nation’s largest science organizations and has made great contributions to the field.”

Laurencin was cited for his seminal contributions in polymer science and polymer-ceramic systems applied to biology. Well-known for his groundbreaking work in biomaterials, he has patented and invented a number of breakthrough technologies. These include the L-C Ligament, the first bioengineered matrix that completely regenerates ligament tissue inside the knee. A Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Dr. Laurencin was named one of the 100 Engineers of the Modern Era at its Centennial celebration. He is an elected member of both the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Engineering.

 

Chemical Engineering Student Garners National Recognition

By Sydney Souder

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Chemical Engineering junior Ari Fischer has been named a 2014 Udall Scholar. Fischer is UConn’s fifth Udall Scholar and the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular engineering’s second recipient of the competitive scholarship in four years.

The Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation is one of five federal foundations established by Congress. Since 1996, the program has awarded almost $7 million in scholarships to students dedicated to conserving the environment. “It’s different compared to other scholarships because everyone unites over one passion, even if they come from different backgrounds,” says Fischer.

Of 489 eligible applicants from 47 states and Puerto Rico, the Foundation chose 50 scholars and 50 honorable mentions. This summer, the 2014 Scholars will assemble and meet in Tuscan for an educative leadership orientation.

This scholarship is one in a long run of honors Fischer has accumulated in his three years at UConn. He is the recipient of the John & Carla Augustyn Scholarship, the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium Undergraduate Research Fellowship, the UConn IDEA Grant, an Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) Travel Grant, and the UConn Academic Excellence Scholarship. Although academics and research have traditionally been Fischer’s strengths, this latest tribute recognizes his service and leadership in a compelling discipline.

Fischer has been empowered by Chemical Engineering since his freshman year at UConn. Despite his love for the field, he acknowledges that Chemical Engineering contributes to many of the problems facing the planet, and he has made it his mission to reverse these effects.

“This is probably the first time I’ve considered myself an environmentalist,” says Fischer, “I’ve been passionate about nature and the environment for a long time, but I didn’t feel a part of the environmentalist community until I came to UConn.”

Fischer has already initiated his own projects committed to the environment. Using his IDEA Grant, Fischer has addressed the oil drilling and waste problems facing the planet by recycling spent coffee grounds into a means for fuels, chemicals and commodities production. Through another recent accolade, a CT Space Grant Consortium award, he is designing an oxygen generator used in carbon dioxide removal. “The frontiers of research offer an exciting new age in energy production,” said Fischer in his application, “and I am committed to designing revolutionary technologies that harness materials and processes in novel ways which enable today’s theories to be implemented on an industrial scale.”

Fischer believes he especially strengthened his environmental outlook last spring as an exchange student in South Korea. He says he will never forget hiking at Bukhansan National Park where he glimpsed the compatibility of the modern city with mountain serenity. It was during this moment of harmony with nature that Fischer was inspired to conserve as much as he could.

Fischer has one year left at UConn, but ultimately plans to earn a PhD in Chemical Engineering. Currently excited by green startups, Fischer hopes to lend his abilities to engineer clean energy alternatives in the future.

UConn Student Receives Presidential Scholar Enrichment Award

By Jayna Miller

Rodney Sutherland, an undergraduate researcher working with CBE assistant professor Dr. Anson Ma, is the recipient of a Presidential Scholar Enrichment Award. The Presidential Scholars Program was established by the University of Connecticut to support educational enrichment in a variety of subject areas, providing up to $2,500 for undergraduate students.

The grant will be used to fund Sutherland’s research on constructing an experimental platform for understanding the fundamentals of inkjet and 3D printing. The research aims to improve the reliability and the resolution of existing printing technology for digital fabrication. The project will impact many practical applications – most notably, perhaps, is the potential for flexible electronics.

Flexible electronics are elastic, bendable devices that may have several advantages in applications such as cell phones, cameras, and e-book readers.

Another promising application relates to the medical field. Sensors, for example, can be printed on the skin as a “temporary tattoo” to monitor the health of patients. Similarly, skin grafts may also be printed to accelerate healing in the case of burns or extensive wounds.

Lastly, with improvements of printing reliability and resolution, it may one day be possible to use this technology to print organs. This means that essential organs can be designed and manufactured in the lab, and patients in need of a transplant will not have to endure a long waiting period. Dr. Anson Ma is currently advising two CBE Senior Design teams working on the 3D printing of artificial kidneys.

Dr. William Mustain Receives DOE Early Career Research Program Award

Republished with permission of Momentum,
a School of Engineering electronic publication.

 

By Jayna Miller (CLAS Dec. ’13)

mustain2012_profileDr. William Mustain, an assistant professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, is the recipient of a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science Early Career Award, which is one of the most competitive in the United States, with only 65 awarded annually. The Early Career Research Program supports the research pursuits of exceptional young scientists, and creates career opportunities in various research fields.  Dr. Mustain’s five-year, $800,000 award was presented by the Office of Basic Energy Science.

The award will bring new equipment to the university and fund two graduate and two undergraduate students over the life of the grant.  Dr. Mustain’s proposal, “Room Temperature Electrochemical Upgrading of Methane to Oxygenate Fuels,” will focus on the development of a new type of electrochemical device that converts methane, from natural gas or biogas, to liquid fuels, like methanol, at room temperature.  This low temperature operation is a significant improvement over state-of-the-art methane-to-fuels processes that operate at very high temperatures, sometimes more than 900°C.  They also generally convert methane to syngas then employ a second process to convert the syngas to other chemicals and fuels. These extra steps add both cost and complexity to the process.

According to Dr. Mustain, the research team will focus on understanding the fundamental mechanisms for the transformation of methane to methanol at ultra-low temperatures, bypassing the syngas intermediate,  as well as determining the optimal design conditions to maximize methane conversion and methanol selectivity.

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Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this process is that it is able to operate at or near room temperature (20-50°C), which has a number of advantages.  “There will be lower energy required for the process, and much lower cost because you do not need high quality heat and you have a wider range of materials that you can consider,” said Dr. Mustain.  He hopes to leverage all of the work that has been done on other electrochemical devices, like batteries and fuel cells, over the last 20 years to make rapid improvements on his prototype.

There are a variety of practical applications for this research.  For instance, methanol can be used as a direct energy carrier, and as a fuel source for small portable power applications or cars using a direct methanol fuel cell.  Methanol is also one of the top 25 industrial chemicals in the world, which means it has a range of uses.  In addition, it can be easily converted to formaldehyde, which is another top 25 industrial chemical.

Dr. Mustain’s previous research has involved the design of new catalyst materials for fuel cells, capacitors and lithium-ion batteries. He also has received the Illinois Institute of Technology Young Alumni Award. For more about his DOE-funded research, please visit http://science.energy.gov/early-career/.

Dr. Jeffrey McCutcheon Named a DuPont Young Professor

Momentum logo

Republished with permission of Momentum,
a School of Engineering electronic publication.

 

mccutcheon_jeffrey_profile

Assistant professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Jeffrey McCutcheon was selected a 2013 DuPont Young Professor.  He is one of just 14 young professors, representing seven countries, to receive one of the three-year awards this year.  The award will fund his ongoing research in the area of novel membranes for use in water filtration and energy storage.

The DuPont Young Professor Program is designed to help promising young and untenured research faculty, working in areas of interest to DuPont, to begin their careers.

Dr. McCutcheon, who has a dual appointment in the Center for Environmental Science & Engineering (CESE), joined UConn in 2008 and has established a respected program in novel filtration technologies and, in particular, forward osmosis (FO) and pressure retarded osmosis (PRO).

Both FO and PRO are osmotically-driven membrane separation processes based on the natural tendency of water to flow from a solution of low solute concentration to one of higher concentration.  In both processes, water moves across a selective, semi-permeable membrane from a relatively dilute feed solution – such as seawater, brackish water or wastewater – into a highly concentrated ‘draw’ solution. Clean water permeates through the membrane from the feed water to the draw solution, leaving behind salts, contaminants and other feed solutes as a concentrated brine stream. And unlike conventional reverse osmosis, Dr. McCutcheon notes, these processes require no addition of energy. In FO, the diluted draw solution is carried to a secondary separation system that removes the solute from the water and recycles it within the system; drinkable water is one product of the process. In the case of PRO, the chemical potential energy of a saline solution is converted directly into electricity.

Central to his work in advancing both techniques is novel membranes that employ electrospun nanofiber nonwovens.  For his DuPont-sponsored research, Dr. McCutcheon will seek to establish that DuPont’s Hybrid Membrane Technology can be used in thin film composite membranes for salinity-driven processes.

Dr. McCutcheon directs the Sustainable Water and Energy Learning Laboratory (SWELL) at UConn, which serves as an educational and research center for innovative technologies aimed at addressing the world’s water and energy problems. He also oversees an NSF-sponsored, entrepreneurial Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) site at UConn, which brings undergraduate students from across the nation to campus for summer research and development in energy, environmental, process, polymer and materials, and bioengineering and biotechnology  areas in collaboration with industry.  He also advises the UConn student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), which is working to develop desalination and water treatment technologies for local use in developing countries.

Read more about Dr. McCutcheon’s research here and watch a YouTube video here.

Dr. George Bollas Receives ACS PRF Doctoral New Investigator Award

By Jayna Miller

bollasgeorge_wCDr. George Bollas, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is the recipient of a prestigious ACS Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator Award. The ACS PRF programs support innovative research in the petroleum field and promote the development of promising engineers and scientists. The award program provides career opportunities to young faculty and their undergraduate and graduate students by supporting advanced scientific research. The goals of the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund are to support fundamental research in the petroleum field and develop the next generation of engineers and scientists through the support of advanced scientific education.
Dr. Bollas’ research project will explore aspects of Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis selectivity. The Fischer-Tropsch process is a collection of chemical reactions that provide a means of producing transportation fuels from carbon monoxide and hydrogen, a combination referred to as synthesis gas. This reaction also produces excess hydrocarbon products in addition to materials for fuel, so there remains a need to make this process more selective.

Through Dr. Bollas’ research, it may be possible to significantly improve the selectivity of this process to make the synthesis of fuel through Fisher-Tropsch more efficient and economical. Dr. Bollas and his research group plan to examine novel catalyst synthesis methods that enhance the selectivity of Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis (FTS) towards intermediate-chain length hydrocarbons, particularly synthetic gasoline.

The benefits of making Fischer-Tropsch a more efficient and less centralized process are energy independence and security. In addition, the vast unexploited resources of natural gas found recently in the US make natural gas a major source for energy and fuels production. Dr. Bollas’ new experimental work will provide the capability to expand research exploring alternative fuels and efficient processes at the CBE Department and in the Center for Clean Energy Engineering.

Dr. Bollas is a process design expert and winner of the prestigious NSF CAREER Award and the ACS PRF DNI Award. His research focuses on biomass pyrolysis, coal and biomass to liquids, Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, chemical-looping combustion, and waste to energy processes.

Fischer_Tropsch

Amanda Card Receives 2013 Outstanding Student Women Academic Achievement Award

Momentum logoModified from original version with permission from Momentum, a School of Engineering electronic publication.

 

amandaCard
Amanda Card presents her work at the annual Senior Design Day at Gampel Pavilion

Chemical Engineering senior Amanda Card received the 2013 Outstanding Student Women Academic Achievement Award for an undergraduate. She has maintained a cumulative GPA of 4.0 while devoting significant time to outreach activities, scholarly research, and leadership duties within the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).
Amanda has served as Collegiate Section President, Conference Committee Chair and Secretary of UConn’s SWE chapter, and worked as a STEM instructor for eighth grade students from underserved communities who participate in UConn’s Pre-Engineering Program (PEP).  Amanda’s undergraduate research, overseen by Dr. Leslie Shor, has involved contributions to the development of an optical method that measures diffusivity through hydrogel-filled microfluidic capillaries. She has also interned with both Unilever and Saint-Gobain. Amanda is excited to begin her career with MPR Associates, Inc. in Alexandria, VA following graduation.

UConn Engineering Honors John (Jack) Prior

prior2013During a gala event on May 2 at the Storrs campus, the School of Engineering honored 10 exceptional alumni and friends as 2013 inductees into the UConn Academy of Distinguished Engineers. Nearly 100 attendees helped to honor the new inductees, each of whom spoke of the profound influence of UConn Engineering in shaping their careers.  One inductee was an alumnus of the Chemical Engineering department, John Prior.

John (Jack) Prior graduated from UConn in 1986 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, and then went on to earn a doctorate of science (Sc.D.) in Chemical Engineering from MIT, focusing his research on monitoring and controlling bioreactors for the production of biopharmaceuticals.

Jack’s current position is Senior Director for Bioprocess Engineering at Genzyme, where he oversees a team of 14 engineers responsible for improving the manufacturing processes  for these and other biopharmaceutical compounds that can be incredibly challenging to produce.

Jack’s work often places him in the “front lines” in addressing critical challenges. For example, he led company efforts to identify and correct the cause of a Thymoglobulin production challenge at the company’s facility in France in 2007. His efforts enabled patients to continue to receive this life-saving therapy. In 2008, he led efforts to understanding and address product comparability issues that had previously delayed the introduction of adult treatments for Pompe’s disease in the US.  Jack also played a key role the troubleshooting effort surrounding a viral contamination episode the company experienced in 2009.

In addition to Jack’s important management and manufacturing technology development role in the biopharmaceutical industry, he has given back to UConn directly by serving as a member of the Chemical Engineering Industrial Advisory Board since 2006.  In this capacity, he generously gives his time to provide critique, guidance, and support to the Chemical Engineering program. The CBE department would like to extend its congratulations to Jack Prior for his induction into the UConn Academy of Distinguished Engineers.