Recent News

George M. Church, PhD ’84, is professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, a founding member of the Wyss Institute, and director of, the world’s only open-access information on human genomic, environmental, and trait data. Church is known for pioneering the fields of personal genomics and synthetic biology. He developed the first methods for the first genome sequence & dramatic cost reductions since then (down from $3 billion to $600), contributing to nearly all “next generation sequencing” methods and companies. His team invented CRISPR for human stem cell genome editing and other synthetic biology technologies and applications – including new ways to create organs for transplantation, gene therapies for aging reversal, and gene drives to eliminate Lyme Disease and Malaria. Church is director of IARPA & NIH BRAIN Projects and National Institutes of Health Center for Excellence in Genomic Science. He has coauthored 450 papers, 105 patents, and one book, “Regenesis”. His honors include Franklin Bower Laureate for Achievement in Science, the Time 100, and election to the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering.

His talk "Synthesis & Analysis of Biopolymers" will be held on Thursday, September 19th at 11:30 in LGRT 1634.

Abstract: We have improved technologies for reading and writing nucleic acid and proteins 10 million fold since 2001. We can design and test millions to trillions of engineered genomes, gene therapy capsids, and combinatorial protein mixtures. But this progress is not limited to linear polymers nor to biology, but enables analysis, synthesis, and high throughput functional testing of a variety of complex, yet atomically precise 3D structures including novel chiralities, high density data storage, nanopores etc.

Graduate students Ali Kiaghadi and S. Zohreh Homayounfar, with their professors Trisha L. Andrew, a materials chemist, and computer scientist Deepak Ganesan, will introduce their health-monitoring sleepwear “phyjamas” at the Ubicomp 2019 conference this week in London, U.K.

As Andrew explains, “The challenge we faced was how to obtain useful signals without changing the aesthetics or feel of the textile. Generally, people assume that smart textiles refer to tightly worn clothing that has various sensors embedded in it for measuring physiological and physical signals, but this is clearly not a solution for everyday clothing and, in particular, sleepwear.”

“We expect that these advances can be particularly useful for monitoring elderly patients, many of whom suffer from sleep disorders,” says Andrew. “Current generation wearables, like smartwatches, are not ideal for this population since elderly individuals often forget to consistently wear or are resistant to wearing additional devices, while sleepwear is already a normal part of their daily life. More than that, your watch can’t tell you which position you sleep in, and whether your sleep posture is affecting your sleep quality; our Phyjama can.”

This work was enhanced by Ganesan and Andrew’s affiliation with UMass Amherst’s Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS), which focuses on translating life science research into products that improve human health. Director Peter Reinhart at IALS says, “It’s exciting to see the next generation of wearable technology that is zero effort and addresses the issue of comfort and unobtrusiveness head-on. The data generated by fabric-based sensors have the potential to improve health and well-being, and could possibly contribute to the early diagnosis of multiple disorders.”

Sankaran ‘Thai’ Thayumanavan was appointed as a Distinguished Professor by the Board of Trustees. The title Distinguished Professor is conferred on select, highly accomplished faculty who have already achieved the rank of professor and who meet a demanding set of qualifications.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Provost John McCarthy wrote,“Professor Thayumanavan’s research is focused on the design and synthesis of supramolecular assemblies with novel functions that advance chemical, materials and biological sciences in applications that range from molecular recognition to drug delivery to renewable energy. His work is distinguished by a focus on dynamics, creating materials with the ability to respond across multiple length and time scales and following exposure to stimuli including pH, temperature, and light.

He currently has grants that run several years into the future: an NIH grant with a 1.0 percentile score (amazing), an NSF grant as a CCI, an ARO MURI grant, and several other federal funded applications that are still running (an NIH R01, industrial sponsors) and many previous grants. This alone shows the longevity of his program and argues strongly for continued productivity.

Prof. Thayumanavan’s research program is characterized by prolific excellence. Since promotion to Professor in 2008, Prof. Thayumanavan has published over 120 articles, with more than 30 in the top tier of chemistry journals as lead author. In the same time period, he has garnered more than $26 million in external support. He has given more than 100 presentations on his research since 2008, including keynote addresses and prestigious lectures such as the Nanqiang lecture in Xiamen University (2014), and he was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2011.”

A team led by UMass chemist Dhandapani Venkataraman, “DV,” and electrical engineer Zlatan Aksamija, reported in Nature Communications on an advance they outline toward more efficient, cheaper, polymer-based harvest of heat energy. “It will be a surprise to the field,” DV predicts, “it gives us another key variable we can alter to improve the thermo-electric efficiency of polymers. This should make us, and others, look at polymer thermo-electrics in a new light.” Aksamija explains, “Using polymers to convert thermal energy to electricity by harvesting waste heat has seen an uptick in interest in recent years. Waste heat represents both a problem but also a resource; the more heat your process wastes, the less efficient it is.”

DV and his chemistry PhD student Connor Boyle, with Aksamija and his electrical engineering Ph.D. student Meenakshi Upadhyaya worked in what DV calls “a true collaboration,” where each insight from numerical simulations informed the next series of experiments, and vice versa. The team turned to chemist Michael Barnes, a co-author on their recent paper, who used Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy to probe the dopants at the nano level and show that clustering is indeed present in polymers doped at room temperature, but not at higher temperatures.

The findings should provide a new path for designing more efficient polymers for thermo-electric devices. DV notes that until now, chemists and materials scientists have been trying to organize polymers to be more like the inorganics, “nicely aligned and very regular, which is difficult to do,” he adds. “It turns out that this may not be the way to go; you can take another road or another approach. We hope this paper provides a basis to move polymer-based thermo-electrics forward.”

Upcoming Events

Riddha Das
Dissertation Defense
Tuesday, September 17, 2019

“Engineered Nanoparticles for Site-Specific Bioorthogonal Catalysis: Imaging and Therapy”

4:00 pm
Goessmann 153
Research Adviser:
Vincent M. Rotello
William E. Mahoney Annual Lecture in CHEMISTRY
Prof. George Church
Harvard and MIT
Thursday, September 19, 2019
Department of Genetics, Health Sciences and Technology

“Synthesis & Analysis of Biopolymers”

Mingxu You
11:30 am
1634 LGRT
Prof. Jessica Rouge
University of Connecticut
Thursday, September 26, 2019
Department of Chemistry

“Using Enzymes to Build, Break and Read Hybrid DNA Nanomaterials: from Nanoscale Self-assembly to Intracellular Gene Regulation”

Mingxu You
11:30 am
1634 LGRT
Prof. Jefferson Chan
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Thursday, October 3, 2019
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

“Expanding the Chemical Tool Box for Acoustic-based Imaging of Cancer”

Michelle Farkas
11:30 am
1634 LGRT
Prof. Ou Chen
Brown University
Thursday, October 10, 2019
Department of Chemistry

“Self-assembly of anisotropic nanocrystals from periodic superlattices to aperiodic quasicrystals”

Mingxu You
11:30 am
1634 LGRT