Recent News

Manufacturing electrically heated textiles that are lightweight, flexible, and washable.

Professor of Chemistry Trisha Andrew and Morgan Baima ’18PhD both like to think with a practical eye on scientific problems. The two formed to merge technology and textiles—Soliyarn.

Soliyarn’s first product will be an innovation that’s gotten lots of attention, including from Nike, Under Armour, and U.S. military special operations: electrically heated garments, starting with gloves made from ordinary fabric coated with super-thin conductive polymers via a process developed in Andrew’s UMass lab. The gloves are powered by a tiny battery and are lightweight, flexible, and washable. “It’s a simple and useful application for our new technology,” says Andrew. Andrew and Baima predict that the buyers of their heated gloves and other garments will include motorcyclists, winter athletes, and outdoor workers, and they foresee further mergers of tech and textiles. “You could give me a T-shirt,” Andrew says, “and we could paint an electronically active pattern on it with our coating that could tell you your heart rate, measure your blood sugar, or store a charge.” Or, she says, Soliyarn could make a high-fashion gown that heats up, generates power as its skirt swirls, and stores power, too. One day, you will be able to sew or knit all kinds of electronic devices using coated threads. How about a car seat? Or a baby bottle warmer? A curtain that harvests solar energy?

Nature’s Version of Autocorrect

Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan, chemistry, has big plans for the $1.8 million National Science Foundation grant the campus has received to create a multi-university Center for Autonomous Chemistry. He and his colleagues, including fellow chemist Vince Rotello, seek to design artificial self-activating systems that mimic how biological systems respond automatically to subtle changes in their environment. Thayumanavan calls the process “automatic control as nature does it.”

He cites as an example the many components of the immune system that remain quiet and dormant until an irritant or pathogen is detected. “Once that happens,” says Thayumanavan, “it’s activated. It’s automatic, organically driven; that’s what we refer to as autonomous. The response requires no other intervention.” Thayumanavan knows of no current artificial systems with that capability and adds, “It would be really valuable if we could develop something like it. We want to figure out the ways in which nature uses molecular interactions to create autonomous function.”

Autonomous chemistry has a broad range of applications. Thayumanavan says that personalized medicine has a high profile at the moment and that the need for this type of innovation is widely and readily understood.

In recognition of his demonstrated leadership, Mark Leon-Duque ’19, chemistry, was honored with the Rising Researcher Award. Leon-Duque transferred to UMass Amherst as a second-year student interested in getting a medical degree. A sophomore seminar class offered at that time introduced Leon-Duque to research projects underway on campus. “I promptly contacted Dr. Mingxu You (chemistry) asking to shadow his lab members and by the spring semester, I was working on a project, handling the experimental portions and some of the analysis,” says Leon-Duque.

In the first two years of his time at the You lab, Leon-Duque worked closely with research fellow Aruni P.K.K. Karunanayake Mudiyanselag. Together they developed a new RNA-based imaging system for detecting small RNA molecules within live cells. “Our efforts and the resulting manuscript was published in The Journal of The American Chemical Society. I tested a few of our designs independently that earned me my name as third co-author on the publication. Currently, I am working independently on expanding this imaging system to apply to other small molecules,” says Leon-Duque.

“Publishing my first paper with Aruni and all the other contributors gave me such an exhilarated rush, a true sense of accomplishment,” says Leon-Duque. “The project also taught me things that are completely out of the scope of the typical chemistry undergrad curriculum. I know that I want to do research, whether it will be in academia or in industry remains to be revealed. Nevertheless, I feel my sense of purpose and I will tread this path will diligence and my best effort,” he notes.

“Mark has demonstrated great potential to be an independent scientist. He can learn new techniques and knowledge very quickly and his results are repeatable and trustable,” says You.

Hands-on research is a hallmark of undergraduate education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. We honor eight students from across campus with the Rising Researcher Award in recognition of their demonstrated leadership and impact in their chosen field of study. For Commonwealth Honors College student Bianca Edozie ’19, the opportunity to work in Professor Jenny Ross’ lab helped “ignite a passion for research I never knew I had.” A double major in chemistry, and biochemistry and molecular biology, Edozie works on projects that explore various behavioral aspects of microtubules—stiff, structural elements found in animal cells. Microtubules help form the spindle apparatus during cell division and can act as an intra-cellular transport system, among other things.

Her current project centers on creating “tactoids”, biologically relevant microtubule organizations that act as model mitotic spindles in the lab. The model allows Edozie and other researchers to explore the effects of proteins and enzymes on mitotic spindle organization. She recently published a paper with Ross that is now under review at Soft Matter. “Bianca is a brilliant student and one of the hardest working people I have ever met,” says Ross. Ross notes that Edozie represented UMass at a Research Experience for Undergraduates, which took place at Brandeis University. “She took new data, and performed incredibly difficult dynamics experiments that will continue this year as part of her honors thesis. This work will likely result in a second manuscript. I see no end to her possible future leadership in whatever field she continues,” says Ross.

In addition to her myriad technical skills, Edozie says she has learned independence in the lab setting, troubleshooting, and how to be confident. “My project has been more than just the research itself, but more specifically, what the research required me to learn as an aspiring scientist. I’ve acquired a wealth of knowledge, both new and supplemental to my education in the classroom,” says Edozie. She plans to attend graduate school in the fall.

Upcoming Events

Five College Seminar
Professor Clare Grey
University of Cambridge
Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Developing and Optimising Function of Li-ion and “beyond-Li” Batteries: New Magnetic Resonance and Diffraction Approaches

Mount Holyoke College
LGRT 1634
Professor Debbie Crans
Colorado State
Thursday, February 14, 2019
Mike Knapp
11:30 am
LGRT 1634