Recent News

A gift of $1.25 million from Mahoney Family, over five years to the College of Natural Sciences at UMass Amherst, will significantly expand the reach of the Integrated Concentration in Science program (iCons) by recruiting more faculty, providing more mentors for STEM students and funding the spread of the pioneering iCons program to other higher education institutions.

“Interdisciplinary solutions have always been the key to solving the tough problems,” says Richard J. Mahoney, a longtime UMass supporter whose family is providing the increased funding for iCons. “Although academic institutions are often stuck in their silos in the way they teach and operate, I’m happy to see that UMass Amherst is pioneering a more integrated real-world education for its students. I was present at the creation of iCons, and having watched the program grow, I've seen first-hand its impact on students and their future in science.

Mahoney’s family, including Barbara M. Mahoney ’55, William E. Mahoney ’55, and Robert M. Mahoney ’70 and Kathleen S. Mahoney ’70 are longtime supporters of the sciences at UMass Amherst.

“The iCons program has invented a revolutionary approach for teaching that fosters innovation, integration and impact,” said UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy. “This generous gift from the Mahoney family enables UMass to provide national leadership in this 21st century way of learning.” Robert S. Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and a member of the UMass iCons Advisory Board, observed, “The UMass iCons program is unique across the USA. From my experience, iCons students have the leadership skills to ask the right questions, and the technical skills to find the right answers.”

Mahoney’s gift supports three separate funds that will dramatically broaden the impact of the UMass iCons program: the Directorship Fund, the Instructional Fund and the Evolution Fund. The Directorship Fund allows UMass Amherst to attract a world-class educator and researcher in STEM to direct the UMass iCons program. The director will be responsible for recruiting top-notch iCons faculty and partnering with companies and other universities to spread the program’s impact. Scott Auerbach, professor of chemistry at UMass Amherst and the iCons program’s founding director, is the first person to occupy this position as the newly appointed Mahoney Family Sponsored Executive Director. Auerbach has published two books and over a hundred articles on nanotechnology and clean energy, and has been at the forefront of educational innovation in STEM.

 

Assistant professor Mingxu You, chemistry, recently received a five-year, $1.9 million NIH Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) to fund his research in developing new tools – DNA-based probes – to quantify intercellular mechanical forces and understand a variety of mechano-sensitive cell signaling events at the molecular level.

As he explains, intercellular forces are critical regulators in many physiological and pathological processes, but scientists have until recently lacked the tools and approaches to characterize these mechanical events. “It is a whole new way to understand growth, division, intercellular motion and interaction,” You says. Cells are usually touching each other or a substrate, pushing and pulling each other to work together as a tissue, an organ and at the whole body level, he adds. But these forces are so tiny and ever-changing, it is very hard to see how cells are physically communicating with each other, for example, during development, cell differentiation, normal physiological and various disease processes.

The You Lab, which includes postdoctoral researcher Bin Zhao and chemistry Ph.D. students Yousef Bagheri and Puspam Keshri, will team with biologists Barbara Osborne and Tom Maresca, Lisa Minter of veterinary and animal sciences and Yubing Sun, mechanical and industrial engineering, to further develop these DNA-based tools to visualize, monitor and quantify such cellular forces. You says, “In the near future, people will be able to apply these tools broadly to depict the basic principles of tissue morphogenesis, growth, and homeostasis. They will serve as a critical foundation for developing novel strategies in tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, immunotherapy and cancer treatment.”

Specifically, You says, “We are interested in the Notch signaling pathway. It’s widely conserved in most cells and organisms, very common to find, and it’s interesting because it’s really simple. There are only five Notch ligands and four Notch receptors but they regulate quite a diverse range of downstream functions,” he adds.

 

Steve Acquah, adjunct research professor of chemistry and Digital Media Lab coordinator at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library, spoke at the dedication of the Florida State University (FSU) Chemical Sciences Laboratory Auditorium in honor of Nobel Prize winner Sir Harold Kroto on Friday, Oct. 4.

Acquah, the former manager of the Kroto Research Group at FSU, received his doctorate at the University of Sussex, England, under the supervision of Kroto. Acquah gave a talk titled “Beyond the Possible” that highlighted his work at UMass Amherst and showed how Kroto’s legacy lives on through his work at the UMass Libraries Digital Media Lab, his chemistry laboratory and the Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology (GEOSET) initiative.

Florida State named the chemistry auditorium after Kroto – who died in 2016 – and the university’s department of chemistry and biochemistry placed an art piece of a buckyball designed by FSU’s Master Craftsman Studio in the foyer outside the auditorium. The buckyball was unveiled by Kroto's widow, Lady Margaret Kroto.

The day after the dedication, a buckyball workshop for children was led by Jonathan Hare, who was a member of the original team that included Kroto that isolated C60. In the workshop the children learned about the life of Richard Buckminster Fuller and Kroto before building their own model of a buckyball. Acquah said, “The buckyball workshop was one of Harold Kroto’s favorite ways to get children involved in the sciences and hands-on activities.”

Acquah, who is also a 2019-20 UMass Sustainability Curriculum Fellow, co-instructs the “Makerspace Leadership and Outreach” course with Charlie Schweik, School of Public Policy, at the All-Campus Makerspace. “The maker movement is exactly what Sir Harold Kroto would have been passionate to support,” Acquah says. “He always spoke about how owning a Meccano set helped him develop the skills he would use for research. The students in the class exemplify the creative talents at UMass Amherst.”

Peter Reinhart, director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS), has announced that six campus research teams have been named recipients of the first Manning/IALS Seed Grants. The awards will support next steps in their research such as proof-of-concept studies and business development, fundamental research into new products, technologies and services to benefit human health and wellbeing.

Earlier this year, alumnus Paul Manning and his wife, Diane, committed $1 million through their family foundation to establish the Manning Innovation Program. It provides three years of support in advancing a robust and sustainable pipeline of applied and translational research projects from UMass Amherst.

The seed grants announced this week were awarded after a competitive process that narrowed 35 teams to six winners. Faculty researchers will receive seed funding of $100,000 each over three years, along with business training and mentorship from IALS, the College of Natural Sciences, the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship and the Isenberg School of Management, among others.

Chemistry’s winning team leaders and their projects are:

• Jeanne Hardy, chemistry, “Development of Potent Zika Virus Protease Inhibitors”

• S. “Thai” Thayumanavan, chemistry, and Steve Faraci, “Pre-Clinical efficacy evaluation of liver-targeted, thyromimetic-encapsulated IntelliGels for the treatment of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)”

Upcoming Events

Prof. Katherine Henzler-Wildman
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Thursday, November 21, 2019
Department of Biochemistry

“Beyond inhibition: reversing a bacterial multidrug efflux pump”

Host:
Lynmarie Thompson
11:30 am
1634 LGRT
Jingjing Gao
Dissertation Defense
Friday, November 22, 2019

"Modulating Nanoparticle-Protein Interactions Through Covalent or Noncovalent Approach for Biomedical Application"

1:00 pm
GSMN 153
Research Adviser:
S. Thayumanavan
Prof. Andrew Ellington
University of Texas at Austin
Thursday, December 5, 2019
Department of Molecular Biosciences

“TBA”

Host:
Mingxu You and Craig Martin
11:30 am
1634 LGRT
Xin Li
Dissertation Defense
Friday, December 6, 2019

"Tools for Fundamental Mechanistic Studies: Resolving Protein Dynamics by Nanopore Tweezer and Quantitating Molecular Trafficking by Droplet-Interface Bilayer Technologies"

12:00 pm
LSL N410
Research Adviser:
Min Chen
Christie LC Ellis
Dissertation Defense
Tuesday, December 10, 2019

"Powering Advances in Next-Generation Photovoltaics Through Materials Synthesis and Characterization"

12:00 pm
GSMN 153
Research Adviser:
D. Venkataraman