In the News

Graduate Program Overview

If you missed our webinar, or wish to review content from the event, please watch the video segments for additional program information.

Introduction to our Department by Associate Head, Prof. Jeanne Hardy
Introduction to our Graduate Program by Program Director, Prof. D. Venkataraman
Current Graduate Student, Catherine Tremblay
Current Graduate Student, Michael Lu Diaz
Overview of the Application Process by Admission Committee Chair, Prof. Vincent Rotello

Questions about applying or about the graduate program should be directed to Rebecca David rldavid@umass.edu

  • Application Deadline:  December 15  (Fall admission only)
  • Information about applying for Fall 2021. (Info for Chemistry Applicants)
  • The requirement for the GRE general exam is waived for 2021 admission.  The Department also requires a separate Research Interests Form to be filed with the graduate application.
  • Application Fee Waiver: to apply, email one paragraph stating your financial need, URM status, or academic achievement to Rebecca David rldavid@umass.edu

Strieter Discovers Cells’ Unexpected Clean-up Techniques

UMass Chemist Eric Strieter and his lab group have discovered how an enzyme known as UCH37 regulates a cell’s waste management system, a result they found “incredibly surprising.”

Strieter says, “It took us eight years to figure it out, and I’m very proud of this work. We had to develop a lot of new methods and tools to understand what this enzyme is doing.”

As he explains, a very large protease called a proteasome is responsible for degrading the vast majority of proteins in a cell; it may be made up of as many as 40 proteins. It has been known for more than 20 years that UCH37 is one of the regulatory enzymes that associates with the proteasome, he adds, “but no one understood what it was doing.” It turns out that the crux of the whole process, he adds, is how complicated modifications in a small protein called ubiquitin can be.

Writing this week in Molecular Cell, he and first author and Ph.D. candidate Kirandeep Deol, who led and conducted the experiments, with co-authors Sean Crowe, Jiale Du, Heather Bisbee and Robert Guenette, discuss how they answered the question. The work was supported by the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

This advance could eventually lead to a new cancer treatment, Strieter says, because cancer cells need the proteasome to grow and proliferate.

Hardy Wins Teaching Award

Prof. Jeanne Hardy has won the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools Graduate Faculty Teaching Award (Doctoral level). The Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools includes member institutions in 11 states, Washington, D.C. and 6 Canadian provinces. The award recognizes Prof. Hardy’s excellence and creativity in teaching graduate students, as well as her innovation in graduate curriculum development and implementation. Prof. Hardy has provided industrially-relevant and hands-on training to graduate students in Chemistry and several life sciences and engineering majors via courses she developed such as Drug Design and Frontiers in Biotechnology and through co-founding and directing the interdisciplinary Biotechnology Training Program, which trains students in biotechnology via courses and industrial internships.

Spring 2021 Operating Plan

The campus’s strategic focus is on advancing students’ academic progress toward degree completion while providing a campus environment that meets federal and state health and safety protocols for mitigating COVID-19. Guided by these principles, the university has determined that in-person, face-to-face instruction for undergraduate and graduate students will be offered on campus this spring in certain classes, labs and studios identified as requiring in-person instruction.

Timely information regarding various aspects of our spring plan can be found at umass.edu/spring, and the administration will also keep you updated via email and other communication channels.

In the weeks and months ahead, the campus will continue to monitor the progress of the pandemic, and should worsening conditions warrant re-evaluation of our plan, we will act accordingly to ensure that the health and wellbeing of our community remains paramount

NSF Support for National Energy Workshops

Project leader and chemistry professor Dhandapani “DV” Venkataraman, is one of five researchers from a campus group that has been selected to receive a one-year, $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s “10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments” series to conduct a series of national workshops to identify research challenges associated with transitioning to an equitable and sustainable energy system.

The grant is the second this year from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to researchers at UMass for a similar purpose, evidence of a growing worldwide interest in developing sustainable energy systems that consider and even prioritize the resources and needs of all communities.

“A transition toward a less carbon-intensive energy system is underway globally,” Venkataraman points out. “The challenge is to envision how the energy system might evolve in a way that is consistent with resources and needs.”

Further, he explains, “When we are thinking about the emerging energy technologies landscape, we need to incorporate equity as an intrinsic design component. This requires energy scientists, equity scholars and other stakeholders who normally work independently to come together and identify the priorities and needs.”

Finalist for ACS President Has Ties to UMass Chemistry

Professor Mary K. Carroll of Union College is one of two finalists in the fall election for 2021 president-elect of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society with 152,000 members in more than 140 countries. Carroll has local ties to the UMass Chemistry department, having been a postdoctoral researcher with Professor Julian Tyson (1991-92).

Carroll has co-directed the Union College Aerogel Laboratory, a productive interdisciplinary research group. To date, more than 150 undergraduate STEM majors, several high-school students and faculty colleagues from Union and other institutions have participated in the group’s research in the fabrication, characterization and applications of aerogel materials.

She is active in the American Chemical Society (ACS) and since 1998 has served as a councilor of the Eastern New York ACS section. At the national level, she currently serves on the ACS Committee on Science. Based on her contributions to science and service to the ACS, Mary Carroll was selected for recognition as a member of the class of 2016 ACS Fellows.

Farkas Named Scialog Fellow

Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) has named Michelle Farkas, chemistry, one of 13 new Fellows for its Scialog: Chemical Machinery of the Cell (CMC) initiative.

Co-sponsored by RCSA and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Scialog: Chemical Machinery of the Cell aims to catalyze breakthroughs in our understanding of chemical processes in the living cell that will lead to a new era of advancement in cell biology.

The new early-career researchers, together with Fellows selected in the previous two years, will convene virtually Oct. 9, for a half-day meeting. The final in-person CMC conference is scheduled for Oct. 7 – 10, 2021, in Tucson, Ariz.

“It’s terrific to have 13 new Fellows join this outstanding community of rising stars,” said senior program director Richard Wiener. Scialog is short for “science + dialog.” As part of each multiyear initiative, a diverse and inclusive cohort of Fellows is selected from multiple disciplines and institutions across the U.S. and Canada to maximize creative thinking and innovative ideas.

At each conference, participants form multidisciplinary teams to design research projects, which they pitch to leading scientists who have facilitated discussions throughout the meeting. A committee of these facilitators then recommends seed funding to catalyze the most promising of those team projects.

“Even though we can’t meet in person in 2020, we’re excited to keep the community engaged virtually to think of new, potentially high-impact ideas to advance our understanding of cellular processes,” Wiener added. “That momentum will carry us into our final CMC conference and a final round of funding next year.”

Revised Fall 2020 Reopening Plan

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy has revised the university’s Fall 2020 Reopening Plan. For more information and to read the comprehensive report, FAQs and other materials, go to umass.edu/reopening. The university is using the best science and public health information available to protect members of the campus community; efforts are focused on mitigating the risk of infection and spread of the virus.

The newly created Public Health Promotion Center will serve as the campus coordinating and operational hub for COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Its focus is to positively influence public health behaviors, provide critical health screening, and monitor protocols to maintain the health and wellness of our campus community. As part of these efforts, we are implementing a multi-layered approach to deter the spread of the virus, help protect our campus, and allow us to rapidly respond when faculty, staff, or students present symptoms or test positive for the virus.

Artificial Energy Source for Muscle

A chemist and kinesiologist got on a bus, but this isn’t the set-up to a joke. Instead, kinesiologist and lead author Ned Debold and chemist Dhandapani Venkataraman, “DV,” began talking on their bus commute to the University of Massachusetts Amherst and discovered their mutual interest in how energy is converted from one form to another – for Debold, in muscle tissue and for DV, in solar cells.

An alternative energy source to replace the body’s usual one, a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP, could control muscle activity, and might lead to new muscle spasm-calming treatments in cerebral palsy, for example, or activate or enhance skeletal muscle function in MS, ALS and chronic heart failure.

The usual approach to seeking a new compound is to systematically test each one among millions until one seems worth followup – the classic “needle in a haystack” says DV. “At one point I suggested to Ned, ‘Why don’t we build the needle ourselves instead?’ That started us on this interesting project that put together people who would otherwise never work together.” Computational chemist, Jianhan Chen, was invited to model interactions between the molecules DV was making and the myosin molecules Debold was using to test them.

Chen explains, “We did computer modeling because experimentally it is difficult to know how myosin might be using the molecules DV was synthesizing. We can use computer simulation to provide a detailed picture at the molecular level to understand why these compounds might have certain effects. This can provide insight into not only how myosin interacts with the current set of compounds, but also it can provide a roadmap for DV to use to design new compounds that are even more effective at altering myosin function.”

This month, the researchers report in the Biophysical Journal that they have made a series of synthetic compounds to serve as alternative energy sources for the muscle protein myosin, and that myosin can use this new energy source to generate force and velocity. Mike Woodward from the Debold lab is the first author of their paper and Xiaorong Liu from the Chen lab performed the computer simulation.

The next stage for the trio will be to map the process at various points in myosin’s biochemical cycle.

Full article

A New Role for a Tiny Linker in Transmembrane Ion Channels

In the molecular-level world of ion channels – passageways through membranes that carry signals in a cell’s environment and allow it to respond – researchers have debated about the role of a small piece of the channel called a linker, says computational biophysicist Jianhan Chen.

The linker communicates between the pore and its environment-sensing apparatus, and knowing its function – whether it’s inert or plays an active sensing role – has been unclear. But it might lead to a new target for drugs and treatment in conditions such as hypertension, autism, epilepsy, stroke and asthma, he adds. Now, Chen and colleagues at Washington University report in eLife that their experiments have revealed “the first direct example of how non-specific membrane interactions of a covalent linker can regulate the activation of a biological ion channel.”

Specifically, Chen and co-first authors Mahdieh Yazdani and Zhiguang Jia at UMass Chemistry, with co-first author Guohui Zhang, Jingyi Shi and Jianmin Cui at Washington University, studied a pore called the large-conductance potassium (BK) channel. It is important in muscle and neuron function and is controlled by calcium concentration via a calcium-sensing domain. It is also controlled by electrical potential through a voltage-sensing domain. Either way, it opens and closes like a gate – “a really common architecture in transmembrane receptors and channels,” Chen says.

Full article

Acquah Awarded Second Place in Nobel Laureates Sciathion

During the first 48-hour Sciathon hosted by the Council for the Nobel Laureate Meetings, Steve Acquah, the UMass Amherst Libraries Digital Media Lab coordinator and associate research professor of chemistry, worked as part of a team (Group Clifton) to develop a science news verification tool, authentiSci. The Clifton group became finalists at the end of June and were recently awarded second place in the category of ‘Lindau Guidelines’ and a shared prize of 1,000 Euros. AuthentiSci can be accessed through the website authentisci.com and will primarily be used through a Google Chrome Extension, which is now available at the Chrome Web Store. The extension is one of the first of its kind that gives scientists the ability to score science news stories, providing a measure of confidence for the reader.

The section of the Lindau Guidelines had the highest amount of competition, with 23 out of the 48 groups working on Lindau Guideline based projects. The other project sections focused on the topics Communicating Climate Change and Capitalism After Corona.

The extension was produced in response to the Lindau Guidelines introduced by Elizabeth Blackburn during the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting held in Lindau, Germany, in June 2018. To use the extension, scientists would authenticate through their ORCID account, insert a URL from a news story, and follow the prompts to evaluate the story on authentisci.com. With the extension now available, people from around the world will be able to see verified news stories.

Acquah produced a video during the 48-hour event highlighting the work of the team.

2020 Undergraduate Awards

The department hosted a virtual Undergraduate Awards Ceremony on May 7th via Zoom.

Students and their families were joined by faculty, staff, donors, and Dean Serio. While the applause and experience were virtual, the appreciation and gratitude towards our students and donors is sincere.

We are so proud of our students for their amazing ability to excel under such unusual circumstances!

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