In the News

Congratulations on 70 years at UMass!

In February 1950, Prof. Richard (Dick) Stein joined the UMass Chemistry faculty as an Associate Professor. He carried out pioneering studies developing and using rheo-optical techniques to study orientation and phase transitions in amorphous, crystalline and liquid crystalline polymers. He also developed the university’s first advanced physical chemistry courses in quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics and polymer science.

Dick became Commonwealth Professor, and in 1961 he founded both the Polymer Research Institute and the Research Computing Center. In 1980, the chemistry department awarded him the Charles A. Goessmann Chair in Chemistry (he’s currently the Emeritus Goessmann Professor in Chemistry). Later in the 1980’s he was involved in establishing and obtaining funding for the Silvio O. Conte Center for Polymer Research. Among his many honors, Dick is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Photo credit: University Archives

Auerbach Discovers New Building Blocks of Zeolite Nanopores

In an article recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (and featured on the Dec 26, 2019 journal cover), Prof. Scott Auerbach and collaborators from UMass Amherst and WPI have discovered new building blocks that they call "tricyclic bridges," which help to explain structures and vibrations of zeolites.

Zeolites are the most used catalysts by weight on planet earth, but the synthetic pathways leading to their crystallization remain poorly known. Raman spectroscopy of zeolites has been useful for shedding light on structures that exist in zeolite crystals and during crystallization. Despite the importance of understanding Raman spectra of zeolites, it is often assumed with little evidence that Raman bands can be assigned to individual zeolite rings. Auerbach and co-workers tested this assumption through an integrated synthesis, spectroscopy, and modeling study, finding the critical role of new building blocks they call "tricyclic bridges" -- collections of three zeolite rings connected together. Using this new concept, Auerbach and coworkers discovered a precise relationship between zeolite bond angle and Raman frequency that can be used to pinpoint structures that form during zeolite crystallization.

"This breakthrough is important because it gives us a way to see the invisible -- precise structures that lead to zeolite crystals," says Auerbach. "We hope such structural insights will help us to synthesize new, tailor-made zeolites for advanced applications in clean energy and carbon capture."

Auerbach and his colleagues are funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division, under Award No. DE-SC0019170. In future work supported by this grant, Auerbach and his team plan to measure and model Raman spectra during the zeolite crystallization process, to determine which tricyclic bridges are present and become inherited by the resulting zeolites.

Chemistry Major Bryanna Lexus Freitas Awarded Innovation Challenge Seed Money

Hosted by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, a Celebration of Innovation Challenge: The Seed Pitch and Hult Prize was held on Wednesday, November 20. An audience of more than 100 students, faculty, staff, and community members were on hand as the top four Seed Pitch teams and the Hult Prize winner and runner-up were recognized and gave minute-long pitches of their ventures.

Competing in the Seed Pitch for $15,000 in equity-free funding, 17 teams gave five-minute pitches of their venture ideas and participated in Q&A with the panel of industry-expert judges. Held simultaneously, Hult Prize consisted of five-minute pitches and five-minute Q&A sessions with its own judging panel – on the line, advancing to the regional competitions in Boston in the spring.

Pitched by Hadley Beauregard (sophomore, biochemistry and molecular biology and German and Scandinavian studies), Hailey Charest (junior, biochemistry and molecular biology) and Bryanna Lexus Freitas (senior, chemistry and psychology), Bac-Be-Gone focuses on MRSA, an antibiotic resistant superbug that kills hundreds of thousands of people a year in hospitals across the world. Awarded $5,000 by the judges, Bac-Be-Gone creates products that immediately eliminate MRSA on contact.

Rotello Among World’s Most Highly Cited Scientists

Prof. Vincent Rotello is one of ten researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who have been recognized for being among the world’s most highly cited researchers in 2019 by London-based Clarivate Analytics, owner of the Web of Science.

Now in its sixth year, the citation analysis identifies influential researchers as determined by their peers around the world. They have consistently won recognition in the form of high citation counts over a decade. These scientists are judged to be influential, and their citation records are seen as “a mark of exceptional impact,” the company says.

The company says it “focuses on contemporary research achievement: Only highly cited papers in science and social science journals indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection during the 11-year period 2008-2018 were surveyed.”

The ten UMass Amherst researchers recognized on the 2019 list are chemist Vincent Rotello, food scientists David Julian McClements, Eric Decker and Hang Xiao, microbiologist Kelly Nevin and Derek Lovley, materials scientist Thomas Russell in the College of Natural Sciences, Catrine Tudor-Locke and Laura Vandenberg of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, and Baoshan Xing of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

2019 PPG fellowship

Congratulations to Haneen Mansoor from the Kittilstved research group, and Emily Smith from the Venkataraman research group, for being selected as the 2019 recipients of the PPG fellowship sponsored by the PPG foundation. This fellowship is competitively awarded to outstanding Chemistry graduate students who do research in materials chemistry.

Chen Receives NSF Grant to Support Computing Cluster

To support a broadly shared Graphic Processing Unit (GPU)-enabled high-performance computing cluster for the Institute for Applied Sciences (IALS), computational biophysicist Jianhan Chen, chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biology, with others, recently was awarded a two-year, $415,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will fill what Chen calls “a critical need” for enabling computation-intensive research activities on campus.

Although the UMass system has a traditional shared cluster housed at the Massachusetts Green High-performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, Chen points out, the current cluster has “minimal GPU capacity” and the campus and IALS need dedicated GPU computing hardware to support their research communities. His co-principal investigators on the project are Erin Conlon, mathematics and statistics, Peng Bai, chemical engineering, Chungwen Liang, IALS director of computational modeling, and Matthew Moore, food science.

“When we put in the grant we solicited comments and surveyed the need from IALS and identified 30 labs that could use it,” Chen explains. “They testified to the need and committed to the cost share with NSF, which will come from IALS, the College of Natural Sciences, College of Engineering, central IT and the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement. This is going to be a really unique entity on campus, and it will have far-reaching impact,” he predicts. “It will be busy from the get-go.”

“I think NSF saw how much need and support we have. I want to particularly highlight the important contributions of Chris Misra and John Griffin of IT,” he adds. “They have taken the leadership in providing technical support that’s absolutely critical to me and other principal investigators on campus. Without them and their excellent help, this will not work, period.”

The new cluster, once carefully built up by Griffin, Chen and his co-investigators, will be managed by the IALS Computational and Modeling Core to provide long-term stability for operation and management, serving 250 IALS-affiliated research labs across 27 departments and seven colleges. “The GPU facility offers high-speed single- and double-precision operations as well as extreme parallelism to enhance current activities that contribute to the open science movement,” project leaders state.

It will also contribute to efforts to integrate regional education, outreach, diversity and economic activities, as the GPU facilities will be made available to researchers through Internet2 links and regional computing partnerships at MGHPCC. The researchers predict that the new cluster “will most likely lead to new developments and discoveries including novel GPU-enabled modeling and simulation technologies that may elucidate molecular mechanism of drug delivery, computational design catalysts for renewable energy and chemical synthesis, advanced computational analysis tools for next generation informatics and big data, and improved understanding of risk and resistance to breast cancer.”

iCons Program Poised to Transform STEM Education

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.

 

Mingxu You is Inventing New DNA-based Probes

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.

 

Acquah Speaks at Dedication in Honor of Nobel Prize Winner Sir Harold Kroto

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.”

Inaugural Manning/IALS Seed Grants for Hardy and Thayumanavan

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)”

112th Metawampe Hike Sunday, November 3, 2019

The 112th annual Metawampe Hike will be held Sunday, November 3 starting at noon (12PM) from the former Ashram parking lot (to the right of the white picket fence and behind a barrier of trees) on Route 63 (#438) about 5 miles north of the North Amherst traffic lights (near Cumberland Farms). Hikers meet at 11:30 AM at the corner of Park, Claybrook and North Mountain Roads in Sunderland (for directions use 98 Claybrook Road, Sunderland). [SAME AS LAST YEAR] This is the location where the Metawampe Hike trail exits the woods. At 11:45AM we will carpool and drive a minimum number of the cars to bring all hikers to Ashram to begin the noon hike. Some may wish to meet us at Ashram at noon. At the end of the hike, using the cars left in Sunderland at the meeting point (also the endpoint of the hike) we will return to Ashram to retrieve the cars driven there earlier. The hike will be held rain or shine unless conditions are so treacherous as to be unsafe, in which case I will notify the e-mail list of hikers. Hikers should plan to bring whatever clothing, supplies, snacks, or water they need, nothing will be supplied. After the hike we will reconvene at a mutually agreed upon venue for needed libation and nourishment. This year we will not be holding the church supper, an event we do biannually in even years– next in 2020. The hike continues to be an annual event held on the first Sunday in November, the same Sunday when Daylight Saving Time ends! We realize that no date will be suitable for everyone but encourage all those who can make it to join us for this university tradition that dates back to 1908. The hike is from point to point and is of moderate difficulty, is about 5 miles in length, and usually takes about 3 hours or so, depending on conditions. Friends, spouses, children, pets - all are welcome. If you have any questions or would like a map showing the meeting point and hiking route contact Dave Adams, at adams@chem.umass.edu.

‘Phyjama’ to be introduced at Ubicomp

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.”

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