In the News

photo of Prof. Lynmarie Thompson

Thompson Elected President of Biophysical Society

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – August 15, 2023

Biophysical Society Announces the Results of its 2023 Elections

ROCKVILLE, MD – Lynmarie K. Thompson has been elected President-elect of the Biophysical Society (BPS). She will assume the office of President-elect at the 2024 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and begin her term as President during the 2025 Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, California.

Thompson is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass). She earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology and her PhD in Chemistry from Yale University. Thompson also serves as the Director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program, a role she has held since 2000.

“The Biophysical Society’s mission is built around the goals of promoting and disseminating scientific research at the interface of the physical and life sciences and building scientific careers and communities. I am honored to have this opportunity to help lead the Society in this important work,” said Thompson. “We are both witnesses to and participants in an amazing period of rapidly accelerating advances in science – critical science for both the preservation of life and the planet. Together, we can work to optimize the synergy between scientific researcher and the Society to further accelerate and advance the beneficial impacts of biophysics.”

Four Society members were also elected to serve on Council. They are:
Taviare Hawkins, Wagner College, New York
Anne Kenworthy, University of Virginia, Virgina
Anita Niedziela-Majka, Gilead Sciences, Inc., California
Tamar Schlick, New York University, New York

Each will serve a three-year term, beginning on February 13, 2024.

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The Biophysical Society, founded in 1958, is a professional, scientific society established to lead an innovative global community working at the interface of the physical and life sciences, across all levels of complexity, and to foster the dissemination of that knowledge. The Society promotes growth in this expanding field through its Annual Meeting, publications, and outreach activities. Its 7,500 members are located throughout the world, where they teach and conduct research in colleges, universities, laboratories, government agencies, and industry.

photo of min chen

Chen Receives the CNS Outstanding Research Award

Professor Min Chen received the CNS Outstanding Research Award in recognition of her contributions to designing and developing novel biological nanopores and using them to answer a wide variety of bio-analytical and biophysical questions. Her groundbreaking work has found applications in diverse areas such as protein sensing, disease diagnostics, drug candidate screening, and sequencing of nucleic acids and proteins.

In a nanopore sensor, there are two compartments containing electrolyte solutions (K+ and Cl-) that are separated by an impermeable membrane containing a tiny, nano-sized pore through which ions flow. By measuring the ion current over time, information can be obtained about what blocks the pore, when it is blocked, and for how long. Professor Min Chen's laboratory has developed nanopores that can sense the presence of disease biomarkers, detect subtle protein motions induced by ligand/drug molecule binding, and identify the building blocks of long DNA or protein polymers.

Photo of Prof. Lara Al-Hariri

Al-Hariri Wins 2023 Faculty Peer Mentor Award

Photo of Gabriela Weaver

Weaver Appointed to NASEM Committee on Equitable and Effective Undergraduate STEM Education

Prof. Venkararaman in his lab

Venkataraman Bridging the Clean Energy Gap

Prof. Dhandapani Venkataraman (DV) is passionate about an interdisciplinary approach to solving problems. “I tend to explore issues at the edge of my field of expertise because it helps push the field forward into new directions,” he says.

One of his new directions is at the intersection of energy and equity. Working with The Energy Transition Institute (ETI) at UMass Amherst, DV recently served as the principal investigator for a series of two National Science Foundation-funded workshops called NSF2026 that were focused on identifying energy technology research priorities as they relate to social justice.

The workshops were led by an interdisciplinary team including DV, CNS Associate Dean for Research Mark Tuominen, ETI Faculty Director Erin Baker, and Economics Professor Michael Ash. “By bringing together social scientists, equity scholars, and other stakeholders, we were able to ensure that clean energy research priorities include a just and equitable approach,” DV said.

Equity and the energy transition

The dire state of global climate change necessitates a rapid and effective transition away from fossil fuel dependency. While clean energy solutions exist, if not implemented properly they have the potential to cause or exacerbate financial and access inequalities for marginalized groups. For example, paying for solar energy often requires a higher percentage of a low-income household’s annual salary than that of a moderate-income household.

Another challenge is a lack of access to renewable energy sources. Oftentimes, low-income or marginalized communities don’t have access to clean energy opportunities that are readily available to wealthy communities.

In addition, several approaches to clean energy implementation solely focus on income-based inequity challenges. This single-lensed approach fails to consider the many other aspects tied to inequity like race, ethnicity, or gender.

DV noted that it's also a priority to ensure that equity issues are raised early in the planning and design process. “Rather than trying to speak for communities, we need to seek input and involve impacted communities in early phases of the projects,” he said.

Based on the workshops, DV and his team published an opinion piece in Nature Energy detailing five key factors for government agencies and philanthropic institutions to prioritize moving forward. These include: defining equity more broadly, better engaging with stakeholders, resolving competing equity interests, expanding the criteria for funding, and achieving long-term structural reforms such as ensuring that equity criteria are built into funding opportunities. The team is slated to produce a final report in April 2023 with in-depth recommendations for where the NSF should dedicate research resources. “These NSF2026 workshops are just the start,” says DV. “We are very much looking forward to the next steps and eventually, to operationalizing an equity-based approach for energy research.”

headshot of chemistry Prof. Vincent Rotello

Rotello Receives International Cope Scholar Award

Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Vincent Rotello, has received the Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society for his work using synthetic organic chemistry to engineer the interface between the synthetic and biological worlds. The award consists of $5,000, a certificate and a $40,000 unrestricted research grant.

Rotello’s lab spans the areas of devices, polymers and nanotechnology/bionanotechnology to build lego-like molecules at the nano scale that have important applications in health care and environmental delivery, imaging, diagnostics and nanotoxicology.

Rotello’s colleague, Jeffrey N. Johnston of Vanderbilt University, says “In his 25 years of independent research, Rotello has produced an incredibly diverse, innovative and influential body of research that brilliantly blends the atom-by-atom control afforded by synthesis and the rigor of physical organic chemistry. He uses these tools to address important questions and needs in materials and biology. His extremely imaginative program has produced a lasting impact and continues to evolve in new and fascinating directions.”

gead shot of Prof. Trisha Andrew

Andrew Solves Wearable Sensor Problem

A team of researchers, led by Trisha L. Andrew, professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, recently announced that they have synthesized a new material that solves one of the most difficult problems in the quest to create wearable, unobtrusive sensitive sensors: the problem of pressure. “Imagine comfortable clothing that would monitor your body’s movements and vital signs continuously, over long periods of time,” says Andrew. “Such clothing would give clinicians fine-grained details for remote detection of disease or physiological issues.” One way to get this information is with tiny electromechanical sensors that turn your body’s movements—such as the faint pulse you can feel when you place a hand on your chest—into electrical signals. But what happens when you receive a hug or take a nap lying on your stomach? “That increased pressure overwhelms the sensor, interrupting the flow of data, and so the sensor becomes useless for monitoring natural phenomena,” Andrew continues.

An illustration of the wearable sensor and various graphs detailing the physiological data that can be extracted

By placing the sensor on different parts of the body, a host of important physiological data can be extracted. Credit: Homayounfar et al., 10.1002/admt.202201313

To solve this problem, the team developed a sensor that keeps working even when hugged, sat upon, leaned on or otherwise squished by everyday interactions. The secret, which was detailed in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies, lies in vapor-printing clothing fabrics with piezoionic materials such as PEDOT-Cl (p-doped poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene-chloride). With this method, even the smallest body movement, such as a heartbeat, leads to the redistribution of ions throughout the sensor. In other words, the fabric turns the mechanical motion of the body into an electrical signal, which can then be monitored.

Image Graphs detailing the readings the sensor generates and images of commercial dynamometers. Credit: Homayounfar et al., 10.1002/admt.202201313

The wearable sense can perform grip-strength measurements that correlate with those produced by commercial dynamometers, as shown in D. Credit: Homayounfar et al., 10.1002/admt.202201313

Zohreh Homayounfar, lead author of the study and a graduate student at UMass Amherst, says that “this is the first fabric-based sensor allowing for real-time monitoring of sensitive target populations, from workers laboring in stressful industrial settings, to kids and rehabilitation patients.”

Image of the team’s new sensor makes use of PEDOT-Cl-coated cotton sandwiched between electrodes. Credit: Homayounfar et al., 10.1002/admt.202201313

The team’s new sensor makes use of PEDOT-Cl-coated cotton sandwiched between electrodes. Credit: Homayounfar et al., 10.1002/admt.202201313

Of particular advantage is that this all-fabric sensor can be worn in comfortable, loose-fitting clothing rather than embedded in tight-fitting fabrics or stuck directly onto the skin. This makes it far easier for the sensors to gather long-term data, such as heartbeats, respiration, joint movement, vocalization, step counts and grip strength—a crucial health indicator that can help clinicians track everything from bone density to depression.

Head shot of chemistry professor Mingxu You

Researcher Team Led by Prof. You Awarded Grant to Develop New RNA Fluorescence Imaging System

An interdisciplinary team led by Associate Professor Mingxu You (Chemistry) and including co-PI Assistant Professor Tingyi (Leo) Liu (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering) and Adjunct Assistant Professor Sallie Schneider (Veterinary and Animal Sciences), has been awarded a $606,774 grant by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to develop a novel multiplexed fluorescence imaging system for living cells.

The new imaging system will be used to study dynamic gene expression profiles and cellular heterogeneity, which will help researchers understand how diseased cells are different from healthy ones and how diseases emerge.

To advance general understanding of cells, the team will measure as many RNA signatures as possible in each individual cell and track how these different signatures can change over time and space.

Ultimately, researchers hope the project will result in an easily applicable, multiplexed, quantitative, and automated system that can be widely used in typical life science laboratories. It may also open the door for new applications in single-cell profiling for studying developmental biology, neuroscience, immunology, and oncology.

graduate student Dheeraj Krishan Agrohia

Dheeraj Krishan Agrohia Receives PPG Fellowship

Dheeraj Krshan Agrohia (Vachet group) received PPG Fellowship for outstanding research in the area of materials chemistry.

Research: Polymeric nanocarriers (PNCs) are versatile drug-delivery vehicles capable of delivering a variety of therapeutics. Quantitatively monitoring their in vivo biodistribution is essential for realizing their potential as next-generation delivery systems; however, existing quantification strategies are limited due to the challenges of detecting polymeric materials in complex biological samples. My research in the Vachet lab focuses on developing measurement tools to study how PNCs and their cargos are distributed in vivo. With the support of the PPG fellowship, I will be working to develop a new mass spectrometry imaging method that can quantitatively monitor how multiple distinct PNCs and their cargos are distributed in different organs in a single set of experiments. This multiplexing capability should improve the design and optimization of PNCs by minimizing biological variability and reducing analysis time, effort, and cost. Also, it will minimize the need for multiple animals.

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