In the News

Professor Paul Dubin

Professor Paul Dubin passed away May 22, 2018.

His research interest was polyelectrolytes and long-chain molecules in which every repeat unit carries a charge, with focus on their interaction with oppositely charged molecules such as surfactant micelles, nanoparticles and proteins, with the objective of fundamental understanding of solution behavior.

Molecular Switch for On-demand Release of Molecular Cargo

In an unexpected finding, chemist Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst show for the first time how movement of a single chemical bond can compromise a membrane made up of more than 500 chemical bonds. Their system uses light as a switch to create a reversible, on-demand molecular control mechanism.

Thayumanavan explains, “There are many applications that one can imagine developing from these fundamental findings, especially ones that need controlled release. For example, we have shown that two compounds that would readily react with each other can be in the same solution but are separated by a very thin membrane made of a few nanometers and therefore do not react with each other.”

“But upon exposure to light, the membrane gets compromised to allow the two components to react with each other,” he adds. “The interesting thing is that the membrane is not permanently compromised upon exposure to light, but only when the light is on.”

His postdoctoral associate Mijanur Rahaman Molla and doctoral student Poornima Rangadurai conducted most of the experimental work. The UMass Amherst group also collaborated with theoretical chemists Lucas Antony and Juan de Pablo at the University of Chicago, who modeled the system in order to more deeply understand it, Thayumanavan notes. Details are online now in Nature Chemistry.

Elvan Cavac wins the Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Spirit Award for Pickmeup Snacks

Elvan Cavac, from the Martin Group, won the Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Spirit Award for her start-up, Pickmeup Snacks, which uses cricket protein to create healthy and sustainable treats.

Cavac states, "Pickmeup Snacks are nutrient dense, high protein snacks made with cricket protein powder. We currently have two flavors: cheese cracker crusher and chocolate chip cookie beast. One serving gives you about 200 calories, and 10 grams of protein. They are also really delicious. If you would like to check us out, visit our website and join our newsletter!

"Why bugs? Our mission statement at Pickmeup Snacks is to lead the change in the western diet for a healthier and sustainable future. Livestock industry generates more greenhouse gas emissions than transport and it takes about 2000 gallons of water to produce only one pound of beef. The world is projected to host 9 billion people in 2050. We simply cannot keep feeding the livestock industry like we do right now if we want to live in a sustainable future. The way we think about food needs to change.

"Our vision is that bugs will be a staple in our kitchens, and we will eat more of them than beef or pork. This is due to their excellent nutrition and sustainable production profiles. For example, compared with cattle, crickets need 6x less feed, 0.045% as much water and produce 80% less methane. In the mean time, while a sirloin steak is only 29% protein, dried crickets are about 70% protein.

"My experience with Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship has been amazing. Their support and guidance helped me turn this business into reality. In addition to having created this business, I have gained tremendous strategic planning and leadership skills. I am really grateful and I will continue working there to get my start-up to grow bigger!"

UMass Chemistry alumnus William “Bill” A. Lee's gift creates Science Impact Program

A new program created with a gift from University of Massachusetts Amherst alumnus William “Bill” A. Lee, executive vice president of research at Gilead Sciences, will broaden opportunities for underrepresented and first-generation UMass Amherst students who aspire to be scientists.

The new William Lee Science Impact Program (Lee-SIP) at the College of Natural Sciences gives selected undergraduates the opportunity to work with faculty on a wide range of research projects. Currently, 13.4 percent of the college’s 6,067 undergraduates are from underrepresented groups, and 29 percent are first-generation college students.

Lee, who earned a B.S. in chemistry from UMass Amherst in 1977, was the first in his family to graduate from college, where he developed an understanding of the impact research can have on both students and society. “When Dr. Marvin Rausch asked me if I was interested in working in his lab over the summer, I had no idea of what to expect or how it would change my course in life. I thrived on the comradery with grad students and postdocs in the lab and for the first time, science left the text book and became alive.”

Ryan Landis 20K Innovation Challenge Winner

Phytos Therapeutics, headed by Ryan Landis (PhD student in the Rotello group), won $20,000 in the Innovation Challenge, hosted by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship. Phytos Therapeutics designs, develops and licenses groundbreaking nanotechnology to address the growing dangers of infectious disease.

On Thursday, April 5, the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship awarded $65,000 to three ventures at Innovation Challenge: The Final. Seven student-led ventures pitched to a panel of seven VIP judges. Alexander Smith’s eBiologics won $30,000. Ryan Landis’ Phytos Therapeutics won $20,000. KINASE, Inc. was awarded $15,000.

Landis adds, "The entire process has been humbling and I have been truly enlightened from the experience. I am very grateful to many graduate, professor, and staff members in the UMass Amherst Chemistry Department, the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, the Isenberg School of Management, the UMass Institute for Applied Life Sciences, and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture. Without their advice, insight, and connections, I would not be where I am today."

Christie Ellis wins CNS Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Award

The CNS Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Awards recognize and honor excellence and achievement in promoting a climate of diversity and inclusion within the college. Christie Ellis demonstrated leadership and innovation in increasing, retaining, and supporting the success of individuals who have been historically underrepresented in CNS and/or in removing the barriers that prevent full participation of all members of our community.

Emil Samson Wins NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

For the third consecutive year, UMass Amherst has finished as the third leading institutional producer of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship recipients among Massachusetts colleges and universities. Eight UMass representatives—including seven graduate students and one undergraduate—have won the fellowships in the 2017-18 competition, placing the university behind only Harvard and MIT in the statewide rankings.

Emil Samson, a graduate student in chemistry, is one of the Graduate Research Fellowship awardees. Three-year awards providing an annual stipend of $34,000 to recipients and a yearly $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to their graduate institutions, Graduate Research Fellowships support the master’s and doctoral training of academically talented students pursuing careers in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This year’s cohort of 2,000 Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) awardees was selected from an applicant pool comprised of more than 12,000 students.

Five College Seminar - Prof. James Wells

Five College Seminar Series

UMass Amherst: Thursday, April 12th
Professor James Wells
University of California, San Francisco
Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Detecting and Attacking Cell Surface Proteomes
in Cancer

Host: Michelle Farkas
11:30 a.m. LGRT 1634

Hampshire College: April 12th, 4:30p.m.
"“Born to be Wild” in Industry and Academia"
Ruth Hammon Auditorium
Adele Simmons Hall (ASH)

Amherst College: Friday, April 13th, 3:30 p.m.
"New Engineered Proteins for Signaling"
Merrill Science Center
Lecture Room 4


Thayumanavan, Minter Focus on Drug Delivery System for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Two Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS) researchers, organic and polymer chemist Thai Thayumanavan and professor of animal science Lisa Minter, have partnered with Anika Therapeutics Inc. of Bedford to co-develop a new product for treating the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis.

The work is part of Phase II of a continuing relationship between IALS and Anika.

Thayumanavan and Minter say this next phase of the collaboration builds on Thayumanavan’s expertise in delivering molecules into cells in a targeted and specific way and Minter’s expertise in autoimmune disease. They and the company will focus on research to optimize a drug delivery system to advance a new therapy candidate.

Marvin D. Rausch Seminar March 1st

Marvin D. Rausch Seminar in Organometallic Chemistry
Thursday, March 1, 2018
Professor Eric Jacobsen
Harvard University
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Seeking Perfect Catalysts
Host: Michelle Farkas
11:30 a.m. LGRT 1634

Weaver Awarded Clare Boothe Luce Scholarship to HERS Institute

Gabriela Weaver, vice provost for faculty development and director of the Institute for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development, has been selected to attend the 2018 Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) Institute at Bryn Mawr College July 9-21. She was also awarded a CBL (Clare Booth Luce) Scholarship that provides full tuition, accommodations, meals and travel. A professor of chemistry, Weaver will be part of the HERS Luce Program for Women in STEM Leadership.

Jackson and Beck research groups spatially resolve catalytic activity on metal surfaces

For the most part, fundamental surface science studies have focused on model systems where the surface of the metal is smooth and regular. On the other hand, it has long been suspected that the activity of “real” heterogeneous catalysts is dominated by reactions at step edges and other defect sites.

The dissociative chemisorption of methane on a metal catalyst is the rate limiting step in the steam reforming of natural gas, our primary source for the molecular hydrogen used in the Haber-Bosch process. In collaboration with the experimental group of Rainer Beck at the École Polytechnic Fédéral de Lausanne, we examined this reaction on a Pt surface containing step defects. We were able to differentiate between reactions at the step edges and the terrace sites, using both UHV molecular beam experiments and high-dimensional quantum scattering theory. Both approaches were also able to resolve the reaction probability with respect to the velocity and vibrational state of the methane molecule and the surface temperature, providing additional details about the reaction mechanism.

The editors of J. Chem. Phys., selected the paper to be promoted on their journal homepage and on the cover as a “Featured Article”.