In the News

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.

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.

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."

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”.

Lila M. Gierasch Winner of the Ralph F. Hirschmann Award in Peptide Chemistry

Lila M. Gierasch was awarded the Ralph F. Hirschmann Award in Peptide Chemistry for her seminal contributions to peptide structure and function, peptide models for protein folding and function, and roles of peptide and protein aggregation in disease.

Gierasch stated, “The environment in a cell is extremely complex and challenging for the process of protein folding, leading to a need for a network of species that protect protein states that are susceptible to aggregation—the protein homeostasis network. We are working with colleagues and collaborators to understand the underlying mechanisms of protein homeostasis from the level of the molecular chaperone machines that act on protein clients to the coordinated action of the network in all of its complexity. We would love to witness and contribute to new discoveries related to these questions, both because of the fascinating basic science involved and because failures in these systems are implicated in a wide array of diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases.”

Thompson Awarded NIH Grant to Study Chemotaxis Receptor Signaling Complexes

Lynmarie Thompson, chemistry and M2M, was awarded a two year, $615,000 NIH grant entitled, "Assembly and Function of Bacterial Chemotaxis Receptor Signaling Complexes.” The goal of this project is to assemble native-like functional nanoarrays of chemotaxis receptor complexes and determine how the proteins change their structure and dynamics during signaling. Understanding signaling in this system may be useful for the development of novel antibiotics targeting similar signaling systems that are widespread in bacteria.

A polymer chain organized like a string of Christmas lights assists energy storage

Dhandapani Venkataraman, with Ph.D. student and first author Seung Pyo Jeong, Ph.D. students Larry Renna, Connor Boyle and others, report that they have developed a polymer-based system that can yield energy storage density more than two times higher than previous polymer systems.

“The twist in the story is that we thought that the distance between the lights in the string was the most important. It is important, but what is more important is the way that multiple strings and their lights are carefully arranged. It turns out that the processing solvent we used acts to arrange and regulate the architecture, so the azobenzene molecules attached to the polymer are arranged very neatly and compactly. It basically acts to ensure that there can be maximum packing density.” says Venkataraman. Details appear in the current issue of Scientific Reports.

Haglin's Work Featured on the Cover of Biochemistry

Graduate student Elizabeth (Libbie) Haglin from the Thompson group, Chemistry, and M2M, has been featured on the November 2017 cover of Biochemistry for her work on chemotaxis receptors.  "His-Tag-Mediated Dimerization of Chemoreceptors Leads to Assembly of Functional Nanoarrays." Biochemistry 56 (44), 5847-5966 (2017).