In the News
Gov. Charlie Baker celebrated the opening of the new Physical Sciences Building (PSB) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a facility funded by the state that fosters and expands cutting-edge collaborative learning and research at the Commonwealth’s flagship campus.
“We were pleased to invest in the new Physical Sciences Building, which will serve as a hub for the natural sciences at UMass Amherst,” Baker said. “The facility’s expansion will help foster new research and career opportunities, which will help support the STEM workforce pipeline here in Massachusetts.”
Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy says, “This complex is home to the very best facilities in physics and chemistry, enhancing the research capability for our faculty and students in the College of Natural Sciences and providing the STEM talent that is essential for the state’s innovation economy. We’re deeply grateful for the governor’s support and the state’s investment in UMass Amherst.”
“This project reflects the significance of the Commonwealth’s investment in faculty excellence, scientific discovery and student success at UMass Amherst,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “And it strengthens UMass Amherst’s position as a top-tier public research university that prepares students to thrive in the high-demand STEM fields that are so important to the future of Massachusetts.”
Gabriela C. Weaver, special assistant to the Provost for Educational Initiatives and professor of chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been named an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow for academic year 2019-20.
In nominating Weaver, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy said, “Dr. Gabriela Weaver has established herself as an outstanding professor and a national educational leader who has pioneered and evaluated a number of technology-enhanced approaches to teaching, as well as pedagogical approaches that engage students early on in inquiry. She is also a proven mentor of STEM faculty. Her selection as an ACE fellow is an indication of her potential for higher level academic leadership positions.”
Now beginning its eleventh year, the campus’s Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP), which supports educational activities that enhance biomedical, behavioral and clinical research workforce diversity, recently was awarded its third grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue funding the program.
It supports students who are exploring the idea of graduate school and seeking research experience to strengthen their applications. The five-year, $1.7 million grant for PREP, overseen by Lynmarie Thompson, chemistry, Shelly Peyton, chemical engineering, and Sandra Petersen, veterinary and animal science, has seen more than 70 students complete UMass PREP, the directors report. Of those, 97 percent were accepted into Ph.D. programs on campus or other institutions. Over 85 percent have finished or are currently enrolled in biomedical or biobehavioral doctoral programs.
Mingxu You of UMass Amherst Chemistry has received the highly prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship award for 2019, and was one of only 23 chemists nationwide to win the award this year.
“Sloan Research Fellows are the best young scientists working today,” and “Sloan Fellows stand out for their creativity, for their hard work, for the importance of the issues they tackle, and the energy and innovation with which they tackle them. To be a Sloan Fellow is to be in the vanguard of twenty-first century science.”, according to the president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Adam F. Falk.
Professor Trisha Andrew, Chemistry, has been selected to present the Kavli Foundation Emerging Leader in Chemistry Lecrure at the ACS Meeting in Orlando this April. The Kavli Foundation Lecture Series, supported by the Kavli Foundation, promotes pioneering discoveries to some of the worlds most pressing challenges.
Lila Gierasch, Distinguished Professor in Chemistry, and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, was selected by the American Peptide Society to receive the 2019 Merrifield Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to peptide science. The award named in honor of R. Bruce Merrifield recognizes the lifetime achievement of a peptide scientist.
Gierasch will be presented with the award at the 26th American Peptide Symposium in Monterey, CA, June 22-27, 2019
It is with sadness that we report that Emeritus Professor Louis Carpino passed away on January 4, 2019.
Louis started as a faculty member in our Department in 1954 and, while he had been emeritus for a number of years, he remained active in research up until just last year (64 years in total!). Louis was an amazing organic chemist, who is best known for inventing the widely used t-Boc and F-moc amine protecting groups. These developments revolutionized peptide synthesis, with huge downstream impact across a wide swath of science. He was clearly one of the early leaders in putting UMass on the map.
Mingxu You Receives NSF Career Award
Chemistry's Mingxu You Receives NSF Career Award for "A Generalized Quantitative Imaging Approach for Small Molecules using Genetically Engineered RNA Sensors."
Mingxu You's long-term goal is to develop nucleic acid-based next-generation sensor platforms for cell biology studies and disease diagnostics. The overarching goal of his proposal is to engineer an RNA-based general sensing system for the quantitative measurement of metabolites, signaling molecules, and synthetic small molecules in living cells. These RNA-based sensors can be modularly adapted for the measurement of various analytes in individual cells, widely applicable in many clinical, industrial, and ecological settings.
Nature’s Version of Autocorrect
Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan, chemistry, has big plans for the $1.8 million National Science Foundation grant the campus has received to create a multi-university Center for Autonomous Chemistry. He and his colleagues, including fellow chemist Vince Rotello, seek to design artificial self-activating systems that mimic how biological systems respond automatically to subtle changes in their environment. Thayumanavan calls the process “automatic control as nature does it.”
He cites as an example the many components of the immune system that remain quiet and dormant until an irritant or pathogen is detected. “Once that happens,” says Thayumanavan, “it’s activated. It’s automatic, organically driven; that’s what we refer to as autonomous. The response requires no other intervention.” Thayumanavan knows of no current artificial systems with that capability and adds, “It would be really valuable if we could develop something like it. We want to figure out the ways in which nature uses molecular interactions to create autonomous function.”
Autonomous chemistry has a broad range of applications. Thayumanavan says that personalized medicine has a high profile at the moment and that the need for this type of innovation is widely and readily understood.
Manufacturing electrically heated textiles that are lightweight, flexible, and washable.
Professor of Chemistry Trisha Andrew and Morgan Baima ’18PhD both like to think with a practical eye on scientific problems. The two formed to merge technology and textiles—Soliyarn.
Soliyarn’s first product will be an innovation that’s gotten lots of attention, including from Nike, Under Armour, and U.S. military special operations: electrically heated garments, starting with gloves made from ordinary fabric coated with super-thin conductive polymers via a process developed in Andrew’s UMass lab. The gloves are powered by a tiny battery and are lightweight, flexible, and washable. “It’s a simple and useful application for our new technology,” says Andrew. Andrew and Baima predict that the buyers of their heated gloves and other garments will include motorcyclists, winter athletes, and outdoor workers, and they foresee further mergers of tech and textiles. “You could give me a T-shirt,” Andrew says, “and we could paint an electronically active pattern on it with our coating that could tell you your heart rate, measure your blood sugar, or store a charge.” Or, she says, Soliyarn could make a high-fashion gown that heats up, generates power as its skirt swirls, and stores power, too. One day, you will be able to sew or knit all kinds of electronic devices using coated threads. How about a car seat? Or a baby bottle warmer? A curtain that harvests solar energy?
Hands-on research is a hallmark of undergraduate education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. We honor eight students from across campus with the Rising Researcher Award in recognition of their demonstrated leadership and impact in their chosen field of study. For Commonwealth Honors College student Bianca Edozie ’19, the opportunity to work in Professor Jenny Ross’ lab helped “ignite a passion for research I never knew I had.” A double major in chemistry, and biochemistry and molecular biology, Edozie works on projects that explore various behavioral aspects of microtubules—stiff, structural elements found in animal cells. Microtubules help form the spindle apparatus during cell division and can act as an intra-cellular transport system, among other things.
Her current project centers on creating “tactoids”, biologically relevant microtubule organizations that act as model mitotic spindles in the lab. The model allows Edozie and other researchers to explore the effects of proteins and enzymes on mitotic spindle organization. She recently published a paper with Ross that is now under review at Soft Matter. “Bianca is a brilliant student and one of the hardest working people I have ever met,” says Ross. Ross notes that Edozie represented UMass at a Research Experience for Undergraduates, which took place at Brandeis University. “She took new data, and performed incredibly difficult dynamics experiments that will continue this year as part of her honors thesis. This work will likely result in a second manuscript. I see no end to her possible future leadership in whatever field she continues,” says Ross.
In addition to her myriad technical skills, Edozie says she has learned independence in the lab setting, troubleshooting, and how to be confident. “My project has been more than just the research itself, but more specifically, what the research required me to learn as an aspiring scientist. I’ve acquired a wealth of knowledge, both new and supplemental to my education in the classroom,” says Edozie. She plans to attend graduate school in the fall.
In recognition of his demonstrated leadership, Mark Leon-Duque ’19, chemistry, was honored with the Rising Researcher Award. Leon-Duque transferred to UMass Amherst as a second-year student interested in getting a medical degree. A sophomore seminar class offered at that time introduced Leon-Duque to research projects underway on campus. “I promptly contacted Dr. Mingxu You (chemistry) asking to shadow his lab members and by the spring semester, I was working on a project, handling the experimental portions and some of the analysis,” says Leon-Duque.
In the first two years of his time at the You lab, Leon-Duque worked closely with research fellow Aruni P.K.K. Karunanayake Mudiyanselag. Together they developed a new RNA-based imaging system for detecting small RNA molecules within live cells. “Our efforts and the resulting manuscript was published in The Journal of The American Chemical Society. I tested a few of our designs independently that earned me my name as third co-author on the publication. Currently, I am working independently on expanding this imaging system to apply to other small molecules,” says Leon-Duque.
“Publishing my first paper with Aruni and all the other contributors gave me such an exhilarated rush, a true sense of accomplishment,” says Leon-Duque. “The project also taught me things that are completely out of the scope of the typical chemistry undergrad curriculum. I know that I want to do research, whether it will be in academia or in industry remains to be revealed. Nevertheless, I feel my sense of purpose and I will tread this path will diligence and my best effort,” he notes.
“Mark has demonstrated great potential to be an independent scientist. He can learn new techniques and knowledge very quickly and his results are repeatable and trustable,” says You.