In the News
During the first 48-hour Sciathon hosted by the Council for the Nobel Laureate Meetings, Steve Acquah, the UMass Amherst Libraries Digital Media Lab coordinator and associate research professor of chemistry, worked as part of a team (Group Clifton) to develop a science news verification tool, authentiSci. The Clifton group became finalists at the end of June and were recently awarded second place in the category of ‘Lindau Guidelines’ and a shared prize of 1,000 Euros. AuthentiSci can be accessed through the website authentisci.com and will primarily be used through a Google Chrome Extension, which is now available at the Chrome Web Store. The extension is one of the first of its kind that gives scientists the ability to score science news stories, providing a measure of confidence for the reader.
The section of the Lindau Guidelines had the highest amount of competition, with 23 out of the 48 groups working on Lindau Guideline based projects. The other project sections focused on the topics Communicating Climate Change and Capitalism After Corona.
The extension was produced in response to the Lindau Guidelines introduced by Elizabeth Blackburn during the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting held in Lindau, Germany, in June 2018. To use the extension, scientists would authenticate through their ORCID account, insert a URL from a news story, and follow the prompts to evaluate the story on authentisci.com. With the extension now available, people from around the world will be able to see verified news stories.
Acquah produced a video during the 48-hour event highlighting the work of the team.
The department hosted a virtual Undergraduate Awards Ceremony on May 7th via Zoom.
Students and their families were joined by faculty, staff, donors, and Dean Serio. While the applause and experience were virtual, the appreciation and gratitude towards our students and donors is sincere.
We are so proud of our students for their amazing ability to excel under such unusual circumstances!
Alzheimer’s disease has been intensely studied for decades, too much is still not known about molecular processes in the brain that cause it. Chemistry Professor Jianhan Chen says new insights from analytic theory and molecular simulation techniques offer a better understanding of amyloid fibril growth and brain pathology.
As senior author Chen notes, the “amyloid hypothesis” was promising – amyloid protein fibrils are a central feature in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. “But the process is really difficult to study,” he says. Chen and first author Zhiguang Jia, a research scientist in Chen’s computational biophysics lab, explored how building-block peptides form fibrils. “We are really proud of this work because, to the best of our knowledge, for the first time we have described the comprehensive process of how fibril growth can happen. We illustrate that the effects of disease-causing mutations often arise from the cumulative effects of many small perturbations. A comprehensive description is absolutely critical to generate reliable and testable hypothesis,” he adds. Details of their multi-scale approach with many atomistic simulations are in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Sankaran "Thai" Thayumanavan, Jeanne Hardy and Trisha L. Andrew received a one-year RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation, to investigate whether they can develop a simple, color-changing test swab for COVID-19 in the next year that would alert users if their body carries a viral product left after infection. RAPID supports proposals “having a severe urgency with regard to availability of, or access to data, facilities or specialized equipment, including quick-response research on natural or anthropogenic disasters and similar unanticipated events.”
The three researchers bring complementary expertise to the team, and are seeking “a cheap test that will tell if you should get checked by medical professionals because you are probably infected,” said Thayumanavan. Andrew adds, “Like a pregnancy test, but for viral infection.”
They stress that this is a research effort. “We are being very careful to point out that we are working on a general solution for detecting viral infections, which can be easily customized to specific viruses and then rapidly mobilized in times of dire need,” says Hardy. Andrew adds, “We are building up the basic science and chemistry needed for anyone to rapidly mass-produce tests that can be used at home. This concept certainly applies to the current COVID-19 pandemic but can also be relevant to future outbreaks.”
We can’t express enough how proud we are of our 2020 chemistry graduates! Students showed remarkable resilience adapting to new learning environments, and demonstrated amazing creativity with remote research.
Graduations are milestones best experienced in a social context, but with physical distancing measures putting the in-person ceremonies on hold, we hope you will join us for Chemistry’s Virtual Senior Recognition on May 8th, starting at 2pm, prior to the university’s 4:30pm virtual celebration. CNS will launch a Senior Celebration page with well wishes and online activities at 8am on May 8th, so be sure to connect with UMass throughout the day.
Friends of the graduates, students, alumni, faculty, and staff can share their well-wishes and congratulations to the graduates by sharing photos and video clips to CNS Communications at firstname.lastname@example.org by noontime, Monday, May 4th.
Two Chemistry Students Recognized by NSF GRFP
Big News! Two Chemistry students have been recognized by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program.
Congratulations to Isabella Jaen Maisonet for her award of an NSF GRFP fellowship! Isabella is an undergraduate currently working with Mike Knapp’s group, and will will start grad school this Fall in the Chemical Biology PhD program at Harvard.
Congratulations to Kaitlyn Chhe, honorable mention in the NSF GRFP competition! Kaitlyn is a graduate student working with Michelle Farkas’s group. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is a highly competitive national program recognizing outstanding students.
It is amazing that two of our students have been recognized in the same year.
The Martin lab has received an award from the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center Acorn Innovation Fund. This award “is intended to support the demonstration of the viability of a technology developed at Massachusetts research universities.” From RNA vaccines to mRNA therapeutics, RNA is poised to revolutionize the treatment and prevention of a wide variety of disorders and diseases, but deficiencies in its laboratory synthesis are holding back applications. Building on recently published work, the Martin lab is leveraging its extensive experience in fundamental mechanisms in transcription to develop dramatically improved approaches towards the enzymatic synthesis of this key molecule. This Acorn Award is supporting the development of a flow synthesis approach, with the immediate aim of demonstrating a path forward to high quality, high yield RNA. A wide variety of new RNA therapeutics lie on the horizon today. From mRNA-based therapeutics, to RNA-guided technologies such as CRISPR, to RNA “logic gate” smart therapeutics. Enabling research in the Martin lab aims to overcome current limitations in the implementation of these exciting technologies.
UMass Amherst Chemistry Remote Instruction
UMass Amherst transitioned to remote-learning instruction using web, video and teleconferencing tools as of Monday, March 23rd, due to the coronavirus.
Course instructors are the primary contact. Students enrolled in chemistry courses, including labs, should closely monitor email, Moodle, and/or other modes of communication from their instructors. Faculty will use various programs and tools to tailor online learning methods to their course material and lab experiments.
Undergraduate Researchers are NOT expected to report to laboratories. This includes students enrolled in practicum, independent study, honors capstone experiences, etc.
Additional campus information can be found at UMass Amherst Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Community Conversations workshops are open to all members of the campus community, and will focus on skill building around respective dialogue to allow us to better engage with one another. Attendees will learn about the LARA (Listen, Affirm, Respond, Add) method of communication, designed to help us engage in discussion empathetically in a way that invites diverse perspectives in an effort to create shared meaning.
We come from diverse backgrounds and experiences that lead to varying levels of comfort and ability to interact thoughtfully across difference. Poor interactions can be very harmful, and worries about being misinterpreted can make interactions stressful. These concerns can keep individuals from engaging with others who don’t share their background or lead to miscommunication when they do.
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
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.
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.