News

May, 2019
UMass Amherst Engineer Yanfei Xu Co-Authors Paper on Polymer Films with Metal-like Thermal Conductivity

Yanfei Xu, an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is co-author of a study that shows how to build polymer films that conduct heat as well or better than some metals and ceramics. The researchers say they can transform polymers that usually function as thermal insulators, into highly efficient thermal conductors that can transfer heat four times higher than stainless steel. But these heat conducting polymers are still electrical insulating. The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Strong, light polymers with high heat conductivity have many uses including as parts for cell phones, computers and other electronic devices where there is a need to transfer heat away from the internal processors and screens. They are lightweight, durable, flexible, corrosion resistant and easy to process. These polymer films are expected to offer unique advantages over traditional heat conductors, such as metals and ceramics.

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April, 2019
Tuominen is Featured in National Nanotechnology Podcast

For a special 15th anniversary episode of its podcast series, “Stories from NNI,” the National Nanotechnology Initiative this month features an interview with physics professor Mark Tuominen, associate dean for research and innovation in the College of Natural Sciences and a fellow of the American Physical Society. In the podcast, he reflects on highlights from NNI history and some of its notable accomplishments.

Tuominen, who was instrumental in establishing the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing on campus as well asthe National Nanomanufacturing Network, recalls that he has always enjoyed making things, but it wasn’t until he was a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard that he became involved in nanotechnology, then called mesoscopic physics. He made and measured hundred-nanometer-scale electron tunneling devices known as single-electron transistors which, because of their small size, could control electrons one by one, or two by two if they are superconductors. “Derivatives of these devices are now used as quantum bits or qubits in quantum computing research and development,” he notes.

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April, 2019
Mahoney Life Sciences Prize Honors ‘Shrink-wrap’ Approach to Protein Therapeutics

Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan, professor of chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been chosen to receive the campus’s 2019 Mahoney Life Sciences Prize for his paper, “Shrink-wrapped Proteins as Next Generation Biologics.”

Established by UMass Amherst alumni Richard, Robert and William Mahoney, the $10,000 annual prize is awarded to a faculty member who is principal author of peer-reviewed original research and is intended to recognize CNS scientists whose work significantly advances connections between academic research and industry.

Thayumanavan’s study addresses major challenges in delivering protein-based drugs and devices across a cell membrane while keeping the protein stable and avoiding unwanted immune responses. He and colleagues developed a new method of “shrink wrapping” bioactive proteins in a polymer coating that retains their shape and function, then dissolves away after the protein is delivered inside.

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April, 2019
Chemical Engineer Sarah L. Perry Receives 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award for 2019

Sarah L. Perry, assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has received the 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award for 2019. The awards, $45,000 over three years, are given to young faculty members across the country who are conducting promising research but have not yet been awarded tenure.

Perry is one of 17 researchers to win the honor this year along with 36 who received award renewals. There were more than 100 nominations from more than 60 academic institutions for this year’s awards. She will also have the opportunity to travel to 3M’s corporate headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., in June to present her research with the other national awardees and connect with 3M scientists.

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February, 2019
Bradley Receives Top Early Career Grant

Laura Bradley, assistant professor of polymer science and engineering, recently was awarded a five-year, $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will support her research on producing soft materials with ordered and oriented architectures for advanced applications in membranes and surface coatings.

Soft materials such as liquids, polymers, foams, gels and colloids can be shaped and re-shaped for use in a variety of applications, says Bradley, such as membranes with pores that are vertically oriented, which increases permeability while maintaining selectivity, or what’s allowed to pass and what is not. Commercial membranes currently suffer from low pore densities and high cost, she adds. Her future projects will study the production of scaffolds for biomedical applications such as tissue engineering.

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February, 2019
UMass Amherst Honors College Will Welcome Astronaut Cady Coleman

UMass Amherst alumna and retired NASA astronaut Cady Coleman will deliver the Commonwealth Honors College 2019 Kathryn and Paul Williamson Lecture. Coleman’s free, public talk, “Lessons from Space Lead Straight Back to Earth,” is on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 5 p.m. in the Honors College events hall.

Established in 2000 by alumni Kathryn and Paul Williamson, this lecture series brings distinguished visitors to the university to interact with Commonwealth Honors College students and present public talks.

Coleman, a former U.S. Air Force colonel, has logged nearly 4,500 hours and 180 days in space as a NASA astronaut. She is a veteran of two space shuttle missions and participated in a six-month tour on the International Space Station. Coleman earned a doctorate in polymer science and engineering from UMass Amherst and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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February, 2019
Emrick, Crosby and Colleagues Create ‘Clean-and-Repair’ Nanotechnology

In this month’s cover story in the journal Advanced Materials, polymer scientists Todd Emrick, Al Crosby and colleagues describe a new approach using liquids for simultaneously cleaning nanoparticle debris from surfaces and depositing that debris into damaged regions of the same surfaces, a process that quickly and efficiently “heals” them.

As Emrick recently told the editor of the “Spotlight” feature for the online nanotechnology news service Nanowerk, “For many types of structural materials, we wish to rapidly detect damage and discover mechanisms to quickly heal those damaged regions. Ideally a detection and repair system would deploy so rapidly that repair would begin before damage becomes severe. Our approach seeks to move in that direction – autonomous, easily deployed, and efficient transport/delivery/healing systems for materials.”

Applications include any type of structural material,from automotive coatings to microfluidic devices to bio-implants, in which one wants rapid healing immediately after damage, he adds.

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January, 2019
UMass Amherst Researchers Offer New Physics Rule to Find Mechanical Strain

Addressing a physics problem that dates back to Galileo, three University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers this week propose a new approach to the theory of how thin sheets can be forced to conform to “geometrically incompatible” shapes – think gift-wrapping a basketball – that relies on weaving together two fundamental ideas of geometry and mechanics that were long thought to be irreconcilable.

Theoretical physicist Benny Davidovitch, polymer scientist Greg Grason and doctoral student Yiwei Sun, writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest and demonstrate via numerical simulations that naturally flat sheets forced to change their curvature can accommodate geometrically-required strain by developing microscopic wrinkles that bend the sheet instead of stretching it to the breaking point, a solution that costs less energy, as well.

This advance is important as biotechnologists increasingly attempt to control the level of strain encountered in thin films conforming to complex, curving and 3D shapes of the human body, for example, in flexible and wearable sensors for personalized health monitoring, they explain. Many of these devices rely on electrical properties of the film which is shown to be highly vulnerable to stretching, but which can tolerate some bending.

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January, 2019
UMass Amherst Materials Chemists Tap Body Heat to Power ‘Smart Garments’

Many wearable biosensors, data transmitters and similar tech advances for personalized health monitoring have now been “creatively miniaturized,” says materials chemist Trisha Andrew at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, but they require a lot of energy, and power sources can be bulky and heavy. Now she and her Ph.D. student Linden Allison report that they have developed a fabric that can harvest body heat to power small wearable microelectronics such as activity trackers.

Writing in an early online edition of Advanced Materials Technologies, Andrew and Allison explain that in theory, body heat can produce power by taking advantage of the difference between body temperature and ambient cooler air, a “thermoelectric” effect. Materials with high electrical conductivity and low thermal conductivity can move electrical charge from a warm region toward a cooler one in this way.

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January, 2019
UMass Amherst Enters Master Research Agreement with PPG, Global Leader in Paints, Coatings and Specialty Materials

The University of Massachusetts Amherst has entered into a master research agreement with PPG, a Pittsburgh-based company that is a global leader in paints, coatings and specialty materials.

UMass Amherst and PPG chose to enter the master agreement to streamline and encourage collaboration between PPG and university scientists. Increased collaboration exposes UMass Amherst graduate and undergraduate students to the needs and opportunities at PPG, and it provides PPG with visibility and access to talented students for future hiring demands. The agreement allows for dialogue between faculty with diverse expertise and PPG experts, enhancing the possibilities for collaboration on multiple technology fronts.

PPG will be working initially with faculty researchers in chemical engineering and polymer sciences, says James D. Capistran, former executive director of the UMass Innovation Institute, who negotiated the finalized agreement.

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