September, 2019
Geckskin Adhesive Invented on Campus Now For Sale at University Store

Geckskin, the re-useable, super-strong adhesive inspired by the footpads and tendons of geckos that was invented by polymer scientist Alfred Crosby and his research group on campus, is now for sale at the University Store in the Campus Center, the first retail outlet in the nation to carry the UMass Amherst invention.

Rana Gupta, the strategy/finance/business development manager for Felsuma, the company formed to market Geckskin in April 2013, says, “It was very important to us to bring this home first. We feel the device has a bright future in university bookstores across the nation.”

In inventing Geckskin, Crosby and colleagues, working with biologist Duncan Irschick, an expert in how lizards climb and cling, set out to figure out what gives a five-ounce gecko the adhesive power to run up a wall and across the ceiling weighing roughly the equivalent of nine pounds without slipping or falling. This led the inventors to experiment with tremendous weights; for example, an early Geckskin device the size of an index card could hold a 700-pound weight mounted on smooth glass.  

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September, 2019
UMass Amherst Researchers Awarded $1.75-million in NSF Funding to Study and Develop New Class of Soft Electronics: New devices will exhibit both flexibility and high conductivity

A team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has received a four-year, $1.75 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study and construct soft stretchable electronic devices that can be used in future healthcare, security and communications applications. The scientists plan to use conductive protein nanowires and mechanically soft nanomaterials to create a new nanocomposite that is strong, flexible and highly conductive.

The interdisciplinary research team is led by Stephen S. Nonnennman, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, and includes Todd S. Emrick, professor of polymer science and engineering, Derek R. Lovley, Distinguished Professor of microbiology, and Jessica D. Schiffman, associate professor of chemical engineering. All four faculty members are affiliated with the Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS), which combines deep and interdisciplinary expertise from 29 departments on the UMass Amherst campus to translate fundamental research into innovations that benefit humankind.

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August, 2019
Materials Scientists Build a Synthetic System with Compartments Like Real Cells

 Polymer chemists and materials scientists have achieved some notable advances that mimic nature, but one of the most common and practical features of cells has so far been out of reach – intracellular compartmentalization. It refers to the way many different organelles, vesicles and other “water-in-water” soft structures in the cell, contain and isolate chemical reactions and processes. It also lets reaction products be selectively shared with end users inside the cell.

Now a research team led by Thomas Russell at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with postdoctoral researcher Ganhua Xie and others, describe in a new paper how they take advantage of differences in electrical charge to create an “all aqueous,” water-in-water construct that achieves compartmentalization in a synthetic system.

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August, 2019
VIDEO: Synthetic System with Compartments Like Real Cells

A blue-dyed material going across the interface while a yellow due material does not. The difference is that treble has a positive charge and the yellow is negatively charged. 

The researchers used two polymer aqueous solutions, one of polyethylene glycol (PEG) and water, the other dextran and water, with different electrical charges, that can be combined but do not mix. They say it’s a classic example of coacervation, where the solution undergoes liquid-liquid phase separation and forms two separate domains, like the non-mixing wax-and-water in a lava lamp.  Courtesy UMass Amherst/Russell Lab

See video at the UMass News Office

July, 2019
How to Capture Waste Heat Energy with Improved Polymers UMass Amherst chemists, electrical engineers identify new variable for material design

By one official estimate, American manufacturing, transportation, residential and commercial consumers use only about 40 percent of the energy they draw on, wasting 60 percent. Very often, this wasted energy escapes as heat, or thermal energy, from inefficient technology that fails to harvest that potential power.

Now a team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst led by chemist Dhandapani Venkataraman, “DV,” and electrical engineer Zlatan Aksamija, report this month in Nature Communications on an advance they outline toward more efficient, cheaper, polymer-based harvest of heat energy.

“It will be a surprise to the field,” DV predicts, “it gives us another key variable we can alter to improve the thermo-electric efficiency of polymers. This should make us, and others, look at polymer thermo-electrics in a new light.”

Aksamija explains, “Using polymers to convert thermal energy to electricity by harvesting waste heat has seen an uptick in interest in recent years. Waste heat represents both a problem but also a resource; the more heat your process wastes, the less efficient it is.” Harvesting waste heat is less difficult when there is a local, high-temperature gradient source to work with, he adds, such as a high-grade heat source like a power plant.

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July, 2019
Ultra-soft, Liquid Magnetic Droplets Could Vault Technology Forward, Say UMass Amherst, California and Beijing Researchers

Conventional magnets are hard and rigid but have made great contributions to society and to modern industry, says materials scientist Thomas Russell of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. But this award-winning innovator dreamed of more - what if magnets could be soft, flowable as liquid and malleable to conform to a limited space? 

In an article in this week’s Science, he and first author Xubo Liu from Beijing University of Chemical Technology, with others at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, report on a simple way they developed to transform paramagnetic ferrofluids – plain metal particles in suspension - into a magnetic state. The new ferromagnetic liquid droplets “represent a milestone for the further development of magnetic materials,” Russell says.

This means that by applying an external magnetic field, scientists can control liquid devices made this way, like waving Harry Potter’s wand, he suggests, “which opens promising research and application areas such as liquid actuators, liquid robotics and active-matter delivery.”

Read full article at the UMass News Office

June, 2019
UMass Amherst Cell Biologist Chosen for Pew Scholars Biomedical Research Program

University of Massachusetts Amherst biologist
Lillian Fritz-Laylin is one of 22 early-career researchers selected for the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences, the Pew Charitable Trusts announced Friday, June 14.

The scientists will use their awards to conduct biomedical research aimed at advancing human health. Fritz-Laylin will receive four years of funding, or a total of $300,000.

“It is a great honor to be selected for this award,” Fritz-Laylin says, “and I am delighted that the innovative work of my lab team is being recognized in this way.”

The 2019 class of Pew scholars, all of whom hold assistant professor positions, was chosen from 178 applicants who were nominated by leading academic institutions and researchers across the United States.

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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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May, 2019
UMass Amherst Chemical Engineer Sarah L. Perry Helps Decode How Charge Patterns Instruct Polymer Chain Functions Predicting Behavior Will Help Create New Materials

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign say they have discovered how to read patterns of charges on long molecules that determine its function and direct its shape. The findings, published in ACS Central Science, allow scientists to quickly and accurately predict how the polymer will act and will help them design new materials using specific charge sequences.

Sarah L. Perry, assistant professor of chemical engineering at UMass Amherst, says this research builds on previous work she has conducted with her collaborator Charles E. Sing at Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Perry says nature uses long-chain molecules called polymers for a diverse array of applications. Proteins are used to build tissues, enzymes perform chemistry, and DNA encodes the information of life. In most of these examples, the polymer is folded into a complex shape that defines its function. It is that process that Perry and her colleagues set out to understand, she says.

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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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