News

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.

Read full article at UMass News Office

December, 2018
NSF Supports UMass Amherst Scientists Creating New Discipline

A team of three researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently was awarded a three-year grant from a new National Science Foundation program to pursue an unusual intersection of their disciplines, which aims to grow an entirely new field, “touch-based bacterial communication,” on their campus and beyond.

Polymer scientist Maria Santore, physicist Mark Tuominen and microbiologist Sloan Siegrist will receive $975,000 from NSF’s new “Convergence Program,” which aims to create new fields of study to address scientific issues by bringing together investigators from disciplines that are somewhat removed from each other, Santore explains.

She says, “Our program’s novelty includes a bridging of soft materials, microbiology, nano-electronics and electrical signaling to determine how bacteria respond to mechanical and electrical signals and how these signals can be exploited to manipulate bacteria. ”

Read full article at UMass News Office

December, 2018
Russell Elected Fellow of National Academy of Inventors

The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) has elected Thomas P. Russell, Silvio O. Conte Distinguished Professor of polymer science and engineering, to the rank of NAI Fellow. The NAI recognized Russell for demonstrating “a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development and welfare of society.” 

He will receive the honor at a fellows induction ceremony April 11at Space Center Houston in Texas, where Andrew H. Hirshfeld, U.S. Commissioner for Patents for the United States Patent and Trademark Office, will provide the keynote address. 

Russell says, “It is most rewarding to be honored for doing what you enjoy doing. Scientific research, pushing the limits and pursuing the unknown, is a joy.”

Read full article at UMass News Office

November, 2018
UMass Amherst Materials Scientists Create Fabric Alternative to Batteries for Wearable Devices

A major factor holding back development of wearable biosensors for health monitoring is the lack of a lightweight, long-lasting power supply. Now scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst led by materials chemist Trisha L. Andrew report that they have developed a method for making a charge-storing system that is easily integrated into clothing for “embroidering a charge-storing pattern onto any garment.” 

As Andrew explains, “Batteries or other kinds of charge storage are still the limiting components for most portable, wearable, ingestible or flexible technologies. The devices tend to be some combination of too large, too heavy and not flexible.”

Their new method uses a micro-supercapacitor and combines vapor-coated conductive threads with a polymer film, plus a special sewing technique to create a flexible mesh of aligned electrodes on a textile backing. The resulting solid-state device has a high ability to store charge for its size, and other characteristics that allow it to power wearable biosensors.

Read full article at UMass News Office

November, 2018
Adhesion Society Honors Crosby for Outstanding Achievements in Research

Alfred Crosby, professor of polymer science and engineering, was recently honored with the 2019 Award for Excellence in Adhesion Science sponsored by 3M Company. It is the Adhesion Society’s premier award for outstanding achievements in scientific research relating to adhesion, including “scientific contribution that has significantly improved our understanding of the phenomenon of adhesion, or a contribution to the technology of adhesion or adhesives that has had significant impact on the adhesion/adhesives industry, and a world-wide recognition of that achievement.”

Among other contributions over the past 20 years, Crosby’s research group invented Geckskin, a new adhesive technology made of simple, inexpensive materials including a soft pad integrated into a stiff fabric that can hold up to 700 pounds on a smooth surface such as glass and is reusable. Working with Duncan Irschick, a professor in biology, the team demonstrated that Geckskin adhesive devices are based on key properties of the gecko foot, toe pad, bones and tendons, and translated them into a commercially practical technology.

Read full article at UMass News Office

November, 2018
Twelve UMass Amherst Researchers Recognized As Among Most Highly Cited in the World

welve researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have been recognized for being among the world’s most highly cited researchers in 2018.

The analysis by Philadelphia-based Clarivate Analytics, owner of Web of Science, serves as the basis for regular listings of researchers whose citation records put them in the top 1 percent by citations for their field and year.

These scientists are judged to be “influential,” and their citation records are seen as “a mark of exceptional impact,” the company says. This year’s list from UMass Amherst includes five more than the seven named in 2017. Placement on the list has been recognized as a significant achievement for those named, Clarivate says.

The twelve recognized for 2018 are astronomers Daniela Calzetti and Mauro Giavalisco; polymer science and engineering professor Thomas P. Russell; microbiologist Derek Lovley, environmental scientist Baoshan Xing of the Stockbridge School, chemist Vincent Rotello and his former graduate student Chaekyu Kim, and food scientists Eric Decker, David Julian McClements, Yeonhwa Park, Hang Xiao and their former graduate student Cheng Qian.

Read full article at UMass News Office

October, 2018
UMass Amherst Selected as National Innovation Corps Site

The National Science Foundation has announced that it has selected the University of Massachusetts Amherst to be one of its national network of Innovation Corps Sites (I-Corps). The program is intended to increase research commercialization and campus startups while enriching existing innovation infrastructure. Organizers hope to help new ventures bring economic development and jobs to the region.

Kenneth Carter, professor of polymer science and engineering and a faculty inventor, leads the site as its principal investigator. He says, “This is tremendous news for our students in STEM fields, their faculty advisors, industry partners and our alumni who want to give back to the campus through mentoring and other support. We are extremely excited about it.”

His co-principal investigators are Robert MacWright, director of the campus’s Technology Transfer Office, and Nilanjana Dasgupta, professor of psychological and brain sciences.

Read full article at UMass News Office

October, 2018
Scientists Make New ‘Green’ Electronic Polymer-Based Films with Protein Nanowires

An interdisciplinary team of scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has produced a new class of electronic materials that may lead to a “green,” more sustainable future in biomedical and environmental sensing, say research leaders microbiologist Derek Lovley and polymer scientist Todd Emrick.

They say their new work shows it is possible to combine protein nanowires with a polymer to produce a flexible electronic composite material that retains the electrical conductivity and unique sensing capabilities of protein nanowires. Results appear in the journal Small.

Protein nanowires have many advantages over the silicon nanowires and carbon nanotubes in terms of their biocompatibility, stability, and potential to be modified to sense a wide range of biomolecules and chemicals of medical or environmental interest, says Lovley. However, these sensor applications require that the protein nanowires be incorporated into a flexible matrix suitable for manufacturing wearable sensing devices or other types of electronic devices.

Read full article at UMass News Office

October, 2018
UMass Amherst Team Aims to Improve Accuracy in Sequencing Large Genomes

Researchers working to sequence mammalian-sized genomes today rely on nanopore-based methods that are hampered by two significant bottlenecks that limit precision and hinder progress in the field, says theoretical physicist Murugappan Muthukumar at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has a four-year, $1.39 million grant from NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute to overcome these hurdles to make way for a new wave of low-cost, rapid, high-quality sequencing technologies.

“Right now, DNA reading accuracy in the nanopore-based method is about 95 percent,” he points out. “We want to improve that.”

With the current method of sequencing DNA, Muthukumar explains, nucleic acid units in a DNA strand pass through a 1.5-nanometer opening, or pore, one at a time where they are read and recorded, “like unwinding a ball of wool and passing it through the eye of a needle,” he says. Except that in the case of DNA waiting to be read, it is not neatly coiled like a ball of yarn, but is jumbled, disordered and influenced by electrical and entropic forces, water currents, temperature and salt ions.

Read full article at UMass News Office

September, 2018
UMass Amherst Scientists Make Polymers Containing Solid Nanoparticles

Two scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are building a new class of environmentally friendly polymer materials (or polymer-based fluids) called complex coacervates that will contain solid nanoparticles. Supported by a three-year, $357,694 grant from the National Science Foundation, they also will uncover and chronicle the design rules for these materials creating a road map for further research in the field.

Sarah L. Perry, chemical engineering, and Maria M. Santore, polymer science and engineering, say coacervates are well known to scientists, but that it is not well known how extensively they can be modified for new uses. They also say there are no systematic and comprehensive rules for building these materials, so they will create these so-called rules of thumb for other researchers to follow.

Perry says coacervates have been around for decades, but there hasn’t been a concentrated effort to discover a wider range of applications. She says scientists tend to create these materials for a specific use but haven’t explored how complex or how sophisticated they can be.

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