The mission of the University of Massachusetts Amherst is to create positive impact on the Commonwealth and the broader society we serve through education and advancing knowledge. As the flagship public university in Massachusetts, we cherish and add to the Commonwealth’s long tradition of intellectual and educational leadership.

Our institution is rooted in the idea that any qualified individual, regardless of wealth or social status, should have access to high-quality higher education. We draw from and support diverse experiences and perspectives as an essential strength of this learning community and accept for ourselves and instill in our students an ongoing commitment to create a better, more just world.

Pictured above: Students accompany Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) during a tour of the Stockbridge School's Agricultural Learning Center.

We are excited to issue this report highlighting some of our recent advances in research and scholarship, both of which are critical to our mission and to our vision of what constitutes a Top 20 institution.

A key goal in our strategy is to establish UMass Amherst as a partner of choice in advancing and applying knowledge and innovation for the betterment of society. Some of these partnerships are on campus and bridge academic disciplines, such as in our new Institute of Diversity Sciences or the interdisciplinary UManage Center. Others are off campus and made in conjunction with institutions, communities, government, and industry such as the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative on photomechanical materials. This report focuses on just a few of these partnerships, along with the outstanding students and faculty that make them possible.

You can find more about our strategy by reading the campus strategic plan. Follow ResearchNext for updated information about UMass Amherst research.

Thank you for your interest and support, and Go UMass!

Sincerely,
Michael F. Malone ’79PhD
Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement,
Ronnie and Eugene Isenberg Distinguished Professor of Engineering

Inspired by Nature 
New center taps natural processes for chemical innovation.

View from the Top 
The Department of Linguistics continues its reign as a top-seed academic program.

Prize Winning Science 
Chemist Jeanne Hardy untangles the mysteries of Alzheimer's disease.

Healing from Within 
UMass center fosters health equity through community partnership.

Improving Human Health 
Biomedical engineering blends disciplines for medical innovation.

Understanding Human Behavior 
New institute provides fresh approaches to the science of diversity.

Empowering Technologies 
The UManage Center advances the science of self-care.

New center taps natural processes for chemical innovation
UMass Amherst Professor Thai Thayumanavan works with students in his lab.

Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan (top left) 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 UMass Amherst 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.”

Sankaran "Thai" Thayumanavan

Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan

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.

Vince Rotello

Vince Rotello

“If, for example,” says Thayumanavan, “we had a system that could sense an individual’s response to a drug they’ve been prescribed, that would be very beneficial. We know that some people hyperreact to medication, some respond just fine, and some don’t respond at all. If we had a quick test, an autonomous biomarker without the need for heavy diagnostic testing, it would enhance medicine for many, many people.” 

In order to develop “designer materials with autonomous capabilities,” Center researchers will “do the chemistry” to figure out the structural underpinnings of such a system. Thayumanavan and his team members expect that when they try to mimic any complex biological system using a one-step-at-a-time approach, each step will hold the exciting possibility of leading to innovations or new capabilities.

UMass Amherst’s partners in the endeavor include researchers from MIT, the University of Michigan, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Phase 1 funding comes as part of NSF’s Center for Chemical Innovation program.

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The Department of Linguistics continues its reign as a top-seed program
A UMass Amherst researcher looks at eye-tracking data on a screen.

Photo: Researchers in the psycholinguistics lab use eye movements to investigate the cognitive processes involved in reading and language processing.

UMass Amherst’s Department of Linguistics has held top spots for years in the rankings established by the National Research Council (third place in 2010) and QS World (second place in 2018). Quite a feat, and one that department chair Joe Pater calls unique. “The QS World rankings are reputation-based,” he says. “The NRC is metric-based. UMass Amherst is the only department in the top three in both.”

Why the acclaim? “We have a strong academic core, we’re forward-thinking, and our culture of excellence has existed from the start,” says Pater.

We have a strong

academic core, we're

forward-thinking, and

our culture of excellence

has existed from the start."

- Joe Pater

The department was one of the first founded within generative linguistics, a new way of thinking about language structure developed by Noam Chomsky, considered by many as the father of modern linguistics. The department can be summed up in one word: intense. Pater calls his people “intensely committed to doing top-level research, teaching, and service.” Their drive for excellence and their deep sense of who they are as a department have helped them establish a solid reputation, generating a number of pioneers in the field and an ability to recruit top faculty and students.

This intensity and commitment extend beyond the department. A commitment to joint enterprises and a strong interdisciplinary nature drive innovation, which in turn creates new fields built on traditional strengths. “This is one of our biggest distinguishing factors,” says Pater. “We have collaborations in cognitive psychology, computer science, philosophy, communication disorders, and underrepresented or understudied languages. This helps keep it new and exciting.”

Computational linguistics is the department’s latest research realm. Pater and colleague Gaja Jarosz founded the Society for Computation in Linguistics, which held its inaugural meeting in Salt Lake City in January 2018. “Existing societies focus on trying to create useful applications through computing,” says Pater. “We use computation to focus on understanding how human language develops.”

This new direction has already had a positive impact on students. Professor Rajesh Bhatt is leading the development of a computational linguistics major with the College of Information and Computer Sciences, the first “CS + x” offering.

“We want our undergraduates to get jobs and to have that relate to their core expertise in linguistics,” says Pater. “Some programs try to force a computational component, but for us it’s been organic.” 

Department of Linguistics

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Chemist Jeanne Hardy untangles the mysteries of Alzheimer's disease
UMass Professor Jeanne Hardy in her lab.

The challenges wrought by Alzheimer’s disease are increasing with the graying of society in the developed world. Although no suitable treatments for Alzheimer’s disease exist, recent discoveries by UMass Amherst Professor of Chemistry Jeanne Hardy may significantly advance the ability to treat this devastating disease.

For her work, Hardy was selected as the inaugural recipient of the university’s Mahoney Life Sciences Prize, which recognizes scientists from the College of Natural Sciences whose work significantly advances connections between research and industry. The $10,000 prize will be awarded annually to one faculty member who is the principal author of a peer-reviewed paper about original research. 

The Mahoney Brothers

Robert '70, Richard 55, '83Hon, William '55

The award was established by Robert ’70, Richard ’55, ’83Hon, and William Mahoney ’55, who all received their degrees in chemistry from UMass Amherst and went on to become leaders in their own industries and serve as high-level alumni advisers to the campus.

“Professor Hardy’s research rose to the top of three highly competitive rounds of review. Her work exemplifies the outstanding translational research for which our faculty are well known,” says Tricia Serio, dean of the College of Natural Sciences.

“We had two purposes in establishing the Mahoney Life Sciences Prize,” said Richard Mahoney, former president and CEO of Monsanto. “To let science-based companies see the extraordinary R&D being done in their field by UMass scientists and to show the UMass scientists that the corporate life sciences community places a high value on research that they can use to solve problems or provide future growth opportunities.”

Hardy has been working for more than a decade to understand an important protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease, called caspase-6. People with Alzheimer’s disease have tangles associated with the neurons of their brains and evidence points to the caspase-6 protein as being responsible for creating those tangles. In her most recent research, Hardy used a new approach to reveal “distinct conformational dynamics in critical regions of the caspase-6 structure” that had not been observable by any other techniques. As a result, she said, these new findings shed more light on caspase-6’s mechanisms, and the changes they describe “may inspire approaches for manipulating caspase-6 in the context of neurodegeneration.”

Insights from this study have allowed the Hardy Lab to develop new chemicals, targeting caspase-6 without affecting other caspases. This development represents a pivotal step forward toward treating Alzheimer’s disease with caspase-6 inhibitors.

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Watch the video:
UMass center fosters health equity through community partnership
MOCHA leaders discuss the program at the UMass Center in Springfield, MA.

Poverty, discrimination, and lack of social support take a toll on well-being that’s hard to measure and even harder to alleviate. That is especially true for low-income African American men, a population that suffers disproportionately from chronic disease and poor health. To combat this disparity, the UMass Amherst Center for Community Health Equity Research (CCHER) is teaming with the Springfield, Mass.–based MOCHA (Men of Color Health Awareness) program to help develop stress-reduction strategies to promote better health outcomes.

"We live in a time when,

for good reason, many

communities around the

country have lost faith in

institutions."

- Louis Graham

MOCHA began as a grassroots program for black men to share experiences of stress stemming from gender-role pressure and associated issues such as violence, depression, incarceration, and substance abuse. Through a multiyear, NIH-funded study, CCHER researcher and UMass Amherst public health professor Louis Graham is working alongside MOCHA’s director and with colleagues in the departments of health promotion and policy and psychological and brain sciences and UMass Medical School to test an expanded program that introduces digital storytelling, field activities, and community activism. In addition to completing interviews and surveys, participants are measured for stress-related biomarkers such as blood pressure, BMI, and levels of the hormone cortisol, providing much-needed longitudinal data on stress disparities and intervention effectiveness. 

What makes the study unique is that its content is driven primarily by the community itself: residents designed interview questions and weighed in on research methods, and the men built a bank of coping strategies based on their own stories. “This program wasn’t developed by researchers,” says Graham. “It was started by a group of community members who were concerned about men’s health.” Graham believes this is key to long-term success for participants and to the program’s future as a potential model for communities nationwide.

“We live in a time when, for good reason, many communities around the country have lost faith in institutions. People no longer accept the notion that highly educated elites know what’s best for them—and they shouldn’t,” says Graham.

“Designing research that truly reflects what’s happening within the community and developing solutions to address disparities can only happen by working alongside the communities that will take up those solutions,” he adds. “You may not believe some nameless, faceless person, but you will believe your own work.”

Top photo: MOCHA leaders meet with UMass Amherst program manager Jeffrey Markham, Jr. (second from left) at the UMass Center in Springfield, MA.

Center for Community Health Equity Research

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Biomedical engineering blends disciplines for medical innovation
Close up of chip design on yellow diagnostic patch

Photo: Prototype of a skin sensor patch developed by biomedical engineering start-up e-Biologics.

"A biologist, a doctor, and an engineer walk into a room . . .” could be an opening line for UMass Amherst’s Biomedical Engineering program. Launched in 2017, it blends engineering, medicine, and biology with the end goal of growing a talent pool to solve human health problems through interdisciplinary thinking and innovation.

“Our campus has strength in biomedical engineering,” says Tilman Wolf, senior vice provost for academic affairs. “Now we’re putting structure around it.”

A first cohort of undergraduate students has completed its inaugural year in the program and the authorization of a graduate component and new faculty hires has begun. Space for the new discipline is being prepared in the campus’s Life Sciences Laboratories, home to the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS). “Expect to see more advances—more interactions between researchers connecting in ways they haven’t before,” says Wolf.

"Biomedical Engineering offers an

opportunity to improve human health,

to help real people.... The biomedical

component is critical to identifying

problems in health care that can be

solved with engineering.

- Alex Smith

Alex Smith, a mechanical engineering PhD candidate, envisions how the program will enhance his education. “Biomedical engineering,” he says, “offers an opportunity to improve human health, to help real people. Designing devices requires good engineering but the device will interact with a body, with human biology. How will the biology respond to the mechanical device? How will patients interact with it? The biomedical component is critical to identifying problems in health care that can be solved with engineering.”

Smith does just such discipline blending to find workable solutions. He and UMass colleagues Derek Lovley, Kelly Nevin, and Jun Yao have launched e-Biologics, a biomedical engineering start-up that took top prize in UMass Amherst’s 2018 Innovation Challenge. Focused on providing early detection of chronic diseases, e-Biologics is developing a small, inexpensive skin sensor patch, worn like an adhesive bandage, that noninvasively monitors biomarkers in a person’s sweat. If it senses the onset of a medical condition such as a diabetic complication, the patch can send an alert to a phone.

The campus’s investment in IALS, a significant portion coming from the Massachusetts Life Science Center (MLSC) to build out and equip centralized core facilities, is a big draw for companies like e-Biologics. Smith especially appreciates the connections IALS offers between people in industry and others on campus doing related work.

“Working with IALS is helping to create a culture around a common goal to talk about our ideas,” says Smith. “We’re developing tools that help people, tools that are used for a good cause.” 

Department of Biomedical Engineering

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New institute provides fresh approach to the science of diversity
Professor Nilanjana "Buju" Dasgupta and Dr. Leyla Keough face each other as they talk.

Human diversity is complex. It originates from factors such as biology, psychology, economics, and history that influence every facet of human experience—from health and work to education and environment—in ways that may confer advantages or disadvantages on people’s lives. Research on the science of human diversity is just as complex, residing in different departments, schools, and colleges and across disciplines. Bringing the players together from across campus and encouraging interdisciplinary efforts is the intent of the UMass Amherst Institute of Diversity Sciences.

Nilanjana "Buju" Dasgupta

“Our goal is to break down disciplinary silos and foster a new kind of intellectual environment where people come together who study similar topics in human diversity but from very different angles,” says Nilanjana "Buju" Dasgupta, the institute’s director. “We want to cultivate integrative, multidisciplinary, innovative directions for future scholarship and teaching. Multidisciplinary approaches are critical in solving problems—often complex and seemingly intractable ones—associated with group disparities out there in the world.”

A primary role of the institute is to play matchmaker, bringing together researchers and practitioners whose expertise and interests are mutually complementary. “Often,” says Dasgupta, “the faculty we bring together have never met one another because they work in different parts of campus or perhaps even at another campus in the Five College consortium. What they have in common is an interest in solving the same complex problem and a need for collaborators with complementary expertise.”

Leyla Keough

Consider, for example, disparities associated with health or learning. Solving these complex problems requires multidisciplinary experts and practitioners to band together. Once researchers are connected, the institute provides incentives to make the match work. A first round of seed funding, awarded last spring to six different teams, encourages new multidisciplinary collaborations that can later be leveraged to seek larger grants.

“The long game,” Dasgupta explains, “is to advance each project to the next stage of seeking competitive external funding, provide mentored research experience for the next generation of students interested in the science of human diversity, and promote research that has social impact.” 

The institute’s mission is close to Dasgupta’s heart. Her own research focuses on unconscious or implicit bias with emphasis on the ways in which changes in social contexts correspondingly change implicit attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. 

“As individual scientists, each of us tries to make a small dent in the problem from our own disciplinary angle,” says Dasgupta. “Just imagine how much more effective we’ll be when we pool our expertise and attack the problem from multiple angles in coordination.”

Institute of Diversity Sciences

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The UManage Center advances the science of self-care
Sensor printed on white material

Cynthia Jacelon

Photo: Prototype of printed sensor on clothing that could serve as an early warning system to prevent hospitalizations.

With chronic illness on the rise and medical personnel in demand, helping people manage symptoms at home has become critical to patients’ ability to take charge of their own health. One key challenge: self-monitoring technologies are only effective if patients can and will use them.

The UManage Center at UMass Amherst’s College of Nursing has launched a series of pilot programs that team nurses with engineers, chemists, psychologists, and computer scientists to develop self-monitoring solutions that empower patients to actively manage their symptoms. The program’s initial focus is on symptoms related to fatigue and impaired sleep in the chronically ill. One of only seven NIH-funded Exploratory Centers in the nation, UManage is exceptionally well suited to interdisciplinary work, according to director Cynthia Jacelon. “UMass’s intensively collaborative nature is the perfect environment to create a center like this,” she says.

Elizabeth Henneman

Using the resources of the Center for Personalized Health Monitoring at UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences, the nurse-led teams take a holistic approach that pairs cutting-edge technology with the realities of patients’ lives.

For patients at risk of fluid overload and lung congestion, Beth Henneman, nursing, is leading a team developing clothing with sensors that could serve as an early warning system to prevent hospitalizations. Its fabric must be comfortable to wear and its data easy to read. In addition, says Jenna Marquard, professor of engineering and director of the center’s Human Factors Core, “The systems must improve users’ cognition, so they know why and how to change their behaviors.” 

Jenna Marquard

Jacelon agrees. “Patients benefit by being empowered to act on their own behalf,” she says. “It’s so much more than just following doctor’s orders. The nurse knows what the person with the health problem needs, the engineer knows how to create equipment, the computer scientist knows how to get the data out, and the psychologist knows how to interpret that data. They all bring their unique expertise to solve the problem.”

UManage Center

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Rachel Walker

Rachel Walker, assistant professor of nursing, is the first nurse selected as a Lemelson Invention Ambassador by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Invention Ambassadors highlight the importance of invention and inventors in improving the quality of life globally.

Walker is a nurse inventor who works collaboratively with patient advocates and community leaders, clinicians, industry partners, and scholars from a wide variety of disciplines to develop technology, care models, and other innovations that support cancer-symptom self-management and survivors’ abilities to engage in the roles and activities most important to them and their families.

The Technology Transfer Office moves technologies from lab to commercially viable products, processes, and services. It licenses campus technology to corporate partners and supports the development of new businesses based on UMass Amherst technology.
UMass Amherst researchers look at technology on a petri dish.

2018 Technology Transfer By The Numbers

  • 84 Invention disclosures
  • 43 New patent applications filed
  • 21 Patents issued
  • 11 License and option agreements executed
  • 2 Start-ups formed
  • $706,843 Total revenue

Technology Start-ups

Ernest Pharmaceuticals Delivers Molecules to Kill Cancer

The bacteria salmonella, notorious for causing food poisoning, has an uncanny property: it prefers to infect cancer tumors. Ernest Pharmaceuticals LLC, founded by Professor Neil Forbes and postdoctoral fellow Nele Van Dessel, is using a nontoxic genetic mutation of salmonella to deliver anti-cancer molecules into cancer cells to kill them. Because salmonella doesn’t naturally enter cells in a way that the anti-cancer molecules are released, Forbes and Van Dessel had to invent a way to alter salmonella genes so that the bacteria not only gets into the cells but, once inside, bursts to deliver its anti-cancer cargo. Ernest plans to use this invention to develop a highly potent anti-cancer therapy.

SCT Technologies Improves Artificial Insemination Success

UMass Amherst professors Pablo Visconti and Anna Maria Salicioni, experts in fertility and sperm biology, have made the surprising discovery that ordinary sperm, if placed for a time in a special culture liquid, stop swimming. However, when later placed in an ordinary culture liquid they become hyper-motile, swimming like crazy. Further research has shown that sperm treated in this way are far more likely to fertilize an egg and produce offspring, in some cases improving the success of artificial insemination by 30 percent or more. Visconti and Salicioni have formed SCT Technologies LLC to develop methods and products to improve the artificial insemination of mice, cows, horses, and humans.

Technology Transfer Office

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Total sponsored research awards reached $161.8 million in fiscal 2018.
Aerial shot of the UMass Amherst campus

By the Numbers

  • Sponsored research awards: $161.8M
  • Annual research expenditures: $210.4M*
  • Doctoral degrees awarded: 367**
  • Technology patent and licensing revenue: $706.8K

* FY2017 (most current data)
** AY2016–17 (most current data)

Distribution of Awarded Dollars by Sponsor Category – FY18

Distribution of Awarded Dollars from Federal Agencies - FY18

Distribution of Awarded Dollars from Private Sector - FY18

*A significant portion of these awards are prime federal funds.

Access the full annual report of sponsored activities here.

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