Dr. Laura Pinatti Retires

Dr. Laura Pinatti
Dr. Laura Pinatti

Dr. Laura Pinatti, manager of the IMS Thermal Analysis Laboratory, is soft-spoken and avoids the spotlight but she is also funny and caring, devoted to family, and amazing at her job. After 20 years working for the IMS Industrial Affiliates Program, Laura retired at the end of April. IMS News reached out to Dr. Pinatti with a few questions.

How did you come to the sciences and, specifically, analysis and characterization?
When the job for a research assistant in the thermal lab opened up in 2000 I jumped at the opportunity. My youngest had just turned 5 and it was time to get back to work. I couldn’t have found a better place to spend the next 20 years.

What did you like most about your job in IMS?
Working for IMS and for the IAP has been challenging and stimulating with always something new to keep it interesting. I loved working with our team to define and solve the ever-increasing complexity of issues that industry continue to face.

You’ve retired in the age of coronavirus where we are working and socializing remotely.  Of course there are plans to celebrate you when it is safe, but does having such a major event in these times feel different than what you expected?
Retiring when everything is shut down is obviously not how I expected to say goodbye.  I would have liked to shake some hands and share some hugs.

How will you remember your time in IMS?
I, of course, also enjoyed meeting and working with the all the graduate students over the years. Getting to know them, working with them on the instruments and learning about their research added a whole new layer of enjoyment to my life at IMS. But what I am going to miss most is chatting with the friendly faces in the halls and offices throughout IMS.

Do you have any special plans for your retirement years?
I am looking forward to a no-obligation, nowhere-to-be sort of retirement.  My priority is my family and my health and some road trips to new places now and then.


Recent Ph.D. Graduate Reflects on Experience as IMS Polymer Program Student

Dr. Deepthi Varghese
Dr. Deepthi Varghese

After completing a Master’s Degree in Biochemistry from St. Josephs Arts & Science College in Bangalore, India, Deepthi Varghese joined the UConn Chemistry graduate program in the fall semester of 2014. After hearing brief research presentations from the chemistry departmental faculty, she became interested in Polymer Science with Prof. Douglas Adamson, an unexpected diversion from her initial plans for a career in biochemistry into a field in which she had no experience.

Although the lack of experience created a steep learning curve, Deepthi embraced this new research direction. While she faced challenges during the first two years, looking back, Deepthi says that she gained far more knowledge than expected, including polymer science, electro chemistry, and setting up scientific research laboratories.

Deepthi also struggled with many challenges regarding science including the fact that experiments are more likely to fail than succeed; science takes far more time than initially expected; and there is never enough time to accomplish everything. Lessons like this can be applied to all aspects of life, business, and art, as well as science.

In addition to the science, Deepthi has increased her knowledge of communications, independent learning, and keeping an open mind to feedback from all sources. She realized that you never know who will have valuable knowledge.

“Keeping an open ear and open mind allows you to learn from faculty, technicians, graduate students, and undergraduate students as well,” Deepthi says. She noted that undergraduates, especially those from outside disciplines, are also able to contribute bits of knowledge to the scientific challenges of the day.

Deepthi became involved with UConn organizations, the South Asia Community (Tarang) and the Graduate School Senate, where she was treasurer and president, respectively. This experience helped her learn organizational leadership.

Looking back on her graduate experience at UConn, Deepthi says that she grew as a scientist as well as a person. She had a number of unexpected experiences that changed her in many ways, all positive. In November, 2019, Deepthi started her professional career as a TD Etch Module Engineer at Intel, Hillsboro, Oregon.

Dr. Challa V. Kumar Presents Research in Australia

Dr. Challa V. Kumar with Australian Education Minister Dan Tehan
Dr. Challa V. Kumar with Australian Education Minister Dan Tehan

Dr. Challa V. Kumar presented an invited Institute Lecture at the Australian Institute of Innovative Materials, University of Wollongong, Australia.

Dr. Kumar was selected for a Fulbright US-Australia Research Excellence Award in 2019 and has been conducting and presenting his research focused on 3D printing of enzymes to make progress toward the realization of Biobatteries. These batteries are intended to use sugar to power personal electronics.

IMS 2020 Newsletter Now Online

The IMS 2020 Newsletter is out today with news from across the Institute. Stories in this year’s issue highlight groundbreaking research from our faculty and students, follow the progress of IMS alumni, examine outreach by our Industrial Affiliates Program and other efforts at the university level, and introduce you to new faculty and staff members. Start reading now!

IMS 2020 Newsletter

MSE Students Recognized at EMA 2020

Ayana Ghosh and Lucas Enright
Ayana Ghosh (right) and Lucas Enright (left) with Lucas’ speaking award (made out of Corning glass, as Corning Inc. is the award sponsor) against the background of Ayana’s poster.

Two MSE students, Ayana Ghosh and Lucas Enright, won awards at the 11th annual Electronic Materials and Applications (EMA) Conference. The conference was organized by Electronics and Basic Science Divisions of the American Ceramic Society and was held in Orlando, FL at the end of January 2020. Ghosh, a graduate student, was awarded Best Poster for her research on organic ferroelectrics, and Enright, a senior, was recognized as the Best Student Speaker for his talk in the session devoted to 5G telecommunications.

Both Ghosh and Enright attended the conference as part of a larger group of UConn MSE students, and were accompanied by MSE faculty including Associate Professor Serge M. Nakhmanson (Ghosh’s Ph.D. advisor) and MSE Department Head Bryan Huey.

Ghosh’s winning poster was dedicated to designing novel organic ferroelectrics. Her research focuses on understanding the mechanisms governing the emergence of ferroelectricity in these materials. She uses machine learning and data-driven approaches both to search for potential novel organic ferroelectrics and to establish design principles for achieving new functionalities. IMS congratulates Ayana and Lucas!

Ph.D. Student Erin Curry Wins Physics Department Teaching Award

Erin Curry accepts award from Dr. Barrett Wells
Ph.D. student, Erin Curry, accepts award from Physics Department Head, Dr. Barrett O. Wells

IMS/Physics PhD student, Erin Curry, is a recipient of the Marshall Walker Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award in the Department of Physics. Erin was cited for her excellent service as a teaching assistant during the development of active learning “studio” style physics instruction. This innovative curricular overhaul combines research-supported practice of combining laboratory, lecture, and discussion in a new setting, presenting a strong break from the traditional, lecture hall plus lab approach of decades past.

Erin, who is advised by IMS faculty member Dr. Jason Hancock, was cited for her contributions in creating and developing original “tutorial” exercises in Spring 2019 Phys 1601: Fundamentals of physics for physics majors and again as an instructor of record in Fall 2019 Phys 1501: Physics for Engineers. Tutorials are problem sets deliberately constructed to serve specific learning goals and a popular and effective new element of the studio physics in addition to the traditional lecture and laboratory components. Congratulations, Erin!

Dr. Yang Cao Elected to Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering

Dr. Yang Cao
Dr. Yang Cao

Dr. Yang Cao, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and resident IMS faculty member has been elected to membership in the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE).

CASE, a private, nonprofit, public-service institution patterned after the National Academy of Sciences, identifies and studies issues and technological advances that are or should be of concern to the people of Connecticut, and provides unbiased, expert advice on science- and technology-related issues to state government and other Connecticut institutions.

Dr. Cao has bachelors and masters degrees in physics from Tongji University, China and completed his Ph.D. in the Materials Science Program of IMS in 2002. Upon graduation, Yang joined GE Research in Schenectady, NY working in the field of dielectric materials as related to medical systems, power apparatus, etc. He returned to IMS in 2013 as Director of the Electrical Insulation Resource Center (EIRC).

Dr. Cao’s research has been focused on high voltage engineering and energy materials for power and medical devices. His main research interests include: (1) High electric field phenomena and devices; (2) Polymeric nanostructured materials with game changing characteristics for energy efficient power conversion and renewables integrations; (3) High voltage engineering in power and medical; (4) Grid asset management: diagnosis and prognosis of electrical degradation.

Dr. Cao and other new CASE members elected in 2020 will be inducted into the Academy at its Annual Meeting and Dinner on May 26, 2020.

IMS Director’s Research Featured in The Economist

IMS Director Steven L. Suib
IMS Director Dr. Steven L. Suib

Imagine being able to create water from thin air. The ramifications for desert communities would be enormous. IMS Director Dr. Steven L. Suib has found a way to do just that by employing adsorption, a process by which water molecules are captured from air with less than 100% humidity and attached to the surface of a solid material allowing the water to be collected, absorbed, and stored. This research is the subject of an article in the January 11 edition of The Economist.

Dr. Suib’s research investigates the water sorption characteristic of birnessite (i.e., a layered structure manganese dioxide, or MnO2) from both thermodynamic and kinetic perspectives. According to the research, MnO2 which is widely found in nature and possesses layered and tunnel structures that can adsorb between 4.8% and 16.2% of atmospheric water. Birnessite MnO2 is a better potential alternative material for water harvesting as it displays a layered structure with cations and water molecules intercalated. More importantly, MnO2 features solar absorptivity and can convert solar to thermal energy. The abundance of natural birnessite and the ability to create it artificially also make it a cheaper candidate for water harvesting applications.

Dr. Suib outlines his research in a paper, “Water Harvesting from the Atmosphere in Arid Areas with Manganese Dioxide”, published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, a publication of the American Chemical Society in its December 19, 2019 issue.

IMS Polymer Program Members Inducted into UConn NAI Chapter

UConn NAI Chapter members
NAI UConn Chapter members and inductees (Dr. Alexandru Asandei is 3rd from left, Dr. Richard Parnas is 4th from left).

IMS Polymer Program faculty members, Dr. Alexandru Asandei and Dr. Richard Parnas, were inducted into the UConn Chapter of the National Association of Inventors (NAI) in December 2019. The UConn NAI chapter was established in 2017 as the first Connecticut chapter of the national organization which was formed in 2010. The goal of NAI is to recognize and encourage academic inventors, enhance the visibility of academic technology and innovation, encourage the disclosure of intellectual property, educate and mentor innovative students, and translate the inventions of its members to benefit society.

Dr. Richard Parnas — whose research pursuits include biofuels production and separations, renewable polymers and composites, and interface engineering — holds a patent for a novel membrane that can be used to make biodiesel production more profitable by aiding the conversion of glycerol to 1,3 propanediol, a valuable platform chemical.

In 2018, Dr. Parnas and Trumbull, CT-based REA Resource Recovery Systems partnered with UConn and the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority (GNHWPCA) to place a pilot-scale demonstration system at the East Shore Water Pollution Abatement Facility in New Haven to convert brown grease to biodiesel fuel. The type of biodiesel fuel produced through this partnership, called Brown FOG (fats, oils, grease) can be used for power generation, including to power vehicles.

In May of 2019, U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) and former New Haven Mayor Toni Harp visited the joint UCONN/GNHWPCA/REA project at the East Shore facility to celebrate the successful performance of the demonstration system and to kick off the effort to place a full-scale commercial system at several wastewater treatment plants in the state. Dr. Parnas has since partnered with the city of Danbury on a project to create a biodiesel production facility at that city’s water treatment plant.

Dr. Alexandru Asandei’s research interests include controlled radical polymerization, block copolymers, fluoropolymers, catalysis, biodegradable polymers, and organometallic chemistry. He holds several patents related to his research in polymer science and has served as an editorial board member for the Journal of Polymer Science: Part A: Polymer Chemistry since 2009. Dr. Asandei has served as co-organizer of the American Chemical Society (ACS) Workshop on Fluoropolymers in 2016, 2018, 2020.

In 2015, Dr. Asandei completed a month-long visiting professorship at Pôle Chimie Balard in Montpelier, France. Asandei was selected for the Chaire TOTAL program which includes a visiting professor/researcher component, an International School on Sustainable Chemistry and Energy initiative, and a scholarship program. As part of the program, Asandei presented four invited lectures. While in France, Professor Asandei also made invited presentations at the University of Toulouse and the University of Grenoble.  Dr. Asandei has been called upon to present his research at numerous conferences, universities, and industry organizations.

Collaboration to Commercialize Hydrogen Fuel Cells and Electrolyzers

Close-up view of hydrogen fuel cell
Close-up view of hydrogen fuel cell

Smog, pollution, climate change. It’s impossible to turn on the news without hearing about the environmental threats faced by modern society.

Many believe that hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzers could be the key to creating sustainable energy in the future. Despite significant investments in these promising technologies, cost and durability are still problematic. This is due to expensive catalysts and low volumes of manufacturing for the electrolyzers and fuel cells components.

UConn assistant professor of materials science and engineering, Jasna Jankovic and Svitlana Pylypenko, assistant professor of chemistry from the Colorado School of Mines (Mines) are teaming with industrial partners Pajarito Powder and Forge Nano, the U.S Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Germany (ISE) to accelerate the development of high volume fabrication of components to facilitate the development of sustainable and zero-emission energy generation technologies.

The team will compare the impact of various processes for scale-up of electrolyzer and fuel cell electrodes on electrode morphology and performance, based on innovative and state-of-the-art catalysts. With the Partnership for Innovations grant from the National Science Foundation, Jankovic and Pylypenko will provide a common platform for advanced and sophisticated characterization for the developed products and establish process-properties-performance correlations. This will make it possible for other industrial partners to develop the tools and replicate this process, which will further increase commercialization of this technology.

Read the full story at UConn Today