IMS Faculty Members

In Memoriam: Dr. Jeffrey Schweitzer

Jeffrey S. SchweitzerIMS is saddened to report the recent passing of Dr. Jeffrey Schweitzer, Professor in the department of Physics with an appointment in IMS.  We are grateful to Dr. Peter Schweitzer (not related) for the following recap of Dr. Schweitzer’s background and tenure at UConn:

Dr. Schweitzer earned his B.S. from Carnegie Institute of Technology (1967) and M.S. (1969) and Ph.D. (1972) from Purdue University. He was postdoc at the California Institute of Technology (1972-1974) and Scientific Advisor for the Schlumberger-Doll Research Laboratory (1974-1996). Since 1997,  was Research Professor in the Department of Physics at UConn.

After receiving a PhD in low energy nuclear physics, Jeff’s research activities have included many areas of basic research in a broad range of fields employing nuclear physics techniques. Jeff has conducted basic nuclear physics and astrophysics research using of radioactive ion beams. He studied the kinetics of chemical reactions including nanoscale studies of cement chemistry with nuclear resonant reaction analysis. He has worked on the development of new detectors for nuclear radiation, and was an expert in non-linear time series analysis of variable solar and astrophysical phenomena. Other areas of research have included medical physics, forensic science, nuclear geophysics, geology and geochemistry, as well as industrial applications.

Jeff’s more recent research was funded by NASA and focused on planetary science topics and instrument development for satellites and landers including the modelling of surface bulk elemental composition measurements on Venus as well as Martian subsurface elemental composition measurements with neutron and gamma ray instruments.

At UConn, Jeff mentored many students and younger professors. Among his PhD advisees are:

  • Nada Jevtic, now Assistant Professor of Physics, Bloomsburg University, Pennsylvania
  • James Zickefoose, now Senior Research Scientist, Mirion Corporation (formerly Canberra Industries), Meriden, Connecticut

Jeff’s Research Gate profile contains links to many of his works:

IMS sends our deepest condolences to the family of Dr. Schweitzer.

Yao Lin Receives Multi-Year NSF Grant

Yao Lin
Dr. Yao Lin

Professor Yao Lin has been awarded a five-year NSF grant (DMR #2210590, $719,664), for his research project, “Advancing Processability and Material Performance of Synthetic Polyamino Acids with Transformable Secondary Structures.”

Dynamic transition from helices to sheets in fibrous proteins facilitates a remarkable increase in the strength, stiffness, and energy dissipation capacity. Polyamino acids (PAAs), also known as synthetic polypeptides, can adopt analogous secondary structures. However, inducing the structural transitions in the solid PAA of high molecular weights (MWs) is a largely unmet challenge. As a result, many of the PAA materials either have poor thermomechanical properties or are incompatible with polymer processing techniques such as extrusion and compression molding. This project aims to develop a general strategy to significantly improve the thermomechanical properties and processability of synthetic PAAs by taking advantage of metastable, transformable structures of PAAs and control over their in-situ transition and hierarchical organization.

The findings from this project may enable the generation of polymeric systems that will approach the level of sophistication and versatility found in some of nature’s biomaterials. The research also provides a model system of synthetic polymers with intrinsic secondary structures in which the different partitioning of intramolecular and intermolecular networks determines the macroscopic properties of materials, enabling comparison of the experimental results with predictions from simulations and modeling.

Graduate and undergraduate students will be trained on bioinspired polymeric materials and acquire skills in polymer synthesis, material characterization, mechanics, and computer simulations.

IMS Faculty Members Mentor 2022 SURF Award Winners

SURF AwardsWith the assistance of faculty mentors, UConn students in all majors, across all UConn campuses, conduct research or creative projects each year in pursuit of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Award. 

UConn recently announced that 39 students had been awarded the 2022 SURF Award. Two Institute of Materials Science (IMS) faculty members served as mentor to winners for this year’s cohort of winners.

Dr. Helena Silva (Electrical and Computer Engineering) served as mentor for Derek Lefcort (’23, Electrical Engineering, ENG) for his project entitled Fabrication and Electrical Characterization of Multi-Contact PCM Toggle Device.

Dr. Linnaea Ostroff (Physiology and Neurobiology) served as mentor to Rebecca Tripp (’23, Physiology and Neurobiology, CLAS) for her project, Characterizing Neurons Containing Calcium-Binding Proteins in the Amygdala of Female and Male Rats.

IMS congratulates all the winners and commends Drs. Silva and Ostroff for their dedication in serving as mentors.

Read the full announcement


Yang Cao in Collaboration on Project Funded by ARPA-E OPEN 2021

Yang Cao
Dr. Yang Cao

On February 14, 2022, ARPA-E announced $175 million for 68 OPEN 2021 research and development projects aimed at developing disruptive technologies to strengthen the nation’s advanced energy enterprise. These high-impact, high-risk technologies support novel approaches to clean energy challenges.

Associate Professor and Electrical Insulation Resource Center (EIRC) Director Yang Cao and fellow researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) will combine the functionality benefits of power electronics with the power density benefits of high-voltage cables to create a cohesive, all-in-one structure to replace bulky, inflexible power substations in today’s electrical grid. This “substation within a cable” design uses a cascade of coaxial power conversion cells to gradually step-down voltage to levels required by the loads. Virginia Tech’s module can achieve high power density and a form factor that enables seamless integration with the cable by mimicking a coaxial geometry design. This could eliminate the need for large and expensive power substations and enable simple integration of renewable energy sources, an electric vehicle fast-charging infrastructure, energy storage, and efficient direct current distribution lines.

The research project, Substation in a Cable for Adaptable, Low-cost Electrical Distribution (SCALED) has received $2,953,389 in funding support through the ARPA-E OPEN 2021 initiative.

Four IMS Faculty Members Elected to CASE

(l-r) Drs. Rainer Hebert, Sangamesh Kumbar, Mu-Ping Nieh, and Carolyn Teschke

The Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) announced the election of 35 new members for 2022 who the organization describe as leading experts in science, engineering, mathematics, medicine, and technology.  12 of those newly elected members are UConn faculty and four are faculty members of the Institute of Materials Science (IMS).

Rainer Hebert, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering; Director of Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Center, Associate Director of the Institute of Materials Science

Sangamesh G. Kumbar, Associate Professor, Orthopaedic Surgery, Biomedical Engineering Health

Mu-Ping Nieh, Professor, Dept. of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, UConn School of Engineering and Institute of Materials Science

Carolyn Teschke, Professor and Interim Department Head, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Chemistry

The new members will be introduced at the Academy’s 47th Annual Meeting to be held virtually on May 26, 2022.  Read the full UConn Today story

Xueju “Sophie” Wang Receives NSF CAREER Award

Xueju "Sophie" WangMSE Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang has been awarded the NSF Faculty Early Development Program CAREER Award for her proposal entitled “Mechanics of Active Polymers and Morphing structures: Determine the Role of Molecular Interactions and Stiffness Heterogeneity in Reversible Shape Morphing.” It is one of NSF’s most prestigious awards.

Wang’s NSF CAREER award will support her research on fundamental studies of the mechanics of innovative active polymers and morphing structures. Soft active polymers that can change their shapes and therefore functionalities upon exposure to external stimuli are promising for many applications, including soft robotics, artificial muscles and tissue repair. This research project aims to establish the missing correlations across the molecular, material and structural levels of novel active polymers for their rational design, manufacturing and applications, by using liquid crystal elastomers as a model material system.

“I am very grateful and honored to receive this prestigious award, and I look forward to working with my students to address challenges in innovative active polymers and to apply them in emerging fields like soft robotics,” Wang said.

Read the full Department of Materials Science and Engineering Story

Rajeswari Kasi to Serve on Editorial Board of Micromolecules

Rajeswari Kasi
Dr. Rajeswari Kasi

Professor of Chemistry Rajeswari (Raji) Kasi has accepted an appointment to the editorial board of Macromolecules, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the American Chemical Society. The publication was first published in 1968 on a bi-monthly basis but has, over the years, moved from monthly to bi-weekly publication.

Kasi’s research encompasses all aspects of materials design including synthesis of hierarchically structured polymers and polymer-hybrid materials with tailored architecture, functionality, and composition; investigation of self-assembly and structure at various length scales; and evaluation of unique macroscopic material properties. She will serve a three-year term on the editorial board.

IMS Faculty Members Receive Department of Education GAANN Award

Drs. Bryan Huey and Lesley Frame
Drs. Bryan Huey (l) and Lesley Frame

Drs. Bryan Huey (IMS/MSE) and Lesley Frame (IMS/MSE) are recent recipients of the Department of Education (ED) Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) grant.

Drs. Huey and Frame collaboratively applied for the award which provides fellowships, through academic departments and programs, to assist graduate students with excellent records who demonstrate financial need and plan to pursue the highest degree available in their course study at the institution in a field designated as an area of national need.

Their Careers in Advanced Materials Engineering Research and Academia (CAMERA) GAANN program will provide world-class educational, research, advising, and professional training experiences and opportunities, beyond MSE courses and laboratory research taught by established experts in a range of materials engineering specialties. They will utilize the funding to support five Ph.D. fellowships focusing on increasing the number of highly trained Ph.D. scholars from populations traditionally underrepresented in STEM.

Drs. Huey and Frame plan to provide primary and secondary faculty advisors for candidates selected for the fellowship. Each Fellow will earn credits through a novel ‘Academia Lab’ created by MSE in conjunction with the school of engineering and the UConn Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in order to incorporate instruction and workshops in educational pedagogy and practice, scientific writing and presenting, and mentorship skills.

The grant of ~$760K will be supplemented by funding from the School of Engineering, the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Office of the Provost, and The Graduate School.

Research Project Aims to Eradicate Use of Harmful Gas

Yang CaoThe gas sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) has been keeping our electrical grid safe from dangerous arcing and explosions since its introduction to the public in the 1930s. Developed in a General Electric lab, sulfur hexafluoride is one of the most widely used insulation gases by electrical utility companies because of its reliability and safety, but remains relatively unknown by the general public.

Starting in the 1960s, as greenhouse gases and their effect on the environment became more widely known, sulfur hexafluoride has been identified as one of the largest causes of global warming. While most educational and legislative efforts have been focused on CO2, or carbon dioxide, emissions as a big offender, sulfur hexafluoride has flown under the radar despite its staggering global warming potential: 25,200 times that of carbon dioxide.

Because of that, University of Connecticut Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Yang Cao has been selected to receive $2.7 million in funding over three years from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to develop a lifecycle management framework, with innovations in physics based aging modeling, aging byproducts fixation, and a low-cost, high-fidelity multi-gas leak sensor with GE Research, to help utilities make a smooth transition to a new, SF6– free electrical grid.  Read the full UConn Today story.

Dr. Heidi Dierssen is Conducting Research to Improve Remote Sensing of Microplastics on the Ocean’s Surface

Dr. Heidi DierssenProfessor of marine sciences and geography, Heidi Dierssen, has received a nearly $577,000 grant from NASA to study better methods for remote sensing of surface microplastics using satellites. The project will involve a collaboration with a visual artist to advance community understanding of this problem.

Dierssen’s lab, Coastal Ocean Lab for Optics and Remote Sensing (COLORS), conducted previous research on the optical properties of microplastics, providing the necessary background information to determine the best approaches for remote detection. Understanding the optical properties of microplastics is the first step in determining whether satellites can detect and quantify floating microplastics from space.

Dierssen has assembled a diverse scientific team of experts from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Colombia University, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Terra Research Inc.

Read the full story from UConn Today