Institute of Materials Science

IMS Director Discusses Carbon Capture and Impact Mitigation

Dr. Steven L. Suib, Director of UConn’s Institute of Materials Science (IMS), is working to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gasses caused by carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through carbon capture and conversion.  His work was recently highlighted in a UConn video.  IMS News reached out to Dr. Suib to discuss the impacts of the his research.

Carbon Capture - Gel
Dr. Suib’s research is highlighted in this video produced for UConn Today

How does carbon dioxide (CO2) negatively impact the environment and why is the research you are conducting critical to mitigating the impacts of CO2?

CO2 is a product of combustion from gas burning vehicles, industrial plants, and other sources. Enhanced levels of CO2 are believed to be responsible for global warming and the unusual patterns of weather throughout the world in recent years. We are trying to find ways to trap and gather carbon dioxide and also to transform this into materials that are less hazardous and with practical uses.

You state that CO2 must be trapped (or captured) in order to be converted.  What methodology or methodologies are used to capture CO2 emissions?

There have been many different methods suggested to capture CO2 including physical methods of trapping in porous materials as well as chemical reactions for storage.

Discovering methods of converting CO2 to harmless but useful products requires the introduction of a catalyst to convert the gas. You have conducted extensive and often-cited research in catalysis.  How does this expertise aid in your research? 

The bonds in CO2 are strong and this gas is quite stable. There are many different types of catalysts that we have made. Different reactions are often catalyzed by different catalysts. To find better catalysts they need to be synthesized. The heart of our research programs centers around synthesis of new materials. Unique new materials including catalysts may have different and beneficial properties that commercially available materials do not have.

When you use the term “harmless but useful” in describing products that can be derived from the conversion of CO2, what types of products are possible?

The objective of activating CO2 is to make products that are safe and that can be used in different applications such as new fuels, new chemical feedstocks, and others. These in turn can be used in applications involving sustainable energy, medicines and pharmaceuticals, and new conducting systems (semiconductors, superconductors, batteries, supercapacitors).

It seems we have reached a critical stage in the climate crisis with calls for more research and, above all, action to reduce greenhouse gases and their negative effects.  How urgent is the research you and your students and colleagues are conducting to the mitigation of the climate crisis?  How close is the research to producing measurable outcomes?

The field of capturing and activating CO2 is very active right now, with numerous groups around the world trying to solve problems that would allow CO2 to be eventually used in many different commercial processes. Our work involves a small set of potential materials for capture and activation of CO2. There are measurable improvements in capture and activation. The key will be to push this to the limit so practical processes can be used.

Antigoni Konstantinou Receives 2023-2024 GE Fellowship for Excellence

Ph.D. Student Antigoni Konstantinou
IMS Materials Science Program Ph.D. candidate Antigoni Konstantinou

The College of Engineering recently announced the recipients of its General Electric Fellowship for Excellence.  The award was established to recognize the excellence of current graduate students and to facilitate their completion of the Ph.D. program.  Fellows are selected for their outstanding track records in research and professional service in the areas of advanced materials, manufacturing, and energy.  Antigoni Konstantinou, an Institute of Materials Science (IMS) Materials Science Program Ph.D. student, has been named a recipient of this honor.

Ms. Konstantinou has exhibited academic excellence in both research and leadership.  She currently serves as president of the 2023-2024 e-board for the John Lof Leadership Academy (JLLA). From this position, she empowers UConn’s graduate student community by nurturing essential leadership skills, especially for women in STEM. She is also a former Secretary of the UConn Chapter of the Materials Research Society (MRS).

Since joining the IMS Materials Science Ph.D. program in Spring 2021, Antigoni has been working with advisor Prof. Yang Cao and his Electrical Insulation Research Center (EIRC) utilizing materials preparation and electrical engineering techniques to develop nanostructured insulation materials to protect high-voltage electric motors from high electric fields. This research bridges Materials Science with Electrical Engineering.

IMS and the EIRC congratulate Antigoni on this well-deserved honor.

Xueju “Sophie” Wang Receives 2024 ONR Young Investigator Award

Xueju "Sophie" Wang
Dr. Xueju “Sophie” Wamg

Xueju “Sophie” Wang has been awarded an Office of Naval Research (ONR) 2024 Young Investigator Award in the category Ocean Battlespace Sensing.  The Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department of ONR explores science and technology in the areas of oceanographic and meteorological observations, modeling, and prediction in the battlespace environment; submarine detection and classification (anti-submarine warfare); and mine warfare applications for detecting and neutralizing mines in both the ocean and littoral environment.

One of 24 recipients in various categories, Dr. Wang’s research, entitled A Soft Intelligent Robot for Self-digging, Multi-modal Sensing, and In Situ Marine Sediment Analysis, was recognized by the Littoral Geosciences and subcategory.  The Littoral Geosciences and Optics program supports basic and applied research for expeditionary warfare, naval special warfare, mine warfare and antisubmarine warfare in shelf, near-shore, estuarine, riverine, and riparian environments, with a particular emphasis on robust 4D prediction of environmental characteristics in denied, distant or remote environments.

Dr. Wang earned a Ph.D. from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2016.  She joined the faculty of the Materials Science and Engineering Department (MSE) in 2020 with an appointment in the Institute of Materials Science (IMS).  Since then, she has earned extensive recognition for her research including the National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award in 2022; the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Trailblazer Award, also in 2022; and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Orr Early Career Award in 2021 among others.

Wang’s research focuses on soft, stimuli-responsive materials and multifunctional structures; multistability of reconfigurable, magnetically responsive structures, flexible/pressure-tolerant/bio-integrated electronics, soft robotics and intelligent systems; and in-situ/environmental operando experimental techniques.  Her research has been published extensively.

 

A Career Worth Celebrating: Dr. Challa V. Kumar

Colleagues, collaborators, family, friends, and former students gathered to celebrate the career of Dr. Challa V. Kumar
Colleagues, collaborators, family, friends, and former students gathered to celebrate the career of Dr. Challa V. Kumar

By the time registration closed for the Symposium Celebrating the Research and Education Legacy of Professor Challa V. Kumar, more than 60 delegates from around the world had registered.  The event, which also celebrated Dr. Kumar’s retirement as well as his 70th birthday, brought together colleagues, collaborators, friends, and former students of Professor Kumar eager to pay homage to him and to present research on the topic for the day, Chemical Approaches to Biological Materials and Beyond.

The full-day event opened on September 9, 2023, with continental breakfast and a welcome message from Dr. Yao Lin, professor of chemistry and Institute of Materials Science (IMS) resident faculty member. Lin also served as chair for the morning session.  IMS Director Dr. Steven L. Suib opened the symposium with remarks that set the tone for the day’s events.

The morning session commenced with Dr. Kumar’s introduction of his longtime friend, Professor and Chief Editor of Science magazine, Holden Thorp. Dr. Thorp emphasized the importance of scientists getting involved in the discussion of societal issues and policies through evidence-based facts. The discussion included science outreach to children, an important topic for all attendees.

Each presentation was preceded by a short introduction from Dr. Kumar, to which he brought a personal connection between himself and each of the presenters. Speakers for the morning session included Professor D. Ramaiah from Birla Institute of Technology, Hyderabad, India. Dr. Kumar and Dr. Ramaiah overlapped at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur before Dr. Kumar left for the United States.

Morning session speakers
Morning session presenters (l to r) Drs. Yao Lin (session chair); Dr. D. Ramaiah, Michael Purugganan, Leah Croucher, and J.K. Barton

Professor Michael Purugganan from New York University described his collaboration with Professor Kumar on DNA-mediated electron transfer at Columbia University. He presented research on the ways in which rice genes have co-evolved with humans over thousands of years, with 13,000 varieties identified so far.

Professor Leah Croucher from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a former Ph.D. student of Professor Kumar, described her path from the Kumar lab to NIH in reverse chronological order, sharing highlights of her days at UConn along the way.

The last speaker of the morning session was Professor J.K. Barton of California Institute of Technology. Dr. Barton, a recipient of the prestigious Priestly Medal, spoke on electron transfer through DNA. Dr. Barton was also a postdoctoral mentor to Professor Kumar. Her talk led to interesting discussions on the electron transport mechanism and how DNA-mediated electron transport plays an important role in DNA damage, repair, and cancer.

Afternoon session symposium speakers
Afternoon Session Speakers (l to r) Drs. Steven L. Suib, James Rusling, Ashis Basu, Rajeswari Kasi, Akhilesh Bhambhani, Ajith Pattammattel, and Anna Pyle

Following lunch, session chair Dr. Rajeswari Kasi, professor of chemistry and IMS resident faculty member, commenced the afternoon session with an introduction of IMS Director and Professor of Chemistry Dr. Steven L. Suib. Professor Suib analyzed the research trajectory of Dr. Kumar over four decades and recounted how the Kumar research group switched gears and meandered through increasingly interesting research topics, building one over the other.

Professor of Chemistry James Rusling spoke about his interactions with Professor Kumar, elaborating on joint and related projects that they often chatted about. Professor of Chemistry Ashis Basu described his research projects on DNA damage, DNA-covalent adducts of carcinogens, and the mechanisms of carcinogenesis. Professor Kasi described some of her most recent work on protein-conjugated cellulose nanocrystals, demonstrating how her work was inspired by her collaborations with Dr. Kumar.  Professor Akhilesh Bhambhani, a former Ph.D. student of Dr. Kumar, outlined the key factors for successful design, manufacturing, and deployment of biologics with humorous comparison of Dr. Kumar to the Bodha tree, which gave enlightenment to those who rested beneath it. Dr. Ajith Pattammattel, another former Ph.D. student of Dr. Kumar, elaborated on his research at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. He invited students and faculty to visit the lab to conduct collaborative advanced scattering experiments with a personal story of the instrumental role Dr. Kumar played in his success.

The penultimate talk of the symposium was given by Professor Anna Pyle, a contemporary of Dr. Kumar during her days as a graduate student at Columbia

University. Dr. Pyle described how her group is deciphering the exquisite structures of multiple states of RNA using Cryoelectron microscopy.

Dr. Challa Kumar was surrounded by family for the event. (l to r) Dr. Kumar’s wife Anupam, Dr. Kumar, his brother Srinivas, sister-in-law Manjula, nephew Sriram, and his wife Keerti

With the last word, Professor Kumar began his plenary talk by thanking his mentors, hosts, and graduate students. He elaborated on the tortuous path taken by his research group, and lessons learned, along the same lines as Professor Suib’s analysis at the beginning of the afternoon session.

The symposium concluded with a standing ovation from the audience, after Dr. Kumar explained how he came to the United States with only $21 and a Ph.D., with no friends or relatives here, and succeeded in achieving his American dream.  Truly a career worth celebrating!

Watch video of the symposium here.

MSE Welcomes Alexander Dupuy to the Department

From the Department of Materials Science & Engineering

Dr. Alexander Dupuy
Dr. Alexander Dupuy

We are excited to welcome our newest faculty member, Alexander Dupuy, who joins our department as an assistant professor this fall with an appointment to the Institute of Materials Science (IMS).

Having received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Riverside in 2016, Dupuy went on to work for the University of California, Irvine as a postdoctoral scholar and then as assistant project scientist before joining us here at UConn.

With 16 years of research experience in ceramic processing and synthesis, particularly using Spark Plasma Sintering (SPS), Dupuy makes for an exciting addition to the department. His research interests include materials related to electrifications (such as energy generation, storage/batteries, delivery, and conversion), materials for high temperature and extreme environments, and the processing, properties, and behavior of high entropy ceramics.

Dupuy previously authored 23 scientific publications. He also has significant mentorship experience, guiding 7 Ph.D. students, 11 undergraduate researchers, and 5 senior design students in their work over the past 13 years.

“I am thrilled to become a Husky,” Dupuy tells us. “The MSE department, School of Engineering, and Institute of Materials Science have made UConn a world-renowned institution for materials science scholarship and innovation. I am so pleased to be joining UConn and contributing to its important teaching and research missions.”

Pamir Alpay Appointed Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

From UConn Today

In a letter to the UConn community, President Radenka Maric recently announced the appointment of Dr. S. Pamir Alpay as Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship:

Dr. S. Pamir Alpay
Dr. S. Pamir Alpay has been named Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

Pamir has very successfully served in this role on an interim basis since February 2022, overseeing the University’s $320 million research enterprise at Storrs, UConn Health, the School of Law, and our regional campuses.

He previously served as executive director of the Innovation Partnership Building at UConn Tech Park beginning in 2017, where he was the university’s chief advocate for industry-informed research and primary liaison between the research community and government partners.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to work closely with Pamir have been continually impressed by his visionary nature, tenacity, and exceptional effectiveness as a leader and researcher. Among his greatest strengths is his ability to successfully build highly productive relationships not only with colleagues but also numerous critical partners who are external to UConn.

Pamir arrived at UConn in 2001 as an assistant professor of materials science and engineering and physics and rose through the ranks, ultimately being named Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in 2020. He served as head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering from 2013-17 and as associate dean for research and industrial partnerships for the UConn School of Engineering from 2019 to 2022.

Pamir’s research is at the intersection of materials science, condensed matter physics, and surface chemistry. He has over 200 peer-reviewed journal publications and conference proceedings, five invited book chapters, and a book on the physics of functionally graded smart materials. On the strength of his scholarship and service, he was elected fellow of the American Physical Society, ASM International, and the American Ceramic Society. He is also an elected member of the Connecticut Academy of Science & Engineering (CASE).

He has raised more than $30 million for research and development from federal and state agencies and industry. He is the PI of an $18 million interdisciplinary Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) contract dedicated to optimization of high value-added manufacturing technologies for aerospace components. Working with Yale University, he recently led a statewide coalition to secure an NSF Regional Innovations Engine Development Award, “Advancing Quantum Technologies (CT),” allowing Connecticut to participate in NSF’s new flagship program promoting equitable economic development through technology innovation.

As executive director of the UConn Tech Park, Pamir established partnerships with industry, state government, and federal agencies and built several interdisciplinary research teams that successfully competed for large-scale funding. Since 2017, industry partners have invested more than $285 million for applied research at the Tech Park, corresponding to over $50 million per year in research and development funding. Pamir also established partnerships with small to medium-sized regional businesses as part of core outreach efforts, critical to UConn’s mission of supporting economic growth in the state.

He earned his B.S. and M.S. from Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, and his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland.

I am grateful to the strong pool of internal candidates who applied for this position. I also want to thank the deans, members of the University Senate, and others who met with the candidates. I have tremendous confidence in the ability of our faculty to bring the university to the next level. Aiding that effort is the fact that after many years the state’s unpaid legacy costs have been removed from our budget, allowing our faculty to be even more competitive.

Pamir has a strong, proven record of fostering an atmosphere of creativity and discovery that advances knowledge and innovation. His support for campus-wide research operations, deep understanding of national research funding infrastructure and processes, collaboration with industry, and commitment to building UConn’s academic and research enterprise will serve the university very well as we strive to become a top 20 public research institution. In order to reach that goal, Pamir and his team will work closely with our deans and faculty to support the development of complex proposals and nurture critical research partnerships and alliances.

Finally, I would also like to thank the members of the search committee:

Sandra Chafouleas, Search Chair, BOT Distinguished Professor
Inge-Marie Eigsti, Professor, Psychological Sciences
David Embrick, Director and Associate Professor, Sociology and Africana Studies
Xiuchun (Cindy) Tian, Department Head and Professor, Animal Science
Annemarie Seifert, Director, Avery Point Campus
Ali Tamayol, Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering
Justin Radolf, Director and Professor, Department of Medicine
Maryann Markowski, Executive Assistant to Chief of Staff, Office of President

Pamir is a vital leader at UConn and is playing an extremely important role in charting the future course of our university, not only in his senior administrative and research roles, but also as the co-chair of the university’s 2023 Strategic Planning Committee, which will guide the continued growth and success of this institution in the years ahead.

Dr. Cato T. Laurencin to Receive the Kathryn C. Hach Award for Entrepreneurial Success from the American Chemical Society

From UConn Today

Cato LaurencinThe American Chemical Society (ACS) has selected University of Connecticut’s Dr. Cato T. Laurencin as the 2024 recipient of its Kathryn C. Hach Award for Entrepreneurial Success.

As the national awardee, Laurencin is recognized for his use of the transforming power of chemistry to improve people’s lives. The hallmark of this contribution is impact: positive impact on people’s lives and positive impact on the economy by creating jobs that produce a significant economic benefit.

Laurencin’s innovations in regenerative engineering and his impact on the fields of biomaterials, nanotechnology, and stem cell science have had an immeasurable impact. As the leading international figure in polymeric biomaterials chemistry and engineering, he has made not only extraordinary scientific contributions, but has contributed through innovation and invention.

In Connecticut, Laurencin was the lead faculty architect for Bioscience Connecticut. Start-up companies he has founded have led to products now on the market. He received the Connecticut Medal of Technology in recognition of his work in the state.

Nationally, Laurencin is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, and the first surgeon elected to all 4 of the U.S. National Academies. He serves on the board of directors of the National Academy of Inventors and on the National Academy of Inventors Selection Committee.

He received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, America’ highest recognition for technological achievement, from the President of the United States.  In service to our nation, he serves as Vice-Chair of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation Nomination and Evaluation Committee, appointed by both the Trump and Biden administrations.

Most recently, he received the Inventor of the Year Award presented to the world’s most outstanding recent inventors from the Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation (IPOEF). The IPOEF’s board of directors voted unanimously for him, recognizing his impact on biomaterials, nanotechnology, stem cell science, and the field of regenerative engineering.

Xiuling Lu Announced as AAPS Fellow

From UConn Today

Dr. Xiuling Lu has been named AAPS fellow.
Dr. Xiuling Lu

Xiuling Lu has attained the esteemed title of AAPS Fellow, a recognition of her steadfast commitment to pioneering research, marked by its unwavering excellence and innovation, and the transformative effects it has had on patients grappling with unmet medical needs.

An AAPS Fellow is an AAPS member who is recognized as a leader in the pharmaceutical field. Peers recognize Fellows for facing challenges head-on with creative solutions in the discovery, development or regulation of pharmaceuticals and biologics.

The status of Fellow denotes professional excellence and a sustained, positive impact to global health and to the AAPS Community. AAPS Fellows are encouraged to continue to actively contribute to their fields and to AAPS throughout their tenure.

Lu stands as a distinguished luminary in the realm of nanoparticle-based therapeutics and their corresponding product advancement. At UConn, her lab has successfully devised inventive image-guided therapeutic nanoparticle systems, surmounting considerable obstacles within the realm of cancer treatment. Lu’s contributions extend further to a profound comprehension of the challenges associated with designing therapeutic agents, enhancing the bedrock understanding of delivery and treatment barriers.

Lu’s engagement encompasses not only the translation of prospective therapeutics to clinical applications but also the commercialization of nanomedicines. Her resolute dedication to scientific advancement and her altruistic endeavors within the community have merited her a multitude of local and national accolades. Lu has served of Chair of the Faculty at the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Technology and Education, and presently holds the mantle of Associate Director at the Center for Pharmaceutical Processing Research, concurrently serving as a leader in the AAPS Nanotechnology Community.

Masha Aleksich Wins Top Poster Prize at ACS NERM 2023

Mariya "Masha" Aleksich
Mariya “Masha” Aleksich

Mariya “Masha” Aleksich won first place in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Northeast Regional Meeting 2023 (NERM) Graduate Student Poster competition for her presentation, Topological Engineering by Size and Steric Direction of Metal-Organic Chalcogenate (MOCha) Hybrid Assemblies.

A graduate student in Dr. Nate Hohman’s group, Masha’s research concentrates on optimizing synthesis of MOCHas for comprehensive characterization.

Masha holds a B.S. in chemistry from Texas A&M University (2020) where she focused on synthesis of chiral amino acid-based surfactants. She is a third-year graduate student in the Hohman Group. She also serves as V.P. and Treasurer of the Joint Safety Team in the Department of Chemistry.

IMS congratulates Masha on this impressive recognition.

 

EIRC Lab Mates Like Family

Kerry Lynn Davis-AmendolaKerry Lynn Davis-Amendola beautifully shares her experience as a current Ph.D. student in the Electrical Insulation Research Center (EIRC) paying special attention to the importance of her lab mates and the camaraderie that awaited her when she joined the lab.  The inspiring article, The Best Part of a PhD that No One Is Talking About, appears in the “Young Professionals” section of the July/August 2023 edition of the journal IEEE.