The International Workshop on Oxide Electronics (IWOE) series has become an important venue to discuss recent advances and emerging trends in this developing field. The aim of the workshop is to provide an interdisciplinary forum for researchers – theorists as well as experimentalists – on understanding the fundamental electronic and structural properties and also on the design, synthesis, processing, characterization, and applications of (epitaxial) functional oxide materials.
Associate Professor of Physics and Institute of Materials Science (IMS) faculty member Menka Jain is co-organizer of the 28th International Workshop on Oxide Electronics (IWOE) to be held October 2-5 in Portland, Maine. Dr. Jain serves on the program committee with Ryan Comes of Auburn University, Charles H. Ahn of Yale University, and Divine Kumah of North Carolina State University. She is also the designer of the logo for the workshop (pictured).
NSF EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) provide funding for work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches. The work of EAGER grantees is usually considered high-risk, high-reward as it involves radically different approaches, applies new expertise, or engages novel disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspectives.
Associate Professsor of Physics and IMS faculty member, Menka Jain, has been award NSF EAGER funding for her research entitled CRYO:New Quantum Elastocaloric Demagnetization Refrigeration for the Millikelvin Range, which seeks to develop new technology in refrigeration.
Jain explains that, due to the increasing scarcity of helium and lack of portability or scalability of current technologies, there is a growing demand to develop alternative refrigeration technology that can cool below 1 Kelvin for supporting emerging applications, such as quantum sensors and quantum computers. The overarching goal of her research is to realize a solid-state millikelvin Quantum Elastocaloric Adiabatic Refrigeration technology in which a cooling cycle will be achieved via periodic application of elastic strain/stress, without or with small a magnetic field.
“Such an approach has the potential to materialize into a groundbreaking discovery for on-chip scalable cooling applications,” Jain explains.
Jain’s research will train a diverse group of students in thermal, material and quantum sciences. This training will be provided through the development of a new curriculum focusing on low temperature cooling in an advanced undergraduate teaching laboratory, in research projects through the McNair program for underrepresented undergraduate students, and through graduate-level research projects.
The research project is jointly supported by the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems and the Division of Materials Research.
The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) offers internal funding for faculty projects that are at critical stages of development. This funding is provided to serve as high-leverage, strategic investment in outstanding faculty research projects. The Institute of Materials Science is proud to announce our faculty members who have received internal funding for the 2022-2023 academic year. We congratulate each of our faculty on their research accomplishments.
Scholarship Facilitation Fund
MenkaJain, Physics Workshop: Quantum Matter: Dynamics and Sensor
YingLi, Mechanical Engineering Publication in Science Advances, a Premium Open-access Journal for Maximum Impact
NaLi, Pharmaceutical Science Open access publication: Mechanisms and extent of enhanced passive permeation by colloidal drug particles
XiulingLu, Pharmaceutical Science Imaging Tumor Heterogeneity and the Variations in Nanoparticle Accumulation using Perfluorooctyl Bromide Nanocapsule X-ray Computed Tomography Contrast
HelenaSilva, Electrical and Computer Engineering Circuit Simulation of an Erasable Physical Unclonable Function using a Phase-Change Memory Array
Research Excellence Program
Kelly Burke, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering- $25,000 Implantable Degradable Films for Right-Size Post-Operative Pediatric Pain Control
Bodhisattwa Chaudhuri, Pharmaceutical Science- $49,998.08 Continuous manufacturing (CM) of the biological drug product for pulmonary drug delivery Co-PIs: Yu Lei, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Yanchao Luo, Nutritional Sciences; Matthew Stuber, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Jie He, Chemistry- $50,363.63 C-H Bond Electroactivation of Nonpolar Organic Substrates in Water: Enzyme-Mediated Reaction Pathways in Microemulsions Co-PIs: James Rusling, Chemistry
Menka Jain, Physics- $50,000 New approaches for on-chip cooling for applications in electronics and quantum devices Co-PIs: Ilya Sochnikov, Physics
Seok Woo Lee, Material Science and Engineering- $25,000 Investigation on cryogenic shape memory effects of kinetically frozen ThCr2Si2-structured intermetallic compounds
James Rusling, Chemistry- $50,000 Rapid CRISPR-based blood test for early Alzheimer’s disease Co-PIs: Breno Diniz, Uconn Health, Center for Aging; Islam Mosa, Chemistry
Tannin Schmidt, Biomedical Engineering- $74,853 Role of Proteoglycan 4 (PRG4) in Inflammatory Bone Loss Co-PIs: Sun-Kyeong Lee, Medicine; Joseph Lorenzo, Medicine; Kshitiz Gupta, UCHC Biomedical Engineering; Alix Deymier, Biomedical Engineering
Yi Zhang, Biomedical Engineering- $49,863.63 A wireless, battery-free multimodal neural probe for simultaneous neuropharmacology and membrane-free neurochemical sampling in freely moving rodents Co-PIs: Alexander Jackson, Physiology & Neurobiology; John Salamone, Psychological Sciences; Xudong Yao, Chemistry
IMS faculty member Challa Vijaya Kumar will give the Writing in Science and Engineering Workshop at Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS). 253 Ph.D. students from various departments around the four campuses of BITS have enrolled in the 4-day 12-hour workshop which will be held live with virtual attendance available.
Dr. Kumar is currently serving as a Fulbright-Nehru Distinguished Chair and has embarked on a series of seminars across India. Awards in the Fulbright Distinguished Chairs Program are viewed as among the most prestigious appointments in the Fulbright Scholar Program.
In addition to the upcoming Writing in Science and Engineering workshop, Kumar has presented seminars at the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) Tirupati and Osmania University where he was presented with a certificate of appreciation for his support in organizing the “Current Trends and Futuristic Challenges in Chemistry” seminar in July.
Professor Emeritus of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Richard Parnas, has been working on solutions to the oily waste we humans produce on a daily basis. He has been on a journey to convert that waste into usable energy. This quest has led to the patent of proprietary technology and the formation of REA Resources Recovery Services, a company he co-founded. Along with his partners in the company and in partnership with UConn, Dr. Parnas set about to convert FOG (Fat, Oil, Grease) into biodiesel for the benefit of municipalities in the state.
In 2019, REA contracted with the City of Danbury to build a FOG to biodiesel processing facility at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. That project has entered the construction phase and Parnas, REA, and UConn are now looking forward to the day the facility converts its first oily waste into usable biodiesel. IMS News reached out to Dr. Parnas about his research, the Danbury project, and the future of wastewater management.
You have been researching and developing methods to convert FOG (Fat, Oil, Grease) into biodiesel fuel since 2006. When did you first become interested in biofuels and what about biodiesel, in particular, led you down your current path?
I’ve been interested in biofuels, and green processing and green materials in general, for many years before coming to UConn. One of the important motivations for joining UConn was to participate in the development of the green economy. An undergraduate helped get me started working on biodiesel in the summer of 2007 by simply requesting my help to set up a biodiesel synthesis reaction in a fume hood.
When you became Director of the Biofuel Consortium here at UConn, you moved the bar from six gallons of biofuel produced over the course of a year to over 50 gallons continual production daily less than three years later. When did you realize the scale at which you might be able to convert FOG into biodiesel? What were the obstacles you faced and how were they overcome?
We used the yellow grease from UConn cafeterias to make biodiesel at that time, and the scale of operations was determined by the yellow grease production rate from the cafeterias. As a Chemical Engineer, my goal is always to maximize the use of available raw materials, and waste as small a fraction of that raw material as possible. Shortly after we started the Biofuel Consortium, we polled the various food service establishments at UConn to determine the yellow grease availability, and found it to be over 100 gallons per week. We then designed, built and installed a 50 gallon batch system, and produced 2 or 3 of the 50 gallon batches each week.
There were a number of obstacles. Production at that scale is not a typical academic activity so we faced skepticism from the facilities folks that ran the fuel depot for the buses. They asked if our fuel would be any good and how we would prove it to them, so we had to set up testing capability. Our testing was developed and run by Prof. James Stuart, an analytical chemist. Prof. Stuart and I received a grant of over $600,000 dollars to set up a biodiesel fuel quality testing facility in the Center for Environmental Science and Engineering (CESE) to test our biodiesel and the biodiesel produced by private companies. We also faced skepticism from the UConn administration since we were operating at a much larger scale than is typical. Safety concerns are important when conducting such operations with students who are just learning how to handle chemicals.
REA Resource Recovery Systems, a company which you co-founded and worked in collaboration with UConn to patent exclusive technology, has entered Phase 4 of its planned development of a 5000 square foot facility in Danbury that will turn FOG into biofuel. How important is wastewater management for municipalities and what will be the benefits for the City of Danbury once the facility is online.
I joined my two partners, Al Barbarotta and Eric Metz, to found REA at the end of 2017. The UConn patents were already in place for a piece of core technology called a counterflow multi-phase reactor that plays a key role in both the chemical conversion and in the product purification. Prof. Nicholas Leadbeatter from Chemistry is a co-inventor with me on that reactor, along with two undergraduate students. Beginning in 2015, I started working with a very low grade feedstock called brown grease, which is much harder to process than the yellow grease we had been working with earlier. Every single wastewater treatment plant in the world has a brown grease management and disposal problem, and every municipality has a wastewater management problem. In much of the world, wastewater management is required by law and heavily regulated to ensure that effluent meets standards for discharge into rivers and oceans.
Here in CT, the brown grease problem was handled by DEEP many years ago by mandating that certain wastewater treatment plants in the state become FOG receiving stations. Brown grease is the component of FOG that causes all the problems. These FOG receiving stations were given a small set of choices as to how to dispose of the brown grease they received, such as by landfilling or incineration. All the choices cost money and vectored pollution into the air, the land, or the water.
Danbury was mandated to become a FOG receiving facility several years ago, and undertook a general plant upgrade project to build a FOG receiving facility and then dispose of the FOG using biodigesters. When that disposal pathway became too difficult due to high cost they sought alternatives. REA was ready at that time to provide the alternative of converting the brown grease into a salable product, biodiesel. This solution provides two benefits to Danbury, an environmentally excellent disposal method and a source of revenue. REA estimates that the revenue will offset the cost of the project in Danbury in about 7 years, and that the payback period will be significantly shorter in larger facilities.
It has been 15 years since you undertook this journey of making biodiesel a viable alternative energy source. How does it feel to see your years of work coming to fruition with the Danbury project?
It feels terrifying because we have not yet started up the Danbury plant. When we successfully start Danbury, the relief and satisfaction will be enormous. Until then, for the next few months, everyone associated with the project is working very hard to finish the installation.
Since retiring in 2020, you appear to be just as active in your pursuit of science. What continues to drive you and is there anything you miss now that you have retired?
I am driven by the desire to see this biodiesel project through to completion and by the desire to play some small role in mitigating the unfolding climate catastrophe. When I started at UConn I was surprised that the academic definition of project completion is a final report. As an engineer, that did not seem to be enough because most reports are ignored and forgotten. Sometimes I miss the teaching aspect of working at UConn, but I think I most miss the camaraderie of my colleagues, with whom I have much less time now than I used to.
Wesley Zhong has joined the Institute of Materials Science (UConn IMS) as the new lab manager for the Electrical Insulation Research Center (EIRC). His specialties include high voltage safety, electrial insulation testing, partial discharge detection, experiment build and design, extreme environment testing, power electronics testing, technical writing, Lean Six Sigma and equipment maintenance and calibration.
Wesley earned his B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology from Purdue University where he served as an undergraduate teaching assistant. Additionally, he served as Alpha Sigma Phi House Secretary and was a member of the Asian American Association. He worked as a dielectrics specialist at GE Global Research for the past five years designing, building, and running HV dielectric experiments involving aviation, power electronics, and motor/generators design.
Under the direction of Dr. Yang Cao, the Electrical Insulation Research Center has extensive facilities for characterizing the electrical properties of insulating materials used in electrical apparatus including distribution and transmission networks, rotating machinery component, electrostatic/electro-responsive devices, capacitive energy storage, and more.
Please join us in welcoming Wesley to UConn and IMS!
Yu Lei, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has invented a new platform that can perform high-sensitivity readings for a variety of disease biomarkers.
In the 1970s, scientists invented the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Since then, ELISA has been the standard for detecting biomarkers.
Biomarkers are molecules present in the body that indicate the presence or severity of a disease. For example, autoantibodies can help detect autoimmune diseases, or a peptide known as amyloid-β can indicate Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the major limitations for ELISA is that if there is a low concentration of the molecule of interest, it cannot detect it. Lei’s invention addresses this problem by adding two amplification steps to ELISA’s process.
“We wanted to bridge the need for ultra-sensitivity, and also compatibility with the existing plate-based platform,” Lei says.
ELISA works using a “sandwich” of two antibodies specifically designed to capture/detect the biomarker of interest between them. One of these antibodies has an enzyme attached to it that will produce a readable signal when it encounters the substrate.
Lei introduced a two-step amplification to the ELISA reaction. Lei first added a tyramide signal amplification (TSA) process to amplify the signal of a low abundance biomarker. In Lei’s platform, the TSA step anchors numerous biotins onto the immunocomplexes. Lei then introduced the reporter enzyme alkaline phosphate (ALP) conjugated with streptavidin, which attaches to the biotins through the strong interaction between biotin and streptavidin.
Lei added an ELFA-saturated ELFP substrate that ALP breaks down to produce a fluorescent signal. These molecules that precipitate through the system to form a readable layer consisting of fluorescent needles that a microscope captures as a series of images and counts. This fluorescent microneedle count corresponds to how much of the biomarker is in the sample.
“That’s the beauty of the system using ELFA-saturated ELFP substrate and counting-based method, we achieved rapid detection and at the same time no matter your initial number of target molecules their precipitating time is starting from the same point,” Lei says.
Lei successfully demonstrated that his process was able to achieve a resolution of 50 to 60 picograms per milliliter. This is about 20 times more sensitive than traditional ELISA using the same commercial ELISA kit.
This advancement could be extremely useful for early-stage detection of diseases and treatment.
“A lot of disease detection occurs when symptoms are already onset,” Lei says. “That biomarker concentration is already very high. So then, if we can detect at a very low concentration, we can capture the earliest stage and treatment may be more effective.”
Lei says the next step for this technology is to smoothly integrate it into conventional plate-based ELISA systems. This would allow the process, which currently takes about four hours for low-abundance biomarker detection, to be much faster by using advanced imaging systems.
Fuel cell technology is continuously evolving as renewable energy and alternate energy sources become an increasingly important means of reducing global dependence on fossil fuels. Planar fuel cells, a prevalent design, can be bulky, have compression issues, and uneven current distribution. Other drawbacks include problems with reactant gas transport, excess water removal, and fabrication challenges associated with their design.
A team of UConn researchers led by Jasna Jankovic, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the School of Engineering, has devised a novel design for a tubular polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell that addresses those shortcomings and improves on existing tubular PEM fuel cell designs, most of which take a planar PEM fuel cell and curl it into a cylinder.
Jankovic and two grad students, Sara Pedram and Sean Small, took a more holistic approach that rethinks tubular fuel cell design from the ground up. Their disruptive, patent-pending concept could potentially have nearly twice the energy density of other tubular PEM fuel cells, be 50 percent lighter, have a replaceable inner electrode and electrolyte (if liquid), a leak-proof configuration, and require fewer precious metals.
That’s a big deal, says Michael Invernale, a senior licensing manager at UConn’s Technology Commercialization Services (TCS) working with Jankovic to bring the concept to market. Much of the effort to improve fuel cell design, he says, has focused on the end user instead of the greater good.
“A fuel cell with refillable components is a kind of solution that does that,” says Invernale. “An airline relying on this technology would have more incentive to rebuild a component. Right now, it might be cheaper to replace the whole unit. That’s really where this design shines. The features of the design are green and sustainable and renewable.”
Fuel cells are essentially refuelable electrochemical power generation devices that combine hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity, heat, and water. Each type is classified primarily by the kind of electrolyte it uses. Planar fuel cells are constructed using sandwich-like stacks of large, rectangular flow field plates made of graphite or metal, which account for about 80 percent of their weight and 40 percent of their cost. UConn’s design uses a single tube-shaped flow field that reduces its weight by half.
The concept is still in discovery and has I-Corps and Partnership for Innovation (PFI) funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The program was created to spur the translation of fundamental research to the marketplace, encourage collaboration between academia and industry, and train NSF-funded faculty, students, and other researchers in innovation and entrepreneurship skills.
Participating research teams have the opportunity to interview potential customers to learn more about their needs. Jankovic and her team conducted some 60 interviews during a UConn Accelerator program in early 2022 that helped them size up the market and answer important questions about whether or not to start a longer process, make the product themselves, or license the technology to another company.
“It was very useful to get feedback and guidance from people in industry” Jankovic says.
Jankovic led the team as PI, with Pedram and Small, acting as Entrepreneurial Lead and Co-Lead respectively. Lenard Bonville, the team’s industrial mentor, will support the team with his decades of industrial experience. The team will conduct another set of 100 interviews with industry to discover the market for their product and get guidance on its final design. NSF-Partnership for Innovation (PFI) funding will then be used to develop a prototype and pursue commercialization.
Fuel cells have a wide range of applications, from powering homes and businesses, to keeping critical facilities like hospitals, grocery stores, and data centers up and running, and moving a variety of vehicles, including cars, buses, trucks, forklifts, trains, and more. Jankovic’s team is working toward obtaining a full patent on their design and thoroughly testing the concept. In the short term, they are focused on commercializing the technology and attracting potential partners.
Jankovic envisions creating a fuel cell roughly the size of a AA battery however, as a scalable and modular technology, it could be scaled-up to any practical size. The cylindrical shape would allow for more fuel cells to occupy the same amount of space as those in use now and be cheaper to manufacture, Invernale said. Jankovic views her fuel cell design as a replacement for Lithium-Ion batteries.
Jankovic said her seven years in industry before coming to UConn convinced her there was a need in the market for a new and better fuel cell design.
“From that experience, I knew that planar fuel cells had a few issues,” she says. “I kept asking around, and I said, ‘let’s do it and find out yes or no.”
As research conducted by UConn IMS faculty members creates more funding opportunities, the need to expand administrative services to support the increased funding has led IMS to hire two new administrative team members. Both Lisa Conant and Christina Tamburro come to UConn IMS from within the University.
Lisa Conant previously served as Pre-Award Grants and Contracts Specialist for the Sponsored Program Services (SPS) section of the Office of the Vice President of Research (OVPR). Lisa honed her financial skills in the non-profit social services and municipal sectors. She also provided her financial expertise to The Jackson Laboratory. An avid writer and editor in her personal time, Lisa also loves trying new international recipes. She served her community in Coventry, CT, as an elected town council member for four years and currently serves on the town’s Human Rights Commission. Lisa hopes her years of grants and research administration experience and skills will help support and grow IMS’ already incredibly impressive success in winning research grants and contracts. “My goal is to serve as a resource for IMS faculty and staff in all things pre-award,” Lisa says.
Christina Tamburro comes to us from the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) where she served briefly as Business Operations Specialist before returning to her passion for finance here in IMS. Prior to her time in CAHNR, Christina served as a Post-Award Grants and Contracts Specialist for SPS. Christina loves cooking and baking. She won second prize in the Connecticut State Agricultural Fairs statewide apple pie contest in 2005. Additionally, Christina describes herself as a “history nut” with particular interest in the American Civil War and colonial New England. She hopes to contribute additional expertise, enthusiasm and understanding to the grant management process here at IMS. “I am looking forward to working closely with grant holders, sponsors, and connections throughout the university to extend IMS’ outstanding reputation,” Christina says.
Please join all of us at IMS in welcoming Lisa and Christina.
Since its inception in 1989, the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship has been awarded to only 4400 students. In that time, over 65,000 have applied. The highly competitive fellowship, sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the Army Research Office (ARO), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), was established by the U.S. Congress to increase the number of U.S. citizens receiving doctoral degrees in science and engineering disciplines of military importance.
Materials Science and Engineering Ph.D. candidate Mason Freund has been named a recipient of this prestigious fellowship. IMS News spoke with Mason about his early interests in science and the catalysts and decisions leading to his being named a NDSEG Fellow.
You earned your Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering with a concentration in aerospace engineering. In your pursuit of your Ph.D. your focus remains on aerospace science. When did you begin to be interested in aerospace science and what about aerospace science keeps you engaged?
I think there’s always been some interest in aerospace science starting from playing with toys and enjoying sci fi movies as a kid. This steered me towards spaceships and planes and slowly evolved into interest in the sciences and engineering. Finally, being able to learn about aerospace engineering during my undergrad seemed to bring everything together. And now being a fellow under the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) I will be able to interact with the field on a deeper level. I am constantly learning new information and techniques that keeps the learning experience engaging but there are also always new discoveries and ideas that keep pushing the known boundaries to something that is better, faster, or stronger. I think those new discoveries and possibilities will keep me engaged for a long time.
How/when did you begin to tie materials science into your interest in aerospace science?
The mechanical engineering curriculum requires an introduction to materials science. I didn’t know what the field of materials science was or could lead to, but I quickly became interested in learning more about the field. I decided to go for a minor and take courses that could add another dimension to my curriculum and benefit my aerospace science interests.
Congratulations on being named a 2022 DoD NDSEG Fellow. How did you come to apply for the NDSEG Fellowship and what was your reaction after learning you had been selected for the fellowship?
My advisor (Volkan Ortalan) made me aware of some different fellowships early on in my graduate studies. After doing more research over the course of last fall, I applied to a few different fellowships. Then came a long 4-6 month wait to April when the results were expected to come out. I checked my email one night at the end of March and was surprised to see an email from NDSEG. I was then even more surprised and excited to realize it was an acceptance letter. It was the first one I got back, and I wasn’t even expecting a letter for at least another few days. I was very excited and slightly caught off guard, but it made my night and my week.
Tell us about your research and its short- and long-term implications for real-world applications.
My group is primarily a microscopy group. We spend most time on transmission electron microscopes (TEM) in addition to other instruments and techniques. Our lab has a special ultrafast TEM which allows us to investigate reactions and dynamics at very short time scales. Specifically, my research will take advantage of these capabilities to investigate reaction dynamics of nano energetic materials to better understand behaviors from these materials as well as nanoparticle enhancement at the necessary timescales.
This work is useful for further insights into nano energetics and optimization for use in propellants and other related technologies as well as directly relating to programs within the AFOSR. The field of nano energetics plays a role in many propulsion applications as well as high power linear actuators. There are also possibilities for use in miniature applications such as micro or nano satellites. This research will provide a more fundamental understanding of the behaviors and can lead to better control, optimization, and performance of the technology.
After earning your bachelor’s degree, you chose to continue your graduate studies at UConn. What was the catalyst for your decision?
As I mentioned, I started my minor and was taking MSE courses throughout my time in undergraduate studies. In one of the MSE courses the professor was Dr. Ortalan who is now my advisor. He asked me what I was planning on doing after graduation. I knew that I might want to go back to graduate school eventually, but I was also initially looking for jobs in industry. He mentioned about his open position for a graduate student and about the work that would be required but also the benefits and investment that it would be for my future. This really was the catalyst for my decision. I would have taken it either way but graduating in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic and hearing about difficulties in job hiring made the decision even easier.