Dr. Richard Parnas Retires

Dr. Richard Parnas
Dr. Richard Parnas

After 19 years as a faculty member of the Institute of Materials Science Polymer Program and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department, Professor Richard Parnas retired in August 2020 from the University of Connecticut.

Dr. Parnas summarized his career choices over the past 30 years stating, “My career was shaped by my desire to create environmentally responsible materials and energy solutions”.  His words and resume both reflect his passion to helping the environment. Since completing his bachelor’s degree, Dr. Parnas has worked for big industry, government, and academia on a variety of projects relating to environmental issues.

After completing his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at MIT, Dr. Parnas joined Exxon Research & Engineering in Florham Park, NJ. There he worked on his first environmentally friendly project, coal gasification. He helped engineer a proposed plant for Europe that would convert coal into methane at the rate of 30,000 tons per day. Although the project never came to fruition, this was the first of many environmental projects. Exxon’s abandonment of the project led Dr. Parnas to return to school. He completed his master’s degree, and later his Ph.D., at U.C.L.A.

Upon completion of graduate school, he spent 10 years in the polymers division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, first as a chemical engineer, then as a composites group leader. His research was based around manufacturing technology. The main focus was to create new lighter weight materials for cars in an effort to increase gas mileage and reduce CO2 production. While at NIST, Dr. Parnas met Prof. Anthony DiBenedetto of the IMS Polymer Program while hosting an international meeting on composites processing, initiating his association with and eventual move to join IMS.

In 2001, Dr. Parnas was hired by IMS as a faculty member of the Polymer Program. His initial research interest was polymer composites and renewable polymers created from plant protein. Starting in 2005, Dr. Parnas became involved with a number of aspects of the world of biofuels. This changed his research direction and ultimately his career path. He ran the annual Biofuels and Sustainable Energy Symposiums at UConn from 2005 to 2010. These events were key to opening communications between state representatives, local industry professionals, and scientists from the university. It enabled discussions regarding the technical components, policies, and financial aspects of energy. The conference included as many as 300 participants, including 25 state and federal representatives such as Rosa DeLauro and John Larson.

In 2007, an undergraduate asked Dr. Parnas for help with a biofuels project. This simple question led Dr. Parnas down a path to three patents, the creation of a business, and eventually a new career. The original project led the student to a Ph.D. and a faculty position at Oregon State.

A collaboration with IMS Director Steven Suib and other University faculty landed a 1.2 million dollar Department of Energy grant to support biofuels research at UConn. This was a stepping stone to Dr. Parnas’ s research. The funding increased the research staff, enabling publications and further supporting his reputation in the field. He was elected to the Connecticut Academy of Science & Engineering in 2013. After seven patents, he was also inducted into the UConn chapter of the National Academy of Inventors in 2019. During this time, he developed a novel transesterification reactor for the efficient conversion of triglycerides to biodiesel. The reactor was patent worthy and a key component to his future company.  In 2018, after 11 years of research and three U.S. patents, Dr. Parnas created REA Resource Recovery Systems, LLC. The company processes brown grease, sourced from wastewater treatment plants, into biodiesel. The end result is less waste and reduced carbon emissions. This benefits the company, local government, and our mother earth.

In addition to education and research, Dr. Parnas spent five years as the faculty director for UConn’s EcoHouse, one of the learning communities on the Storrs campus. Participating students dedicate their time to a variety of environmental issues, such as sustainable energy, farming, and government policies. At the UConn Spring Valley Student Farm, students grow food for dining services at the Storrs campus. They learn about both farming and selling their products.  A team of engineering students also worked on solar energy, both photovoltaic and thermal, to support the farm. As faculty director, Dr. Parnas was able to help students bring their specific set of skills and interests to the learning community.

Dr. Parnas’s lasting contributions to the University are tremendous, setting a tone for engaging students and inspiring interest in the ways that modern science interfaces with our ecological footprint.  Helping to educate hundreds of students and introducing dozens to the wonderful world of scientific research, many UConn undergraduate engineers and chemists received their first experience in a scientific setting under the advisement of Dr. Parnas. This experience helped pave their paths to a career or graduate school. This August, Dr. Parnas retired from his faculty position at UConn to focus his time and efforts on his growing company, REA Resource Recovery Systems, LLC. For more details about the company, founders, and contracts, visit the REA website: https://rea-systems.com/

IMS thanks Richard for his many years of service, and wishes him well as he transitions into retirement!

IMS Welcomes New Faculty Members

Drs. Qin, Wang, and Zhang
(l-r) Drs. Yang Qin, Xueju “Sophie” Wang, and Yi Zhang

IMS welcomes three new faculty members beginning with the Fall Semester.

Dr. Yang Qin earned his Ph.D. from Rutgers University. His home department will the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. Dr. Yang’s research interests focus on design and synthesis of conjugated organic and polymeric materials, organic/inorganic hybrid materials, and their applications in energy and environment.

Dr. Sophie Wang holds a Ph.D. from Georgia Institute of Technology. Her research interests include soft/active/smart materials, Nanomechanics and micromechanics of advanced materials, Energy storage and conversion, Flexible/stretchable/bio-integrated electronics, and In-situ/environmental operando experimental techniques. The Department of Biomedical Engineering will be Dr. Wang’s home department.

Dr. Yi Zhang received his Ph.D. from Georgia Institute of Technology and will also call the Department of Biomedical Engineering home. His research interest include soft materials, bioelectronics and biosensors, and colloids and interfacial science.

Dr. Chris Monteleone: Reflections on an IMS Ph.D. Graduate

by Osker Dahabsu, Institute of Materials Science

Dr. Chris Monteleone
Dr. Chris Monteleone

Dr. Christopher Monteleone completed his final defense and Ph.D. in Materials Science in May 2020. Chris began his education in UConn’s Chemical Engineering undergraduate program in 2010. During his sophomore year he was offered a research position in the ceramic’s laboratory of Dr. Steven L. Suib. The lab’s focus is coatings deposited by chemical vapor deposition for composites. Interest in these materials and processing led Chris to pursue minor degrees in both Chemistry and Materials Science & Engineering.

Chris was encouraged to leave UConn for graduate school, however after some investigating, he realized his current lab was conducting cutting edge research that was unmatched and could lead him to a career. He remained at UConn to complete his Ph.D. in Materials Science. Chris’s thesis title was, “Design of Materials and Processing Methods for High Temperature Composites.”

Chris said he’s “grateful for the support he received at both IMS and Chemistry.” The open collaborative attitude helped him grow as a scientist and make achievements that might otherwise be impossible. Outside of research, Chris was offered an opportunity helping the mechanical testing and microscopy labs at IMS. This gave him experience in both professional communications and writing technical reports, excellent preparation for an industrial position.

Chris recently began his career as a Materials Engineer at the Rolls Royce High Temperature Composites lab in Cypress, California.

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.


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

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

Meet Dr. J. Nathan Hohman

Dr. J. Nathan Hohman
Dr. J. Nathan Hohman

Assistant Professor of Chemistry and IMS member, Dr. J. Nathan Hohman, was drawn to chemistry from a young age. As a young teenager, he had a subscription to Popular Science and recalls reading – with great interest – about buckyballs and carbon nanotubes. He was especially drawn to the patterns of connectivity and strength and properties of these unique materials. By his 10th grade chemistry class, Hohman was certain that he wanted to pursue a degree in chemistry. He completed his undergraduate studies at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana and went on to study under Professor Paul S. Weiss at Penn State for his Ph.D. From there, a sudden change in Weiss’s appointment led Hohman to complete his studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. From LA, Hohman moved his way up the West Coast, completing a postdoctoral research position in the Stanford University Materials Science and Engineering Department. Shortly after his post doc, he began working at the Molecular Foundry at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

After working for three years at the Molecular Foundry, Hohman realized he missed the world of academics and the joys of teaching students. He wanted to be closer to the faculty and students while experiencing the independence that comes from being a faculty member. Hohman chose UConn after searching for a university that would provide him the opportunity to teach and pursue his research interests.

Read the full story from the Chemistry Department

Dr. Radenka Maric Named AAAS Fellow

Dr. Radenka Maric with graduate students
Radenka Maric, vice president for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship, right, looks over membrane samples with graduate students Thomas Ebaugh, and Ryan Ouimet ’14 (ENG) at the Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2) on Nov. 22, 2019. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Vice President for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Radenka Maric has been named a 2019 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Maric, an IMS faculty member, is also CT Clean Energy Fund Professor of Sustainable Energy in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

AAAS, publisher of the journal Science, is the world’s largest general scientific society. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. The organization’s annual tradition of recognizing leading scientists for their efforts to advance science and its applications dates to 1874. Since then, AAAS has honored distinguished scientists such as astronomer Maria Mitchell, elected a Fellow in 1875; inventor Thomas Edison (1878); chemist Linus Pauling (1939); and computer scientist Grace Hopper (1963). Four of the 2018 Nobel Prize laureates – James Allison, Arthur Ashkin, Frances Arnold, and George Smith – are AAAS elected Fellows.

This year, two of the 443 AAAS honorees are from Connecticut: David Post, Yale professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and UConn professor Radenka Maric. Maric has been honored for distinguished contributions to the field of nano-catalysis for clean energy, particularly for pioneering novel materials and synthesis approaches to achieve an optimized electrochemical interface.

Read the full story at UConn Today

In Memoriam: Dr. Arthur J. McEvily

Dr. Arthur J. McEvily
Dr. Arthur J. McEvily

Dr. Art McEvily, Emeritus Professor of Metallurgy, passed away this past weekend. Dr. McEvily was recognized across the globe as an authority on fatigue and fracture of metals and alloys. His most important contributions included his 1957 demonstration that crack growth rate, da/dN, could be expressed as a function of the parameter KTσ, assuming a crack-like, elliptical, sharp flaw, where KT is the stress concentration factor. Dr. McEvily also highlighted the importance of cross-slip in fatigue, and developed various constitutive relations for fatigue crack growth, including overloads and environmental effects.

After receiving his D.Sc. from Columbia University in 1959, Dr. McEvily worked as an Aeronautical Research Scientist at NASA in Langley, VA and later served as Head of the Solid State Physics Section. He then worked as a Research Scientist at Ford Motor Company for six years before joining UConn as Head of the Metallurgy Department (67-78). He authored or co-authored more than 240 papers and two books, including the classic textbook, Metal Failures — Mechanisms, Analysis, Prevention (Wiley-Interscience).

Dr. McEvily received the Henry Marion Howe Medal of American Society for Metals (ASM) in 1964 and became a Fellow in 1975. In 1983, he was awarded the Nadai Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and was elected a Fellow in 1995. His honors also include the Award of the Mechanics and Materials Division of the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers (JSME, 1992), Honorary Fellow and Life Member of International Fatigue Congress (1995) and Egleston Medal from the Columbia University (1996). In 2006, the ASM/TMS Mechanical Behavior of Materials Committee sponsored a symposium in honor of Dr. McEvily’s 80th birthday, on the subject “Fatigue and Fracture of Traditional and Advanced Materials.” In 2009 he was elected a Fellow of the International Congress on Fracture (ICF) in recognition of his “contributions to the understanding of fatigue mechanisms and processes in structural alloys.”

Art was a stalwart fixture of the Institute of Materials Science and the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science and Engineering. He was an excellent engineer and metallurgist, an avid runner, and a keen sailor. He will be sorely missed by all of us.

UConn Researchers Collaborate to Create Nanoplatform for Intracellular Delivery of PNAs

Ph.D. students Armin Tahmasbi Rad and Shipra Malik; Professor Mu-Ping Nieh, and Associate Professor Raman Bahal
Ph.D. students Armin Tahmasbi Rad and Shipra Malik; Professor Mu-Ping Nieh, and Associate Professor Raman Bahal

There are locks and there are keys. And, thanks to a little twist of fate, it looks like UConn researchers have collaborated to find the right key to fit that lock.

The big news is reflected in a cover story in the July 2019 issue of the journal Nanoscale. The lead authors are graduate students, Armin Tahmasbi Rad and Shipra Malik, representing the labs of Dr. Mu-Ping Nieh, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Dr. Raman Bahal, Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The science is impressive. It involves the delivery of peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) — artificial mimics of DNA that can bind to the target DNA or RNA and are useful in gene therapy and diagnostic techniques — which are synthesized in Bahal’s lab — to the cancerous cells that make up malignant tumors via minute anon-sized discs – developed in Nieh’s lab. These nanodiscs are approximately 200 times smaller than the red blood cells that feed a tumor’s growth and they are exactly the right size and shape to penetrate the tumor and deliver the cancer killing PNAs to their targets.

As summarized in Nanoscale, the research demonstrates that the novel platform for PNA delivery holds great promise for controlling gene expression and regulation through improvements in accessibility of molecular targets and increased specificity of cancer fighting agents.

Read the full story from UConn Today