In the News

‘Smart Swab’ Detector for COVID By-products

Sankaran "Thai" Thayumanavan, Jeanne Hardy and Trisha L. Andrew received a one-year RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation, to investigate whether they can develop a simple, color-changing test swab for COVID-19 in the next year that would alert users if their body carries a viral product left after infection. RAPID supports proposals “having a severe urgency with regard to availability of, or access to data, facilities or specialized equipment, including quick-response research on natural or anthropogenic disasters and similar unanticipated events.”

The three researchers bring complementary expertise to the team, and are seeking “a cheap test that will tell if you should get checked by medical professionals because you are probably infected,” said Thayumanavan. Andrew adds, “Like a pregnancy test, but for viral infection.”

They stress that this is a research effort. “We are being very careful to point out that we are working on a general solution for detecting viral infections, which can be easily customized to specific viruses and then rapidly mobilized in times of dire need,” says Hardy. Andrew adds, “We are building up the basic science and chemistry needed for anyone to rapidly mass-produce tests that can be used at home. This concept certainly applies to the current COVID-19 pandemic but can also be relevant to future outbreaks.”

Congratulations, Chemistry Seniors!

We can’t express enough how proud we are of our 2020 chemistry graduates! Students showed remarkable resilience adapting to new learning environments, and demonstrated amazing creativity with remote research.

Graduations are milestones best experienced in a social context, but with physical distancing measures putting the in-person ceremonies on hold, we hope you will join us for Chemistry’s Virtual Senior Recognition on May 8th, starting at 2pm, prior to the university’s 4:30pm virtual celebration. CNS will launch a Senior Celebration page with well wishes and online activities at 8am on May 8th, so be sure to connect with UMass throughout the day.

Friends of the graduates, students, alumni, faculty, and staff can share their well-wishes and congratulations to the graduates by sharing photos and video clips to CNS Communications at by noontime, Monday, May 4th.


Two Chemistry Students Recognized by NSF GRFP

Big News! Two Chemistry students have been recognized by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Congratulations to Isabella Jaen Maisonet for her award of an NSF GRFP fellowship! Isabella is an undergraduate currently working with Mike Knapp’s group, and will will start grad school this Fall in the Chemical Biology PhD program at Harvard.

Congratulations to Kaitlyn Chhe, honorable mention in the NSF GRFP competition! Kaitlyn is a graduate student working with Michelle Farkas’s group. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is a highly competitive national program recognizing outstanding students.

It is amazing that two of our students have been recognized in the same year.

Martin Lab Receives Acorn Innovation Fund Award

The Martin lab has received an award from the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center Acorn Innovation Fund. This award “is intended to support the demonstration of the viability of a technology developed at Massachusetts research universities.” From RNA vaccines to mRNA therapeutics, RNA is poised to revolutionize the treatment and prevention of a wide variety of disorders and diseases, but deficiencies in its laboratory synthesis are holding back applications. Building on recently published work, the Martin lab is leveraging its extensive experience in fundamental mechanisms in transcription to develop dramatically improved approaches towards the enzymatic synthesis of this key molecule. This Acorn Award is supporting the development of a flow synthesis approach, with the immediate aim of demonstrating a path forward to high quality, high yield RNA. A wide variety of new RNA therapeutics lie on the horizon today. From mRNA-based therapeutics, to RNA-guided technologies such as CRISPR, to RNA “logic gate” smart therapeutics. Enabling research in the Martin lab aims to overcome current limitations in the implementation of these exciting technologies.

UMass Amherst Chemistry Remote Instruction

UMass Amherst transitioned to remote-learning instruction using web, video and teleconferencing tools as of Monday, March 23rd, due to the coronavirus.

Course instructors are the primary contact. Students enrolled in chemistry courses, including labs, should closely monitor email, Moodle, and/or other modes of communication from their instructors. Faculty will use various programs and tools to tailor online learning methods to their course material and lab experiments.

Undergraduate Researchers are NOT expected to report to laboratories. This includes students enrolled in practicum, independent study, honors capstone experiences, etc.

Additional campus information can be found at UMass Amherst Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Dignity and Respect in Action: Community Conversations

Community Conversations workshops are open to all members of the campus community, and will focus on skill building around respective dialogue to allow us to better engage with one another. Attendees will learn about the LARA (Listen, Affirm, Respond, Add) method of communication, designed to help us engage in discussion empathetically in a way that invites diverse perspectives in an effort to create shared meaning.

We come from diverse backgrounds and experiences that lead to varying levels of comfort and ability to interact thoughtfully across difference. Poor interactions can be very harmful, and worries about being misinterpreted can make interactions stressful. These concerns can keep individuals from engaging with others who don’t share their background or lead to miscommunication when they do.


Congratulations on 70 years at UMass!

In February 1950, Prof. Richard (Dick) Stein joined the UMass Chemistry faculty as an Associate Professor. He carried out pioneering studies developing and using rheo-optical techniques to study orientation and phase transitions in amorphous, crystalline and liquid crystalline polymers. He also developed the university’s first advanced physical chemistry courses in quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics and polymer science.

Dick became Commonwealth Professor, and in 1961 he founded both the Polymer Research Institute and the Research Computing Center. In 1980, the chemistry department awarded him the Charles A. Goessmann Chair in Chemistry (he’s currently the Emeritus Goessmann Professor in Chemistry). Later in the 1980’s he was involved in establishing and obtaining funding for the Silvio O. Conte Center for Polymer Research. Among his many honors, Dick is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Photo credit: University Archives

Auerbach Discovers New Building Blocks of Zeolite Nanopores

In an article recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (and featured on the Dec 26, 2019 journal cover), Prof. Scott Auerbach and collaborators from UMass Amherst and WPI have discovered new building blocks that they call "tricyclic bridges," which help to explain structures and vibrations of zeolites.

Zeolites are the most used catalysts by weight on planet earth, but the synthetic pathways leading to their crystallization remain poorly known. Raman spectroscopy of zeolites has been useful for shedding light on structures that exist in zeolite crystals and during crystallization. Despite the importance of understanding Raman spectra of zeolites, it is often assumed with little evidence that Raman bands can be assigned to individual zeolite rings. Auerbach and co-workers tested this assumption through an integrated synthesis, spectroscopy, and modeling study, finding the critical role of new building blocks they call "tricyclic bridges" -- collections of three zeolite rings connected together. Using this new concept, Auerbach and coworkers discovered a precise relationship between zeolite bond angle and Raman frequency that can be used to pinpoint structures that form during zeolite crystallization.

"This breakthrough is important because it gives us a way to see the invisible -- precise structures that lead to zeolite crystals," says Auerbach. "We hope such structural insights will help us to synthesize new, tailor-made zeolites for advanced applications in clean energy and carbon capture."

Auerbach and his colleagues are funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division, under Award No. DE-SC0019170. In future work supported by this grant, Auerbach and his team plan to measure and model Raman spectra during the zeolite crystallization process, to determine which tricyclic bridges are present and become inherited by the resulting zeolites.

Rotello Among World’s Most Highly Cited Scientists

Prof. Vincent Rotello is one of ten researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who have been recognized for being among the world’s most highly cited researchers in 2019 by London-based Clarivate Analytics, owner of the Web of Science.

Now in its sixth year, the citation analysis identifies influential researchers as determined by their peers around the world. They have consistently won recognition in the form of high citation counts over a decade. These scientists are judged to be influential, and their citation records are seen as “a mark of exceptional impact,” the company says.

The company says it “focuses on contemporary research achievement: Only highly cited papers in science and social science journals indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection during the 11-year period 2008-2018 were surveyed.”

The ten UMass Amherst researchers recognized on the 2019 list are chemist Vincent Rotello, food scientists David Julian McClements, Eric Decker and Hang Xiao, microbiologist Kelly Nevin and Derek Lovley, materials scientist Thomas Russell in the College of Natural Sciences, Catrine Tudor-Locke and Laura Vandenberg of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, and Baoshan Xing of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

Chemistry Major Bryanna Lexus Freitas Awarded Innovation Challenge Seed Money

Hosted by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, a Celebration of Innovation Challenge: The Seed Pitch and Hult Prize was held on Wednesday, November 20. An audience of more than 100 students, faculty, staff, and community members were on hand as the top four Seed Pitch teams and the Hult Prize winner and runner-up were recognized and gave minute-long pitches of their ventures.

Competing in the Seed Pitch for $15,000 in equity-free funding, 17 teams gave five-minute pitches of their venture ideas and participated in Q&A with the panel of industry-expert judges. Held simultaneously, Hult Prize consisted of five-minute pitches and five-minute Q&A sessions with its own judging panel – on the line, advancing to the regional competitions in Boston in the spring.

Pitched by Hadley Beauregard (sophomore, biochemistry and molecular biology and German and Scandinavian studies), Hailey Charest (junior, biochemistry and molecular biology) and Bryanna Lexus Freitas (senior, chemistry and psychology), Bac-Be-Gone focuses on MRSA, an antibiotic resistant superbug that kills hundreds of thousands of people a year in hospitals across the world. Awarded $5,000 by the judges, Bac-Be-Gone creates products that immediately eliminate MRSA on contact.

2019 PPG fellowship

Congratulations to Haneen Mansoor from the Kittilstved research group, and Emily Smith from the Venkataraman research group, for being selected as the 2019 recipients of the PPG fellowship sponsored by the PPG foundation. This fellowship is competitively awarded to outstanding Chemistry graduate students who do research in materials chemistry.

Chen Receives NSF Grant to Support Computing Cluster

To support a broadly shared Graphic Processing Unit (GPU)-enabled high-performance computing cluster for the Institute for Applied Sciences (IALS), computational biophysicist Jianhan Chen, chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biology, with others, recently was awarded a two-year, $415,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will fill what Chen calls “a critical need” for enabling computation-intensive research activities on campus.

Although the UMass system has a traditional shared cluster housed at the Massachusetts Green High-performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, Chen points out, the current cluster has “minimal GPU capacity” and the campus and IALS need dedicated GPU computing hardware to support their research communities. His co-principal investigators on the project are Erin Conlon, mathematics and statistics, Peng Bai, chemical engineering, Chungwen Liang, IALS director of computational modeling, and Matthew Moore, food science.

“When we put in the grant we solicited comments and surveyed the need from IALS and identified 30 labs that could use it,” Chen explains. “They testified to the need and committed to the cost share with NSF, which will come from IALS, the College of Natural Sciences, College of Engineering, central IT and the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement. This is going to be a really unique entity on campus, and it will have far-reaching impact,” he predicts. “It will be busy from the get-go.”

“I think NSF saw how much need and support we have. I want to particularly highlight the important contributions of Chris Misra and John Griffin of IT,” he adds. “They have taken the leadership in providing technical support that’s absolutely critical to me and other principal investigators on campus. Without them and their excellent help, this will not work, period.”

The new cluster, once carefully built up by Griffin, Chen and his co-investigators, will be managed by the IALS Computational and Modeling Core to provide long-term stability for operation and management, serving 250 IALS-affiliated research labs across 27 departments and seven colleges. “The GPU facility offers high-speed single- and double-precision operations as well as extreme parallelism to enhance current activities that contribute to the open science movement,” project leaders state.

It will also contribute to efforts to integrate regional education, outreach, diversity and economic activities, as the GPU facilities will be made available to researchers through Internet2 links and regional computing partnerships at MGHPCC. The researchers predict that the new cluster “will most likely lead to new developments and discoveries including novel GPU-enabled modeling and simulation technologies that may elucidate molecular mechanism of drug delivery, computational design catalysts for renewable energy and chemical synthesis, advanced computational analysis tools for next generation informatics and big data, and improved understanding of risk and resistance to breast cancer.”