In the News
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences announced this week the election of 100 new members to the academy in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. They include Lila M. Gierasch, distinguished professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The NAS is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. Scientists are elected by their peers to membership in the NAS for outstanding contributions to research. Gierasch’s research focus for decades has been protein folding, that is, how amino acid sequence determines the three-dimensional structure of a protein. She is particularly focused on how proteins fold in the cellular environment and the role of molecular chaperones in ensuring high fidelity in the folding process.
She says of her selection, “I am thrilled by this honor. The recognition of one’s contributions over a career by colleagues is truly gratifying.”
John McCarthy, UMass Amherst provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, says of Gierasch’s career accomplishments, “This is a richly deserved honor for one of our stellar faculty members. Lila Gierasch is part of what makes this university great.”
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a private, non-profit society of distinguished scholars established by an Act of Congress signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The academy is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. Scientists are elected by their peers to membership in the NAS for outstanding contributions to research.
Tim Lodge graduated from Harvard in 1975 with a B.A. cum laude in Applied Mathematics. He completed his PhD in Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin in 1980, and then spent 20 months as a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at NIST. Since 1982 he has been on the Chemistry faculty at Minnesota, and in 1995 he also became a Professor of Chemical Engineering & Materials Science. In 2013 he was named a Regents Professor, the University’s highest academic rank.
His talk “Ionic Liquid/Block Polymer Nanostructures: Remarkably Versatile, Functional Materials” will be on Thursday, September 5th at 11:30 in LGRT 1634.
Abstract: Ionic liquids are an emerging class of solvents with an appealing set of physical attributes. These include negligible vapor pressure, impressive chemical and thermal stability, tunable solvation properties, high ionic conductivity, and wide electrochemical windows. In particular, the non-volatility renders ionic liquids practical components of devices, but they require structure-directing agents to become functional materials. Block polymers provide a convenient platform for achieving desirable nanostructures by self-assembly, with lengthscales varying from a few nanometers up to several hundred nanometers. Furthermore, ionic liquids and polymer blocks can be selected to impart exquisitely tunable thermosensitivity, by exploiting either upper or lower critical solution transitions (UCSTs and LCSTs). In selected cases, it is also possible to prepare photoreversible and photopatternable systems. Overall, by combining designed block polymers and ionic liquids we have demonstrated materials with superior performance for a remarkably diverse set of applications. These include gate dielectrics in organic transistors, electrochromic and electroluminescent gels, and membranes for gas separation, ion batteries, and fuel cells.
S. ‘Thai’ Thayumanavan, professor of chemistry is awarded the Mahoney Life Sciences Prize for his paper: “Shrink-wrapped Proteins as Next Generation Biologics.” Thayumanavan’s work addresses major challenges in delivering protein-based drugs and devices across a cell membrane while keeping the protein stable and avoiding unwanted immune system responses. The award-winning study presents a “robust and sustainable” strategy which overcomes those challenges: the protein itself serves as a template, and polymers self-assemble to form a sheath around it. The technology has exciting potential applications in therapeutics.
The panel of expert judges praised Thayumanavan’s work as “a major step forward that takes on a long-standing problem,” and “a large advance in the field.” Tricia Serio, dean of the College of Natural Sciences said, “Thai’s approach — to have the protein template its own packaging — is the type of innovative and out-of-the-box thinking that enables transformational advances in science. His work embodies the spirit of this award.”
Richard Vachet, chemistry department head, said, "Thai is a very creative scientist who has a remarkable ability to turn fundamental chemical understanding into new materials that solve real-world problems in biomedicine. His work is a great example of how UMass Amherst researchers are doing translational research."
Through the generosity of the Mahoney family, the prize recognizes UMass Amherst scientists whose work has the potential for advancing connections between research and industry. The Prize includes an award of $10,000 and is awarded annually to one faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in life sciences research, and whose work significantly advances connections between academic research and industry.
Riddha Das, a doctoral student in chemistry, won the 3MT People’s Choice Award. “It was very difficult to condense five or six years of research into three minutes,” she said, “but now if I’m at an interview or a conference, I don’t have to stumble or wonder where to begin.” Das’s research focuses on using nanoparticles to fight cancer.
Organized by the Graduate School’s Office of Professional Development, the annual three-week-long contest tests the research communication skills of 40 doctoral and master’s students by challenging them to explain the significance of their academic projects in accessible and compelling presentations of three minutes or less.
The finalists presented their talks at a public event at Amherst’s Jones Library on March 23.
Gov. Charlie Baker celebrated the opening of the new Physical Sciences Building (PSB) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a facility funded by the state that fosters and expands cutting-edge collaborative learning and research at the Commonwealth’s flagship campus.
“We were pleased to invest in the new Physical Sciences Building, which will serve as a hub for the natural sciences at UMass Amherst,” Baker said. “The facility’s expansion will help foster new research and career opportunities, which will help support the STEM workforce pipeline here in Massachusetts.”
Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy says, “This complex is home to the very best facilities in physics and chemistry, enhancing the research capability for our faculty and students in the College of Natural Sciences and providing the STEM talent that is essential for the state’s innovation economy. We’re deeply grateful for the governor’s support and the state’s investment in UMass Amherst.”
“This project reflects the significance of the Commonwealth’s investment in faculty excellence, scientific discovery and student success at UMass Amherst,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “And it strengthens UMass Amherst’s position as a top-tier public research university that prepares students to thrive in the high-demand STEM fields that are so important to the future of Massachusetts.”
Gabriela C. Weaver, special assistant to the Provost for Educational Initiatives and professor of chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been named an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow for academic year 2019-20.
In nominating Weaver, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy said, “Dr. Gabriela Weaver has established herself as an outstanding professor and a national educational leader who has pioneered and evaluated a number of technology-enhanced approaches to teaching, as well as pedagogical approaches that engage students early on in inquiry. She is also a proven mentor of STEM faculty. Her selection as an ACE fellow is an indication of her potential for higher level academic leadership positions.”
Now beginning its eleventh year, the campus’s Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP), which supports educational activities that enhance biomedical, behavioral and clinical research workforce diversity, recently was awarded its third grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue funding the program.
It supports students who are exploring the idea of graduate school and seeking research experience to strengthen their applications. The five-year, $1.7 million grant for PREP, overseen by Lynmarie Thompson, chemistry, Shelly Peyton, chemical engineering, and Sandra Petersen, veterinary and animal science, has seen more than 70 students complete UMass PREP, the directors report. Of those, 97 percent were accepted into Ph.D. programs on campus or other institutions. Over 85 percent have finished or are currently enrolled in biomedical or biobehavioral doctoral programs.
Mingxu You of UMass Amherst Chemistry has received the highly prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship award for 2019, and was one of only 23 chemists nationwide to win the award this year.
“Sloan Research Fellows are the best young scientists working today,” and “Sloan Fellows stand out for their creativity, for their hard work, for the importance of the issues they tackle, and the energy and innovation with which they tackle them. To be a Sloan Fellow is to be in the vanguard of twenty-first century science.”, according to the president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Adam F. Falk.
Professor Trisha Andrew, Chemistry, has been selected to present the Kavli Foundation Emerging Leader in Chemistry Lecrure at the ACS Meeting in Orlando this April. The Kavli Foundation Lecture Series, supported by the Kavli Foundation, promotes pioneering discoveries to some of the worlds most pressing challenges.
Lila Gierasch, Distinguished Professor in Chemistry, and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, was selected by the American Peptide Society to receive the 2019 Merrifield Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to peptide science. The award named in honor of R. Bruce Merrifield recognizes the lifetime achievement of a peptide scientist.
Gierasch will be presented with the award at the 26th American Peptide Symposium in Monterey, CA, June 22-27, 2019
It is with sadness that we report that Emeritus Professor Louis Carpino passed away on January 4, 2019.
Louis started as a faculty member in our Department in 1954 and, while he had been emeritus for a number of years, he remained active in research up until just last year (64 years in total!). Louis was an amazing organic chemist, who is best known for inventing the widely used t-Boc and F-moc amine protecting groups. These developments revolutionized peptide synthesis, with huge downstream impact across a wide swath of science. He was clearly one of the early leaders in putting UMass on the map.
Mingxu You Receives NSF Career Award
Chemistry's Mingxu You Receives NSF Career Award for "A Generalized Quantitative Imaging Approach for Small Molecules using Genetically Engineered RNA Sensors."
Mingxu You's long-term goal is to develop nucleic acid-based next-generation sensor platforms for cell biology studies and disease diagnostics. The overarching goal of his proposal is to engineer an RNA-based general sensing system for the quantitative measurement of metabolites, signaling molecules, and synthetic small molecules in living cells. These RNA-based sensors can be modularly adapted for the measurement of various analytes in individual cells, widely applicable in many clinical, industrial, and ecological settings.