Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative Honored at U.S. White House

The research accomplishments of the UConn Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) was among the milestones highlighted at the U.S. White House's fifth year anniversary of the Materials Genome Initiative.
The research accomplishments of the UConn Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) was among the milestones highlighted at the U.S. White House’s fifth year anniversary of the Materials Genome Initiative.

By Amanda Campanaro

Materials Science and Engineering Professor Rampi Ramprasad recently attended the fifth year anniversary event of the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) hosted by the U.S. White House.  Among the accomplishments recognized at the event were the outcomes of the UConn Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), a collaboration of five universities lead by UConn’s team of researchers including Professor Ramprasad of MSE, Professor Gregory Sotzing of Chemistry, and Professor Yang Cao of Electrical Engineering.

The UConn MURI was funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR)—one of the research arms of the Department of Defense—and is aligned with the Materials Genome Initiative, announced by President Obama in 2011 as a means of accelerating materials discovery. In five years, UConn’s team of researchers, along with their collaborators at Columbia University, Penn State University, RPI and the University of Akron, has combined high-throughput computational screening, informatics, and experimental synthesis and testing to develop a set of new organic and organometallic polymer dielectrics with enhanced properties compared to materials now in use. This materials discovery effort is described in the MGI Accomplishments and Technical Highlights document as “an excellent example of how the MGI is being harnessed to collaboratively design new materials”.

“Historically, materials discovery largely happened by trial and error,” Professor Ramprasad says. One of the main charters of the MGI is to accelerate the materials discovery process by encouraging team-work between people from multiple synergistic backgrounds, and using computations, data mining, and theory to screen and guide the experimental phases of the project. The primary objective of UConn MURI research program was to design new classes of polymeric materials with high dielectric constant and high breakdown strength, suitable for application in high voltage, high energy density capacitor technologies.

Capacitors store less energy than batteries, but charge and discharge energy much faster.  “The goal of our project is to increase the amount of energy stored in a capacitor, while still maintaining the speed of charging and discharging,” says Professor Ramprasad. New materials discovery for capacitors is important for the future of multiple technologies ranging from defense applications, such as the all-electric ship, to civilian applications, such as hybrid cars.

“We can claim that we have a number of new promising energy storage capacitor materials that did not exist before the program started,” says Professor Ramprasad. Their findings have been recently reviewed in the journal Advanced Materials (Adv. Mater. 2016, 28, 6277–6291).

“Our collaborative effort has shown that the MGI paradigm can lead to useful outcomes, and could potentially be applied to many other applications,” says Professor Ramprasad. As discussed earlier this year in an UConn Today article, Professor Ramprasad and his research team have developed data-driven methods that can “scan millions of theoretical compounds for qualities that would make better solar cells, fibers, and computer chips.” These methods, models and data have been made accessible to the public.  MGI is a model that emphasizes the sharing of knowledge across disciplines and universities.

As to the barriers involved in collaborative research, Professor Ramprasad says, “There were challenging moments in the initial phase of the project. For people from different backgrounds to reach a common point where we understood each other’s challenges and true strengths was critical for the team to work well.” Finding an equilibrium was their turning point.

“To be a part of this project was a great honor. To see that the work we do on the computer can be realized in practice is a rewarding experience.”

UConn Professors Among Top 300 Most-Cited Scholars in the Field

By Amanda Campanaro

Dr. Steven L. Suib and Dr. Cato T. Laurencin and are among the 300 most-cited researchers in Materials Science and Engineering worldwide.

In the review, which was conducted using citation data from the Elsevier Scopus Database, MSE Supplies compiled the ranking data and listed the names and institutions of the highly cited scholars. “The highly cited researchers or scholars are either the corresponding author or the first author of their publications,” the review says.  “Among all the researchers, only the top 300 in the field of materials science and engineering (MSE) are included in the list, ranked by the total citations of their papers.”

Dr. Steven Suib with Ph.D. student Altug Poyraz
Altug Poyraz, left, a graduate student, with Dr. Steven Suib, distinguished professor and director of chemistry on Jan. 9, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Dr. Steven L. Suib is the Director of the Institute of Materials Science and Chair for the Applied Chemical Technology Subdivision (ACTS) of the American Chemical Society (ACS). His recent publications include “Substrate Control of Anisotropic Resistivity in Heteroepitaxial Nanostructured Arrays of Cryptomelane Manganese Oxide on Strontium Titanate,” in conjunction with UConn MSE’s Mark Aindow, and “Formation of Platinum (Pt) Nanocluster Coatings on K-OMS-2 Manganese Oxide Membranes by Reactive Spray Deposition Technique (RSDT) for Extended Stability during CO Oxidation,” published in Advances in Chemical Engineering and Science, 2014.

Dr. Cato Laurencin
Dr. Cato Laurencin at his office at UConn Health in Farmington (Peter orenus/UConn Photo)

Dr. Cato T. Laurencin is the Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and University Professor of MSE and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE). He is the recipient of many honors, including the 2016 National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Dr. Laurencin’s recent publications include “The Quest toward Limb Regeneration: A regenerative engineering approach,” published in Regenerative Biomaterials, 2016; and “Animal models of osteoarthritis: classification, update, and measurement of outcomes,” published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research, 2016.

Scopus is the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature: scientific journals, books and conference proceedings. Delivering a comprehensive overview of the world’s research output in  the fields of science, technology, medicine, social sciences, and arts   and humanities, Scopus features smart tools to track, analyze and  visualize research.

Professor Ramprasad Elected Fellow of the American Physical Society

By Allison McLellan

RamprasadR2014_wDr. Rampi Ramprasad (IMS/MSE) has just been named a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) through the Division of Materials Physics. The citation for his nomination is “For pioneering contributions to the computation-driven rational design of materials, especially polymeric and inorganic dielectric materials and catalysts.”

Representing over 51,000 members, APS is a non-profit membership organization that works to advance and circulate the knowledge of physics through it’s journals, scientific meetings, education, outreach, advocacy, and international activities. Fellowship with APS is a distinguished honor based on outstanding contributions to the field of physics in areas such as research, applications, leadership, service, and education.

The focus of Professor Ramprasad’s research is the development and application of quantum mechanics based materials computational tools and data-driven methods for the accelerated design and discovery of new materials. His research has been funded by several agencies, including the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, Army Research Office, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and ACS Petroleum Research Fund. A recent project that has significantly shaped the manner in which he is able to use science-driven and data-driven methods to design new materials from the atomic level, and one that is consistent with the US White House Materials Genone Initiative is a multi-disciplinary university research initiative (MURI) funded by the Office of Naval Research. The aim of this project is the rational design of capacitor dielectrics for high energy density and electrostatic energy storage devices. Professor Ramprasad hopes to apply the methods and concepts that he and his colleagues have developed to other materials and application domains.

Professor Ramprasad has been previously recognized for his contributions as well. He is an elected member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, and a recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship, the Max Planck Society Fellowship for Distinguished Scientists, and the United Technologies Corporation Professorship for Engineering Innovation. He has authored or co-authored over 140 peer-reviewed journal articles, 3 book chapters, and 4 patents. He has been a guest editor for the Journal of Materials Science, delivered over 150 invited talks at Universities and Conferences worldwide, and has organized several international symposia. His election as an APS Fellow will spur his continued efforts in the field of materials physics.

Professor Mark Aindow Receives Outstanding Faculty Award

By Kelly A. Salzo

Dr. Mark Dudley
Dr. Mark Aindow

Dr. Mark Aindow, Professor of Materials Science & Engineering and Associate Director for the Institute of Materials Science (IMS) has been awarded the 2015 School of Engineering Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award.

This award recognizes faculty members who have shown an exceptional commitment to mentoring and advising other faculty, particularly junior colleagues. The School of Engineering considers mentoring other faculty members to be one of the most important contributions a faculty member can make.

As the most recent recipient of this award, Mark is dedicated to providing the support and mentorship his fellow faculty need for their own professional development. With a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Liverpool, two years’ experience as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, experience as a past Royal Society/CAS Exchange Scholar, experience as an editor for the Journal of Materials Science, several years’ experience as a professor, and now experience as Associate Director for IMS, Mark is an extraordinary resource for his colleagues. Congratulations to Mark Aindow for receiving this distinguished award.

Five Questions with Mei Wei

By Kelly A. Salzo

Professor Mei Wei (GEMS/MSE/IMS) joined UConn’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering in 2002 as assistant professor. After receiving her Ph.D. from the University of New South Wales in Australia in 1998, she completed her postdoctoral study at Kyoto University Japan and at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia. Dr. Wei’s current research focuses on fabrication of novel tissue engineering scaffolds for bone and osteochondral repair, biomimetic apatite coatings for bone repair and drug/protein carrier, synthesis of magnetic nanoparticles/nanoworms for contrast agent, cancer treatment and drug delivery, establishment of in vivo time-lapsed imaging platform for in situ visualization of cell-scaffold interplay, and development of dense apatite-polymer fiber absorbable composites as bone fixation devices.

The Connecticut Technology Council (CTC) named Dr. Wei one of the 2007 Women of Innovation for serving as exceptional role models to future generations of female leaders in the STEM fields. In 2013 she was elected member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) and also became Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education in 2013. In 2015, she was appointed as the Associate Editor of Journal of Biomedical Materials Research Part A, a major journal in the biomaterials field.

We sat down with Mei Wei to talk about her experiences as a professor, her role as Associate Dean, and her reaction to receiving the Women of Innovation award.

How did you become involved in materials science & engineering and why did you decide to become a professor?
I followed the footstep of my parents, both of whom are professors in materials science and engineering. With a special interest in medicine, I decide to work on biomaterials.

In 2007 you received the Women of Innovation award. What has been your experience as a woman in a STEM field?
Women are still minority in engineering, although the percentage of women in engineering has been increasing in the past a few years. Many of our female faculty members were the first female in their departments. Traditionally, it is believed that engineering is a men-only field. However, more and more women have proved to the society that women can be successful in engineering. This is an important message to be sent to the community and to the young female students to encourage the young talented minds to pursue STEM studies.

Why did you decide to take on the demanding role of Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education?
As a senior female faculty in engineering, I feel the responsibility to help the junior faculty and graduate students, especially the female faculty and students. A large proportion of my duty as the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education is devoted to junior faculty and graduate students mentoring. We would like to create a nurturing and friendly environment for faculty and students to conduct research and study.

What advice can you offer to students who are pursuing a career in materials science and engineering?
Materials science and engineering is an area full of potential and promises. The study and research may not always go smoothly. Be persistent and you will see the bright future.

For more information on Professor Wei’s research please visit her research lab website.

Professor Steven Suib Delivers Plenary Lecture at the University of Illinois

By Giorgina Paiella

SuibSteven_gems_wBoard of Trustees Distinguished Professor and IMS Director Dr. Steven Suib delivered an invited lecture at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign on April 9th. The talk, titled, “Novel Porous Metal Oxides and Sulfides and Their Applications in Adsorption, Batteries, and Catalysis” was presented as part of the inaugural Sheldon Shore Chemistry Colloquium.

Professor Suib earned a B.S. degree in chemistry and geology at the State University College of New York at Fredonia. He then went on to complete his graduate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign under Galen D. Stucky and postdoctoral work at Illinois with Larry R. Faulkner before joining the University of Connecticut Department of Chemistry in 1980.

Professor Eugene Pinkhassik’s Article Most Read Article in Langmuir

By: Kelly A. Salzo

Dr. Eugene PinkhassikThe American Chemical Society (ACS) Editors’ Choice featured UConn Associate Professor Dr. Eugene Pinkhassik’s article, “Directed Assembly of Vesicle-Templated Polymer Nanocapsules under near-Physiological Conditions” published in Langmuir, the ACS Journal of Surfaces and Colloids. Since then, Dr. Pinkhassik’s paper became the most downloaded article for the previous month and is featured on the cover of the March 2015 issue of Langmuir.

Dr. Eugene Pinkhassik joined UConn in the fall of 2014 as an associate professor in the Chemistry Department after receiving his Ph.D. at the Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague, Czech Republic in 1997. His research focus is making nanomaterials and nanodevices.

ACS Features GEMS Member Eugene Pinkhassik

By Kelly A. Salzo

Associate Professor Eugene Pinkhassik
Associate Professor Eugene Pinkhassik

The American Chemical Society (ACS) Editors’ Choice recently featured UConn Associate Professor, Dr. Eugene Pinkhassik (GEMS/CHEM/IMS), Mariya D. Kim (Saint Louis University), and UConn Assistant Research Professor Dr. Sergey A. Dergunov’s (CHEM) article, “Directed Assembly of Vesicle-Templated Polymer Nanocapsules under Near-Physiological Conditions” published in the Langmuir Journal. Their paper suggests “a simple and scalable method for the synthesis of hollow polymer nanocapsules in the bilayers of spontaneously assembled surfactant vesicles.”

The researchers created nanocapsules with polymerization using a peroxide initiator and an amine activator co-dissolved with monomers and cross-linkers in the hydrophobic interior of the surfactant bilayer. By hydrating, mixing, and incubating the aqueous solutions, equilibrium monomer-loaded vesicles formed. After removing oxygen and incubating the solution for an additional 1 to 2 hours, the group was able to synthesize porous nanocapsules which supported high yield with no pinhole defects. The team recognizes the potential for controlling all aspects of the nanocapsule architecture and properties using a variety of surfactants, monomers, crosslinkers, and polymerization conditions. Also, since the cross-linking thermo-polymerization does not require exposure to UV light, this technique is effective for encapsulating enzymes, catalysts, light-sensitive compounds, and other fragile molecules. The synthetic compositions and mild conditions are close to the physiological conditions, which make polymer nanocapsules attractive for biomedical applications such as devices for the delivery of drugs and imaging agents, nanoreactors, and optical sensors. In recent related studies, the team showed that these biocompatible nanocapsules can act as nanothermometers. In addition, by controlling the environment of nanopores in the capsule shells, the researchers achieved catch and release of molecules in the physiological conditions.

Dr. Eugene Pinkhassik joined UConn in the fall of 2014 as an associate professor in the Chemistry Department after receiving his Ph.D. at the Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague, Czech Republic in 1997 and completing his postdoctoral research at the University of Colorado in 2000. His research interests include making nanomaterials and nanodevices.

Dr. Sergey A. Dergunov joined UConn in June 2014 as an assistant research professor for polymer chemistry after receiving his Ph.D. in chemistry from Kazakh National University in 2005 and finishing his postdoctoral research at the University of Memphis in 2011. His research interests focus on the development of functional materials as a platform and then applying them to various fields.