Author: Rhonda Ward

Collaborative Research to Develop Filament-Based Hydrogels is Cover for JACS

Yao Lin JACS cover imageIn a collaborative effort, researchers from the University of Connecticut (led by Profs. Yao Lin, VJ Kumar and Xudong Yao) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (led by Prof. Jianjun Cheng) have made an advance in the rational design of synthetic polypeptides to develop filament-based hydrogels. The work, conceptualized and realized by the graduate students Tianjian Yang (UConn) and Tianrui Xue (UIUC), has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) and featured as the cover of the March 6 issue.

Building on the recent advancement of autoaccelerated ring-opening polymerization of amino acid N-carboxyanhydrides (NCAs), this study strategically explores a series of random copolymers comprising multiple amino acids, aiming to elucidate the core principles governing gelation pathways of these purpose-designed copolypeptides. The team found that the selection of amino acids steered both the morphology of fibril superstructures and their assembly kinetics, subsequently determining their potential to form sample-spanning networks. Importantly, the viscoelastic properties of the resulting supramolecular hydrogels can be tailored according to the specific copolypeptide composition through modulations in filament densities and lengths. The findings enhance our understanding of directed self-assembly in high molecular weight synthetic copolypeptides, offering valuable insights for the development of synthetic fibrous networks and biomimetic supramolecular materials with custom-designed properties.

The research was supported by NSF grants awarded to Yao Lin at UConn (DMR 1809497 and 2210590) and Jianjun Cheng at UIUC (CHE 1905097).


Jiuzhou Zhao Completes Ph.D. in Polymer Science

Jiuzhou Zhao
Jiuzhou Zhao

After completing his Master’s degree at Akron University, Jiuzhou joined the UConn Polymer Ph.D. Program. Under the advisement of Professor Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos, he explored the world of polymer coatings, leading to his dissertation: “Layer-by-layer Assembled Polamide for Endogenous Redox-Active Interference Molecules Rejection”.

Jiuzhou returned home in China to begin a research and development position in the petroleum industry.

Congratulations Jiuzhao!

College of Engineering Poster Competition

Antigoni Konstantinou (Materials Science), Max Wondolowski (civil Engineering), and Wei Ruan (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)
Antigoni Konstantinou (Materials Science), Max Wondolowski (civil Engineering), and Wei Ruan (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)

Two Institute of Materials Science students received recognition at the College of Engineering’s 10th Annual Poster Competition. Held on February 23, the competition included 95 posters from UConn engineering students.

Chemical & Biomolecular Ph.D. student, Wei Ruan from the Burke Laboratory of Polymeric Materials received 3rd place prize with the poster entitled “High Throughput Fabrication of Thin Electrocaloric Materials Films Enabled by Additive Manufacturing”.

Antigoni Konstantinou with her 1st place poster
Antigoni Konstantinou with her 1st place poster

Materials Science Ph.D. student, Antigoni Konstantinou, from The Electrical Insulation Research Center, received the highly esteemed 1st place prize with the poster, “2D Coating for Insulation of Variable Frequency Drives.”

Chromogenic Identification of Breakdown

Professors Greg A. Sotzing and Pritish S. Aklujkar have been working with high temperature dielectrics used in high energy density capacitors. They are developing a new generation of all-organic polymer dielectric capacitors that can withstand high temperature conditions, eliminating the need for coolant systems. These capacitors will have a number of applications, including electric-vehicle charging stations and Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS) used to catapult jets from aircraft carriers. Their paper, “Chromogenic Identification of Breakdown” was published in Nature Materials, February, 2, 2024. Visit Nature Materials to read the complete article.

Catherine Cheu Completes Ph.D.

Catherine Cheu
Catherine Cheu, Ph.D.

After completing her Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering here at UConn, Catherine joined the polymer Ph.D. program. Under the advisement of Prof. Mu-Ping Nieh, she completed her dissertation: “Small Angle Scattering Modeling for Analyzing Refined Internal Structures of Lipid Nanodiscs (Bicelles).”

Polymer Ph.D. Program Welcomes Vishwa Suthar and Hoang-Phuc Pham

Vishwa Suthar and Hoang-Phuc Pham.
Vishwa Suthar (left) and Hoang-Phuc Pham.

The IMS Polymer Program welcomed two incoming Ph.D. students this year, Vishwa Suthar and Hoang-Phuc Pham. Originally from western India, Vishwa Suthar came to the United States to complete her Master of Science degree at Pittsburg State University.  She joined the UConn Polymer Ph.D. Program beginning the Fall 2023 session. Originally from Vietnam, Hoang-Phuc Pham completed both Bachelor and Master of Science degrees at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology. He joined the UConn Polymer Ph.D. Program beginning the Spring 2024 session.

Xueju “Sophie” Wang Receives 2024 ONR Young Investigator Award

Xueju "Sophie" Wang
Xueju “Sophie” Wang

Xueju “Sophie” Wang has been awarded an Office of Naval Research (ONR) 2024 Young Investigator Award in the category Ocean Battlespace Sensing.  The Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department of ONR explores science and technology in the areas of oceanographic and meteorological observations, modeling, and prediction in the battlespace environment; submarine detection and classification (anti-submarine warfare); and mine warfare applications for detecting and neutralizing mines in both the ocean and littoral environment.

One of 24 recipients in various categories, Dr. Wang’s research, entitled A Soft Intelligent Robot for Self-digging, Multi-modal Sensing, and In Situ Marine Sediment Analysis, was recognized by the Littoral Geosciences and subcategory.  The Littoral Geosciences and Optics program supports basic and applied research for expeditionary warfare, naval special warfare, mine warfare and antisubmarine warfare in shelf, near-shore, estuarine, riverine, and riparian environments, with a particular emphasis on robust 4D prediction of environmental characteristics in denied, distant or remote environments.

Dr. Wang earned a Ph.D. from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2016.  She joined the faculty of the Materials Science and Engineering Department (MSE) in 2020 with an appointment in the Institute of Materials Science (IMS).  Since then, she has earned extensive recognition for her research including the National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award in 2022; the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Trailblazer Award, also in 2022; and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Orr Early Career Award in 2021 among others.

Wang’s research focuses on soft, stimuli-responsive materials and multifunctional structures; multistability of reconfigurable, magnetically responsive structures, flexible/pressure-tolerant/bio-integrated electronics, soft robotics and intelligent systems; and in-situ/environmental operando experimental techniques.  Her research has been published extensively.

Zaili Hou Completes his Polymer Ph.D.

Dr. Zaili Hou
Dr. Zaili Hou completed his Ph.D. in Polymer Science in March 2023

After completing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Lanzhou University in Gansu province, China, Zaili Hou became a Polymer Ph.D. student in the UConn IMS Polymer Program. With a desire to focus his research on hybrid functional materials, Zaili joined Dr. Luyi Sun’s research group in 2018.

Hybrid functional materials, which consist of two or more distinct components with unique physical and chemical properties, exhibit synergistic properties, making them highly versatile and suitable for applications in various fields, including energy, healthcare, optics, and electronics. Zaili’s research led him to his dissertation topic, “Hybrid Functional Materials with Multiscale Architecture Design.”  He successfully defended his dissertation in March 2023 and earned his doctoral degree as a result.

Reflecting on his time at UConn Zaili noted that he received excellent training and felt a strong sense of community during his time in the UConn IMS Polymer Program, which left him with a very positive overall experience.  He says he appreciated access to the numerous core labs in IMS and the training available from the technical staff. He felt that direct access to the instrumentation in those labs gave him a better understanding of the science and contributed to his successful research.  He also emphasized that the multi-disciplinary foundation of IMS helped create a community with multiple perspectives on the research. In addition to disciplinary diversity, Zaili also enjoyed the cultural diversity found in IMS. This helped him learn about various religions, philosophies, and cultural practices around the world.

With a desire to contribute to a better planet, Zaili began his career with World Centric, a company dedicated to sustainable products. World Centric is creating compostable and sustainable products to help reduce plastic waste that currently pollutes our planet.

“I’m very excited about making contributions to this important cause and making practical applications of polymer science to real world issues,” Zaili said.

Chung-Hao Liu Completes his Polymer Ph.D.

Chung-Hao Liu
Chung-Hao Liu

After completing his BS and MS in Taiwan, Chung-Hao Liu came to the US to join UConn’s Polymer Ph.D. Program.  He worked under the guidance of Prof. Mu-Ping Nieh to learn the principles of self-assembly and  structural characterization using neutron, x-ray, and light scattering.  Chung-Hao was a productive student in scientific output with 3 lead-author, and 14 coauthored publications in prestigious peer-reviewed journals (including Journal of American Chemical Society, Angewandte Chemie, Advanced Functional Materials, Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, Nanoscale, Macromolecules, ACS Macro Letters, etc.) and more to come.

Reflecting on his experience at UConn, Chung-Hao says he loved the collaborative nature of the Institute of Materials Science with both faculty and students. The interdisciplinary research projects allowed him to speak with chemists and engineers from various backgrounds. He also noted that faculty were always open to providing help whenever he encountered problems.  Chung-Hao also enjoyed freedom in research the pursuit of research projects without being micromanaged.

Chung-Hao completed his dissertation defense, “Encapsulation and Polymerization in the Fluid Phase of a Well-Defined Bicellar Template,” in spring 2023 and has started his new journey as a postdoctoral scientist in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, in July 2023.

Amy Pollock Receives Future Climate Venture Studio Fellowship

Ph.D. Material Science student, Amy Pollock
Ph.D. Material Science student, Amy Pollock

UConn’s Future Climate Venture Studio has created a fellowship program designed to provide tangible experiences for students interested in learning in start-ups, marketing, commercialization, venture development, and research around climate change. Materials Science PhD. student, Amy Pollock, is one of three UConn graduate students to receive the fellowship. Fellows were selected for their excellent writing skills, science, technical, or business background, interest in the entrepreneurial process, interest in addressing climate change, and their ability to work independently and handle confidential material. The program partners each student with 2 start-up companies that need advice and/or assistance within a specific discipline. This enables the companies to have access to scientist working in their field while the students gain insight regarding the many challenges of creating and maintaining a startup company. The program is one more example of UConn’s support of entrepreneurship for both students as well as faculty.

Amy will be working with the following companies:

  • Peat (formally, “Afterlife”) – [eliminating food waste]:
  • Homeostasis – [Carbon removal & utilization]:

Details regarding the Future Climate Venture Studio and the fellowship can be found at: