IMS Researcher Anson Ma Receives 2015 Metzner Early Career Award

By: Kelly A. Salzo

Anson W. K. Ma
Assistant Professor Anson W. K. Ma (IMS/CBE)

Anson W. K. Ma (IMS/CBE), Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, will receive the 2015 Arthur B. Metzner Early Career Award. This distinguished award, named after rheology pioneer Arthur B. Metzner, is distributed annually by the Society of Rheology to a young researcher “who has distinguished him/herself in rheological research, rheological practice, or service to rheology.” Dr. Ma will deliver a plenary lecture at the upcoming 87th Society of Rheology Annual Meeting in Baltimore, where he will receive a plaque and a $7,500 honorarium.

Anson W. K. Ma received his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cambridge in 2009. He joined UConn in 2011 as a member of both the IMS Polymer Program and the Chemical Engineering Program. As Principal Investigator of the Complex Fluids Laboratory, his research focuses on understanding the complex flow behavior (rheology) and processing of various complex fluids including foams, emulsions, nanoparticle suspensions, and biological fluids. His lab is developing new techniques to improve the reliability and push the existing resolution limit of inkjet and 3D printing technology. Dr. Ma’s research on 3D printing has recently been featured on the front page of the Chronicle newspaper and Channel 8 News. In 2012, Dr. Ma received TA Instrument’s Distinguished Young Rheologist Award, which recognizes product innovation and research of new materials and applications that expand the field of rheology. The following year he received a prestigious NSF CAREER Award for his research on exploiting the size and shape of particles to improve the stability of emulsions typically found in agricultural, pharmaceutical, and personal care products. More recently, Dr. Ma is leading a major effort to establish a center of excellence for additive manufacturing of soft materials at UConn. The mission is to accelerate technology transfers to the industry and to provide an important training ground for future workforce in advanced manufacturing.

Douglas Adamson Joins TRI Board of Directors

By: Kelly A. Salzo

Associate Professor Douglas Adamson
Associate Professor Douglas Adamson

Dr. Douglas Adamson, (IMS/CHEM) Associate Professor in the Chemistry Department, has just been appointed to the board of directors of TRI/Princeton. Dr. Adamson joins a team dedicated to TRI’s mission of promoting the advancement of science and the enhancement of innovation, while pursuing potential contributions to society. The board of director’s diverse scientific disciplines allow for an interdisciplinary approach to surface science, materials science, optical measurement, and fluid/pore interaction. Doug becomes the only academic member of the board, with other members being senior scientists from companies such as DuPont, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter and Gamble.

TRI/Princeton is divided into a variety of laboratories and centers dedicated to serving industry, government, and academia. In addition to research, TRI’s Professional Education Program offers a variety of conferences, workshops and courses to provide its members with the tools to accommodate industry’s ever-changing needs. As their website explains, “We remain vigilant in seeking new opportunities and discoveries that will sustain the Institute into the future while remaining true to our principle of inspiring, educating and connecting through science.”

Rajeswari Kasi is New Program Director for IMS Polymer Program

Kasi_Jan 2015Rajeswari M. Kasi has been appointed Program Director of the IMS Polymer Program, succeeding Douglas Adamson who served in the position from 2011 to now.

Prof. Kasi is Associate Professor of Chemistry with an appointment in IMS. She was a 2008 recipient of the NSF CAREER award and has published extensively in journals including the Journal of Physical Chemistry, the Journal of Applied Polymer Science, and the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

UConn Scientists Featured in C&EN for Graphene Foam Research

Adamson, Douglas
Douglas Adamson

The Polymer Program of the Institute of Materials Science was recently mentioned in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), a weekly magazine published by the American Chemical Society, for research concerning graphene foam materials. The article highlights the work of polymer chemist Dr. Douglas H. Adamson (IMS/CHEM), polymer physicist Dr. Andrey Dobrynin (IMS/PHYS), and graduate student Steven J Woltornist (IMS/CHEM), and their revolutionary approach to creating new materials based on the strong attraction of pristine (not oxidized) graphene to high-energy oil and water interfaces. In the past, graphene’s applications have been severely limited due to its insolubility in water and other common organic solvents. To fix this problem, researchers had either relied on chemically altered graphene, which is expensive and ultimately has inferior properties, or extensive mechanical treatments that led to tearing the graphene sheets apart. Instead of viewing graphene’s insolubility as a limitation, the team exploited it by using it to stabilize the high-energy interfaces found in water in oil emulsions. Overlapping pristine graphene sheets at the water/oil interface lead to a local thermodynamic minimum, resulting in stable water in oil emulsions with the water droplets lined with thin layers of graphene. Using a monomer with dissolved initiator as the oil phase, leads to the formation of polymer in the continuous phase, after gentle heating. When the water is removed, a rigid foam remains, which is strong, conductive, and light-weight. These foams and can be used as building materials, ultracapacitor electrodes, conductive catalyst supports, and filters.

Dobrynin, Andrey
Andrey Dobrynin

Dr. Douglas Adamson joined UConn in August 2008 as an Associate Professor in the Polymer Program and received his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in 1991. His research focuses on polymer synthesis for use in self-assembly as well as using graphene and other two-dimensional sheet like materials for composites.

Dr. Andrey Dobrynin joined UConn in 2001, earned his Ph.D. from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 1991 and is a professor in the Polymer Program. His research focuses on computational approaches to polymeric materials and polymer based nanocomposites.

Steven J Woltornist joined UConn in January 2012 as a teaching assistant for general chemistry, while pursuing a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry. In May 2013, he joined the Adamson research group. His research specializes in the discovery and development of graphene-based materials.

Dr. Anson Ma Featured in Channel 8 Story on 3D Printing

A Channel 8 science story about 3D printing called upon the expertise of UConn’s Dr. Anson Ma to explain some of the current and potential benefits of the technology.

Dr. Ma had challenged his students to create an artificial kidney using 3D technology and they produced it using 3D printing.

“Right now this is a prototype,” said Ma. “The longer term goal is can we incorporate cells, for example stem cells from the patients, then we can create fully compatible organs.”

The story highlights UConn’s commitment to new and emerging technologies as well as the ever-growing importance of materials science.

UConn Researcher’s Nanoparticle Key to New Malaria Vaccine

By Colin Poitras, UConn Today, September 3, 2014

This self-assembling protein nanoparticle relies on rigid protein structures called ‘coiled coils’ (blue and green in the image) to create a stable framework upon which scientists can attach malaria parasite antigens. Early tests show that injecting the nanoparticles into the body as a vaccine initiates a strong immune system response that destroys a malarial parasite when it enters the body and before it has time to spread. (Image courtesy of Peter Burkhard)
This self-assembling protein nanoparticle relies on rigid protein structures called ‘coiled coils’ (blue and green in the image) to create a stable framework upon which scientists can attach malaria parasite antigens. Early tests show that injecting the nanoparticles into the body as a vaccine initiates a strong immune system response that destroys a malarial parasite when it enters the body and before it has time to spread. (Image courtesy of Peter Burkhard)

A self-assembling nanoparticle designed by a UConn professor is the key component of a potent new malaria vaccine that is showing promise in early tests.

For years, scientists trying to develop a malaria vaccine have been stymied by the malaria parasite’s ability to transform itself and “hide” in the liver and red blood cells of an infected person to avoid detection by the immune system.

But a novel protein nanoparticle developed by Peter Burkhard, a professor in the Department of Molecular & Cell Biology, in collaboration with David Lanar, an infectious disease specialist with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, has shown to be effective at getting the immune system to attack the most lethal species of malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, after it enters the body and before it has a chance to hide and aggressively spread.

The key to the vaccine’s success lies in the nanoparticle’s perfect icosahedral symmetry (think of the pattern on a soccer ball) and ability to carry on its surface up to 60 copies of the parasite’s protein. The proteins are arranged in a dense, carefully constructed cluster that the immune system perceives as a threat, prompting it to release large amounts of antibodies that can attack and kill the parasite.

In tests with mice, the vaccine was 90-100 percent effective in eradicating the Plasmodium falciparum parasite and maintaining long-term immunity over 15 months. That success rate is considerably higher than the reported success rate for RTS,S, the world’s most advanced malaria vaccine candidate currently undergoing phase 3 clinical trials, which is the last stage of testing before licensing.

Peter Burkhard, professor of molecular and cell biology, with an image of the protein nanoparticle he designed. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Peter Burkhard, professor of molecular and cell biology, with an image of the protein nanoparticle he designed. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

“Both vaccines are similar, it’s just that the density of the RTS,S protein displays is much lower than ours,” says Burkhard. “The homogeneity of our vaccine is much higher, which produces a stronger immune system response. That is why we are confident that ours will be an improvement.

“Every single protein chain that forms our particle displays one of the pathogen’s protein molecules that are recognized by the immune system,” adds Burkhard, an expert in structural biology affiliated with UConn’s Institute of Materials Science. “With RTS,S, only about 14 percent of the vaccine’s protein is from the malaria parasite. We are able to achieve our high density because of the design of the nanoparticle, which we control.”

The research was published in Malaria Journal in 2013.

The search for a malaria vaccine is one of the most important research projects in global public health. The disease is commonly transported through the bites of nighttime mosquitoes. Those infected suffer from severe fevers, chills, and a flu-like illness. In severe cases, malaria causes seizures, severe anemia, respiratory distress, and kidney failure. Each year, more than 200 million cases of malaria are reported worldwide. The World Health Organization estimated that 627,000 people died from malaria in 2012, many of them children living in sub-Saharan Africa.

It took the researchers more than 10 years to finalize the precise assembly of the nanoparticle as the critical carrier of the vaccine and find the right parts of the malaria protein to trigger an effective immune response. The research was further complicated by the fact that the malaria parasite that impacts mice used in lab tests is structurally different from the one infecting humans.

The scientists used a creative approach to get around the problem.

Infectious disease specialist David Lanar of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, who is collaborating with UConn professor Peter Burkhard in pursuing a new malaria vaccine. (Photo courtesy of David Lanar)
Infectious disease specialist David Lanar of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, who is collaborating with UConn professor Peter Burkhard in pursuing a new malaria vaccine. (Photo courtesy of David Lanar)

“Testing the vaccine’s efficacy was difficult because the parasite that causes malaria in humans only grows in humans,” Lanar says. “But we developed a little trick. We took a mouse malaria parasite and put in its DNA a piece of DNA from the human malaria parasite that we wanted our vaccine to attack. That allowed us to conduct inexpensive mouse studies to test the vaccine before going to expensive human trials.”

The pair’s research has been supported by a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and $2 million from the U.S. Military Infectious Disease Research Program. A request for an additional $7 million in funding from the U.S. Army to conduct the next phase of vaccine development, including manufacturing and human trials, is pending.

“We are on schedule to manufacture the vaccine for human use early next year,” says Lanar. “It will take about six months to finish quality control and toxicology studies on the final product and get permission from the FDA to do human trials.”

Lanar says the team hopes to begin early testing in humans in 2016 and, if the results are promising, field trials in malaria endemic areas will follow in 2017. The required field trial testing could last five years or more before the vaccine is available for licensure and public use, Lanar says.

Martin Edlund, CEO of Malaria No More, a New York-based nonprofit focused on fighting deaths from malaria, says, “This research presents a promising new approach to developing a malaria vaccine. Innovative work such as what’s being done at the University of Connecticut puts us closer than we’ve ever been to ending one of the world’s oldest, costliest, and deadliest diseases.”

A Switzerland-based company, Alpha-O-Peptides, founded by Burkhard, holds the patent on the self-assembling nanoparticle used in the malaria vaccine. Burkhard is also exploring other potential uses for the nanoparticle, including a vaccine that will fight animal flu and one that will help people with nicotine addiction. Professor Mazhar Khan from UConn’s Department of Pathobiology is collaborating with Burkhard on the animal flu vaccine.

One of the First Graduates of IMS Returns for a Seminar

Jim Knox introducing Professor Sanjeeva Murthy

Professor Sanjeeva Murthy from Rutgers University, the Polymer Program Seminar speaker on March 28th, is an alum of the program and IMS. He earned his Ph.D. in Materials Science in 1976 under Jim Knox (MCB), one of the founding members of the Polymer Program, who retired in 2002. Sanjeeva Murthy was one of the first graduates of IMS. Jim Knox was able to show off the champagne bottle from Sanjeeva’s Ph.D. defense celebration, although he later admitted that Sanjeeva had probably not taken a single sip from it!

During his lecture, Sanjeeva mentioned that, when he started his PhD studies here over 40 years ago in 1972, the IMS building was new, there was no Storrs Downtown or even the NCAA basketball bracket!

After his seminar Sanjeeva said, “‘I had a great time today.  It brought back all memories of years ago.  I also enjoyed my discussions with the new faculty. I hope to be in touch with some of them with whom I have common interest.  I thank you all for inviting me today.  Look forward to seeing you again.”

Young Scientist Exchange Takes UConn Researcher to Japan

Republished with permission of UConn Today

By Nan Cooper, SoE

Professor Anson Ma takes the Shinkansen (high-speed train) from Tokyo to Kyoto, during a five-day trip to Japan with the Young Scientist Exchange. (Photos courtesy of Anson Ma)
UConn researcher Anson Ma recently participated in a prestigious U.S.-Japan Young Scientist Exchange Program that enabled him to spend five days visiting top Japanese universities and research centers, where he presented his research on rheology and processing of nanofluids and met with fellow young researchers.The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, & Technology in Japan (MEXT) initiated the science diplomacy-style exchange program in 2003 to foster collaborations among U.S. and Japanese researchers in strategic areas. Leading young Japanese academics visit U.S. universities and researchers, and U.S. academics reciprocate.

The trip included a visit to the National Institute for Materials Science, including laboratories associated with the institute’s nanotechnology platform. (Photo courtesy of Anson Ma)
The trip included a visit to the National Institute for Materials Science, including laboratories associated with the institute’s nanotechnology platform.
Ma, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, was nominated by a senior researcher for his contributions in understanding the flow behavior and processing of complex fluids for biomedical and energy applications. During day-long workshops from Dec. 9 to 13, Ma and his fellow U.S. and Japanese scientists delivered and attended presentations, toured laboratories, and discussed avenues for collaboration.The group visited the National Institute for Materials Science, including laboratories associated with the institute’s nanotechnology platform; the University of Tokyo; Osaka University; and Kyoto University. Among the technology highlights that particularly impressed Ma was the remarkable ultra-high voltage Hitachi electron microscope housed at Osaka University, which is more than 13 meters high.

The ultra-high voltage electron microscope at Osaka University. (Photo courtesy of Anson Ma)
The ultra-high voltage electron microscope at Osaka University.
The delegates also enjoyed one day of sightseeing, when they took the high-speed Shinkansen train (also known as the ‘bullet train’) from Tokyo to Kyoto for a tour of the 17th-century Kodaiji Temple.

The research trip was organized and led by Alexander Revzin, currently a program director in the Biosensing Division at the National Science Foundation and a University of California-Davis professor, and Dino Di Carlo, associate professor of bioengineering at UCLA.

“The goal is to unveil areas of mutual interest and to build collaborative research bridges in transformative research arenas,” says Di Carlo.

Professor Hidetoshi Kotera, executive vice-president of Kyoto University for external strategy, knowledge, and technology transfer and innovation, speaks about current research activities and future plans for the university.The exchange program focuses on bio-nano-micro technologies, and while the themes have remained constant since 2003, the application areas – for example, manufacturing, sensing, and energy – of the visits vary from year to year. When Japanese delegates come to the U.S., they visit various different U.S. universities during their exchange tours; in recent years, these have included UCLA, Caltech, MIT, Harvard, Northwestern, and the University of North Carolina.

Ma says the experience was extremely worthwhile, noting that he met potential collaborators among the U.S. delegates as well as among the Japanese faculty. He found the work of three Japanese researchers particularly compelling. One is involved in biomechanics research focusing on the motion of cells, and another is developing a bioadhesive for creating 3-D tissue using cells as building blocks – “just like playing with Lego blocks,” says Ma. A third is developing advanced biomimetic materials.

A visit to Tokyo University, where shoes are not allowed in many labs; visitors must exchange their shoes for slippers. (Photo courtesy of Anson Ma)
A visit to Tokyo University, where shoes are not allowed in many labs; visitors must exchange their shoes for slippers.
Ma was also impressed with the laboratories and cleanroom facilities, which he says were organized and efficient. However, he was surprised to find that in Japanese laboratories, as in living spaces, scientists must don slippers before entering research spaces – a custom that is forbidden in U.S. labs.

Learn more about Ma’s research program here and here.

Dr. Douglas Adamson and Dr. Thomas Seery Awarded NSF Grant

By Zachary Johnson

Dr. Douglas Adamson and Dr. Thomas Seery were awarded a NSF Grant of $200,000 for the project, “Unimolecular Micelles: Design, Synthesis, and Properties.” The grant was funded by the Macromolecular, Supramolecular and Nanochemistry Program of the Chemistry Division.

The project aims to synthesize and observe polymers that can create stable, single chain globules in solutions. Dr. Adamson says that “protein folds in such a way as to hide most of those insoluble amino acids while the leaving the water soluble ones near the surface.” The objective is to understand how artificial polymers can imitate the nanostructure forming abilities of proteins at a very fundamental level.

The formations of these accurately discrete structures are a continuous challenge for chemists. Adamson and Seery believe that the results of the project “will lead to applications such as robust artificial enzymes” and “plastic antibodies that function much like natural antibodies but avoid the need for biological source.” The morphology within these nanostructures can impact vast areas of technology such as medicines, electronics and biotechnology.

Now with the funding of NSF, Dr. Adamson and Dr. Seery are able to proceed in the process of exploring synthetic materials that may perform some of the functions of proteins. The project will also involve visits to local schools and will contribute to the training of undergraduate and graduate students.

Dr. Douglas H. Adamson received his B.S. degree at the University of Evansville, Indiana and his Ph.D. degree at University of Southern California. He joined the University of Connecticut in August 2008, becoming an Associate Professor in the Polymer Program at IMS with Chemistry as his home department. Dr. Adamson was appointed Director of the Polymer Program in July 2011.

Dr. Thomas Seery, Associate Professor of Chemistry, received his B.A. degree at Harvard University and his Ph. D. degree at University of Southern California. He joined the University of Connecticut in 1994. Dr. Seery’s research interests include studying polymer synthesis at surfaces and physical chemistry of polymers in solution.

Revised IMS Internal Advisory Board Formed

By Zachary Johnson

Dr. Steven L. Suib, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and recently appointed Director of IMS, has formed a revised Internal Advisory Board.

Since the conception of IMS, the assignment of the Internal Advisory Board has been to provide suggestions and solutions for problems of broad interest within IMS. The Internal Advisory Board consists of ten faculty members from five different departments. “We collaborate as a unit and lay out our vision for the general operation of IMS,” Dr. Ramamurthy Ramprasad, MSE Professor says. The feedback and ideas are forwarded to Director of IMS, Dr. Suib.

Dr. Suib was appointed the new Director of IMS on July 1st, 2013. The former Director of IMS, Dr. Harris Marcus, stepped down after 18 years of service. He will remain on the faculty in the Materials Science & Engineering Department.

The board remains the same throughout the academic year unless specific developments necessitate a change. “The board doesn’t change unless a member from the board resigns and is replaced, or if a member is removed,” says Deborah Perko, Executive Assistant of Infrastructure.

The current board members are:

  •  Dr. Douglas H. Adamson: Director of the Polymer Program and Associate Professor of Chemistry
  •  Dr. Mark Aindow: Associate Director of the Institute of Materials Science and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
  • Dr. S. Pamir Alpay: Department Head and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
  • Dr. A. Jon Goldberg: Professor of Oral Rehabilitation, Biomaterials and Skeletal Development at University of Connecticut Health Center
  • Dr. Faquir Jain: Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering
  • Dr. Ramamurthy Ramprasad: Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
  • Dr. Thomas Seery: Associate Professor of Chemistry
  • Dr. Steven L. Suib: Director of IMS and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor
  • Dr. Carolyn M. Teschke: Professor of Molecular & Cell Biology
  • Dr. Barrett Wells: Professor of Physics