ChemE Briefs

Welcome to ChemE Briefs, a place to find quick notes and posts from the faculty, students, staff and alumni of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Virginia.


    Grant Teams UVA ChE Lab with ODU Researchers to Investigate Quantum Dots

    August 19, 2020
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    Associate professor of chemical engineering Joshua Choi recently received a National Science Foundation research grant titled “Collaborative Research: Nanoscale Charge Transfer in Quantum Dots Connected with Molecular Switches.” The project is a collaboration with Guijun Wang’s research group at Old Dominion University. Wang is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

    The research team will study differences in how electrons move between quantum dots (semiconductor nanoparticles with tunable optical and electrical properties) when the shape of molecules bridging the quantum dots changes. This research has a potential to advance the fundamental understanding of optical and electrical processes in nanoscale materials with broad implications for improving computing and memory devices that serve a range of needs.

    The Choi group’s collaboration with Wang and her researchers was seeded by a 4-VA grant that made it possible for the team to generate key preliminary results. 4-VA is a partnership among eight Virginia universities formed around four research and educational initiatives.

    The research activities covered by the $310,420 National Science Foundation grant also integrate educational efforts to improve recruitment, training and retention of students in science and engineering fields, especially among underrepresented groups at the University of Virginia and Old Dominion University.


    Team Manifold Conducts Virtual Research

    August 11, 2020

    This year’s team is the 14th Virginia iGEM team to compete in the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition, the Giant Jamboree, following a legacy of successful teams and their inventive synthetic biology solutions. Under the guidance of our advisors, Professor Papin and Professor Kozminski (Biomedical Engineering and Biology Departments, respectively), Virginia iGEM has consistently received recognition at the competition, as well as seeding biotech startups Agrospheres INC and Transfoam LLC. Along with a strong reputation to live up to, the 2020 Team has been incredibly resilient in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.   


    Undergraduate Summer Research: Second-Year Undergrad Hopes to Catalyze Lab Experimentation by Modeling Chemical Reactions

    August 08, 2020
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    One in an occasional series featuring undergraduate students who are participating in summer research projects.

    Sarah Bhargava, second-year chemical engineering and economics major at the University of Virginia is spending her summer at home in New Jersey, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t keeping busy.

    “I am studying titanium oxide-supported catalysts,” Bhargava said.

    She is an undergraduate researcher in assistant professor of chemical engineering Chris Paolucci’s catalysis group, which focuses on computer simulations of chemical reactions using quantum and new hybrid modeling methods across a range of applications.

    A catalyst is a material used to speed up a chemical reaction to produce a desired outcome.

    “The goal of my research is to create a model using computational analysis that can take certain data inputs from the catalyst material and predict the corresponding ‘reaction energies,’ which refers to the difference between the energy required to form the products and the energy required to form the reactants in a chemical reaction,” Bhargava said. “The ultimate impact I hope to achieve is to reduce the experimental costs of performing chemical reactions in a physical lab through the development of a computational model.”

    Like so many students, Bhargava can’t wait to return to Grounds this fall. She misses being able to meet people in person and have one-on-one interactions.


    Undergraduate Summer Research: Student Works to Update Lab Procedures for Study on Drug Delivery System for Ischemic Stroke

    August 04, 2020
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    One in an occasional series featuring undergraduate students who are participating in summer research projects.

    Gilberto Hernandez is a rising second-year biomedical engineering major and dance minor working with assistant professor of chemical engineering Kyle Lampe and chemical engineering Ph.D. student Zhiqi Zhang, his graduate student mentor. The Lampe research group develops biomaterials for tissue engineering, with a particular interest in the central nervous system.

    “We’re working on a drug delivery system using nanoparticles as a treatment method for ischemic strokes,” Hernandez said.

    Unable to go to the lab due to COVID-19 restrictions, Hernandez has spent the summer scouring websites such as the UVA library and ScienceDirect for academic papers related to the research.

    “With the newfound information, I have been updating our synthesis procedures for our nanoparticles; my graduate mentor will be the one conducting the experiments with the new procedures for the time being.”

    As a Mexican-American, Hernandez grew up with bachata, salsa and merengue dancing at all kinds of celebrations. At 17, he stumbled on a Latin dance performance class at his local community college and convinced a friend to take it with him.

    “I loved being able to embrace my culture and showcase it to an audience,” he said.

    Inspired by watching others perform and encouraged by his dance instructor to take ballet, he signed up for a course — and loved it, too.

    “Since then, I decided I would minor in dance and embrace the creative side of my brain. It’s what keeps sane while studying in STEM,” he said, laughing.


    Virginia Consortium Backs Catalysis Research Leading to Less Pollution, More Efficiency

    July 23, 2020
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    Chemical engineering Ph.D. student Ryan Zelinsky has received funding from the Virginia Space Grant Consortium to supplement his dissertation research.

    Zelinsky works in the environmental catalysis lab of professor and chair of the department William S. Epling. The group’s research focuses on improving the performance and longevity of catalysts used in industrial processes, often to reduce pollution.

    Zelinsky investigates zeolites, a class of minerals with physical characteristics that make them effective catalysts for many industrial purposes. Zeolites occur naturally, but can be synthesized in the lab for specific traits. A catalyst is any substance that speeds up a chemical reaction, without being consumed in the reaction. Catalysts are used to save energy, reduce waste and control pollution in applications ranging from manufacturing everyday products to converting your car’s emissions to less-toxic gases.


    Undergraduate Summer Research: Biomedical Engineering Student Is Creating Literature Database

    July 21, 2020
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    One in an occasional series featuring undergraduate students who are participating in summer research projects.

    Christian Jenkins, a fourth year biomedical engineering major, is spending the summer doing research with Don Griffin, assistant professor in biomedical and chemical engineering .

    “I’m analyzing publications on porous biomaterial from the last decade and using that information to write a literature review and create a database that allows researchers to easily filter through subtopics within the biomaterial field,” he said.

    The nature of the project allows him to work remotely from his apartment in Charlottesville, but he said he misses walking through the hospital late at night and cannot wait to be safely on Grounds again in the fall.


    UVA Researcher Contributes Expertise to Company’s Industrial Hemp Studies

    July 21, 2020
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    UVA associate professor of chemical and biomedical engineering Bryan Berger is providing his expertise in hemp research to an industrial gases company.

    Berger is collaborating with Air Products to study the benefits of cryogenic freezing on cannabinoids found in industrial hemp from the time of harvest through extraction and final processing, according to a company news release.

    “Through this work with Air Products, the team anticipates studying cryogenic processing profiles that will address knowledge gaps and provide best practices to maximize value immediately transferrable to hemp growers and processors seeking to optimize their product yield,” Berger said in the release.

    As part of the research, Berger will work closely with the cryogenic freezing technology lab at Air Products’ headquarters in Pennsylvania to study the effects of using liquid cryogens such as liquid nitrogen on the quantification, chemical composition and profiles of cannabinoids found in hemp used in industrial and medical applications.

    Berger and other industrial hemp researchers at UVA work with state, academic, private and non-profit partners to develop new approaches for processing hemp into products. He has experience in design, extraction, formulation and biomanufacturing of biologics and natural products. Berger and UVA Lewis & Clark Professor of Biology Michael P. Timko co-founded Fiacre Enterprises, which provides high-quality seeds and expertise to industrial hemp growers. He is also the co-founder of Lytos Technologies, a start-up developing biopesticides for organic agricultural.

    Links to websites external to the University of Virginia should not be considered endorsement of those websites or any information contained therein.


    Publisher Releases Second Edition of Professor’s Practical Guide to Protein Separations at Industrial Scale

    July 21, 2020
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    Textbook publisher Wiley has just released the second edition of Protein Chromatography: Process Development and Scale-Up, co-written by UVA Engineering’s Lawrence R. Quarles Professor of Chemical Engineering Giorgio Carta. First published in 2010, the book warranted an update 10 years later.

    Carta, an internationally recognized leader in preparative and process chromatography education and research, wrote the book with biotechnology professor Alois Jungbauer of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria. Chromatography encompasses techniques for separating mixtures of chemical or biological substances into individual components.

    The text partially grew out of a two-week short course Carta and Jungbauer developed and taught for many years at their respective universities. The course and the book were designed for engineers, scientists and technical managers, as well as students, seeking a deeper understanding of chromatographic processes and their scale-up, particularly in pharmaceutical manufacturing where achieving purity of drug ingredients is critically important.

    Carta noted that many advances occurred in the field since the first edition came out. The update includes work by several alumni who have trained in his UVA lab over the years, he said.

    Wiley describes the book as “an all-in-one practical guide on how to efficiently use chromatographic separation methods,” noting, “this fully updated and revised new edition offers comprehensive coverage of continuous chromatography and provides readers with many relevant examples from the biopharmaceutical industry.”


    Chemical Engineering’s Jonathan Zheng Is a 2020 School of Engineering Outstanding Student

    May 14, 2020

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    As Jonathan Zheng concludes a highly distinguished undergraduate career, it is safe to say his star has shone brightly at UVA Engineering. The graduating fourth-year chemical engineering major’s latest accomplishment is the coveted School of Engineering Outstanding Student Award. The award is given to a student or students — typically graduating fourth-years — who have demonstrated outstanding academic performance, leadership and service. It is one of UVA Engineering’s highest student honors.