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.

    Engineering Injectable Hydrogels for Neural Tissue Research

    August 25, 2021

    Assistant professor of chemical engineering Kyle Lampe, whose lab develops biomaterials for neural tissue engineering, is starting a project to design a new family of dynamic hydrogel materials that can automatically rebuild themselves after damage. The work is funded by a $548,673 grant from the National Science Foundation.

    Lampe’s goal is to design and computationally model a system for making injectable pentapeptides. The pentapeptides rapidly reconstitute into three-dimensional hydrogels compatible with the living-tissue environments into which they are delivered. The gels look, feel and act like human brain tissue because they are made from the same amino acid building blocks. Lampe calls this family of peptides RAPID, which stands for rapidly assembling pentapeptides for injectable delivery. RAPID gels are designed to flow like a liquid through a hypodermic needle but form a physically crosslinked, tissue-like gel immediately after injection.

    The ability to quickly and inexpensively produce peptides that “self-assemble” — without permanent crosslinking mechanisms — has the potential to dramatically improve the ease and efficacy of cell culture and study, Lampe said. The gels’ physical behavior, characteristics and suitability for growing cells can be controlled by the arrangement of the five amino acid building blocks.

    “What’s new about our peptides are their properties,” Lampe said. “The materials are shear-thinning, the characteristic that makes them injectable, and self-healing — and we can make them with stiffnesses that can approximate brain tissue all the way up to muscle stiffness if we want to.”

    Lampe aims to design hydrogels to promote neural stem cell delivery, growth and differentiation. Another key objective is to use computer modeling to study pentapeptide assembly at the molecular level to guide lab experimentation. The program will contribute to scientific understanding of the intra- and intermolecular interactions dictating peptide assembly and the formation of extracellular matrices, the supportive structures for many tissues and organs. This fundamental knowledge is essential to the discovery and application of therapies for diseases and injuries of the central nervous system.

    Lampe also will use part of the project’s funding to establish a paid research internship program for socioeconomically disadvantaged high school students in Charlottesville. He will partner with City of Promise, a nonprofit working with parents, schools and other community organizations to enable children to graduate from high school ready for college or a career. Additionally, Lampe will cross train Ph.D. and undergraduate students in biomaterials synthesis, molecular simulations, stem cell biology and neural tissue engineering.

    James Tang Named a Parrish Postdoc Fellow for 2021-2022

    August 20, 2021

    University of Virginia chemical engineering alumnus James Tang has been named one of the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science’s two 2021-2022 Philip A. Parrish Postdoctoral Fellows. Since completing his Ph.D. in 2019, Tang has worked as a postdoctoral researcher in associate professor of chemical engineering Bryan Berger’s lab.

    In Berger’s lab, Tang studies the genetic structures of “accessory proteins” in the SARS-CoV2 virus to understand how the proteins interact with the host’s immune system. These accessory proteins, so called because they play an indirect role in the virus’ function, may prevent or enhance the effect of other proteins that influence the host’s immune response to infection. Tang’s research is contributing to a growing body of knowledge that biomolecular researchers can use to develop immunotherapies for COVID-19.

    The second 2021-2022 Phil Parrish fellow is UVA alumnus Andrew Jones (Ph.D. in electrical engineering, 2020), who works with Joe Campbell, Lucian Carr III Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, in Campbell's photonic devices group. The award was established in 2017 in memory of Parrish, a former interim vice president and associate vice president for research at UVA. Candidates must have a full-time appointment in UVA Engineering during the year covered by the fellowship and have produced significant and meaningful scholarship. Applicants are evaluated based on their publication and presentation record, honors and awards, and grants.

    Prior to joining the Berger lab, Tang was a Ph.D. student researcher in assistant professor of chemical engineering Kyle Lampe’s biomaterials lab.

    Faculty Excellence

    July 02, 2021


    Associate professor Geoff Geise, shown in his lab working with undergraduate chem-e major Anna Harris, is one of three faculty members recognized by UVA for research in 2020.

    UVA chemical engineering faculty excel in both teaching and research, and the department is rooted in a philosophy that the two go hand in hand. Below are examples of recent accolades, undergraduate student-oriented research and teaching projects, and recognition for work well done.

    Research Roundup

    July 02, 2021

    Carlos Weiler Epling lab.jpg

    Carlos Weiler, a Ph.D. student in William S. Epling’s Environmental Catalysis Lab, readies a reactor to run experiments simulating diesel engine aftertreatment systems.

    The Department of Chemical Engineering’s work to build research strengths with great people has never shown more than in the past year. Whether developing new materials for applications in medicine, energy or national security, understanding cell behavior that leads to disease, or addressing environmental challenges, faculty and Ph.D. students are relentlessly pursuing new knowledge to make the world better. 

    Here is a brief roundup of recent awards, plus links to stories on these projects.

    NMCF moves into Research Phase III, allowing enhanced instrument access

    June 04, 2021

    The NMCF, along with the rest of UVa's Research Community, has been upgraded to COVID Safety Phase III

    This allows increased access to NMCF instrumentation for students, faculty, and researchers with no room occupancy restrictions. There are no restrictions on trained personnel instrumentation use, with both graduate and undergraduate students allowed access.

    For vaccinated members of the faculty, students, staff, and visitors, the use of face coverings is not longer required. Researchers and visitors who are not yet fully vaccinated are asked to continue wearing masks.

    Instrument training sessions are now conducted in person, although remote training may be requested. 

    Visitors to laboratory spaces no longer need to be logged.


    More information about UVa's Phase III safe research guidelines can be found on the VPR's "Research Ramp Up Guidance" Webpage.

    2021 ChemE Graduate Awards Announced

    April 30, 2021


    Congratulations to the recipients of this years chemical engineering graduate student awards, Kevin Chang, Kevin Gu (pictured), Luke Huelsenbeck, Lu Yang and Mara Kuenen. Find award details here.

    NIH Awards Caliari Lab Research Project Grant for Approach to Treating Muscle Loss Injuries

    April 26, 2021

    University of Virginia assistant professor Steven R. Caliari has received a Research Project Grant (R01) to address an understudied aspect of tissue engineering solutions for muscle loss due to traumatic injury. The award of more than $2 million from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases proposes an approach to integrating the connective and nervous tissues surrounding the injured muscle. The aim is to improve the functionality of the repaired tissues.

    The project, “Aligned and electrically conductive collagen scaffolds for guiding innervated muscle-tendon junction repair of volumetric muscle loss injuries,” will apply a 3D collagen scaffold that mimics the muscle fibers where they join tendons and other connective tissue, known as the musculotendinous junction (MTJ).

    Caliari is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering with a secondary appointment in biomedical engineering. He is collaborating on the project with George J. Christ, professor of biomedical engineering and orthopaedic surgery, and Shawn Russell, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and mechanical and aerospace engineering. The work builds on previous research recently published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Biomaterials Science, led by Ivan Basurto, a Ph.D. candidate in Caliari’s lab, with third-year chemical engineering student Gregg Gardner, biomedical engineering alumnus Mark Mora and Christ.

    Chem-E Shines at Annual UVA Engineering Graduate Student Research Symposium

    April 08, 2021


    Chemical engineering cleaned up at this year’s UVA Engineering Research Symposium (UVERS), taking three of the top prizes. Naomi Miyake won first prize and the People’s Choice Award in the podium presentation competition, while Devanshi Gupta and Bev Miller won first and second respectively in the poster session. UVERS is the Graduate Engineering Student Council’s annual event to highlight the research achievements of the UVA Engineering graduate student body.

    Miyake is a student in Bob Davis’ catalysis lab, Gupta works with Gary Koenig’s research group on advanced materials for energy storage solutions and Miller is a student in Steven Caliari’s biomaterials lab.

    Chem-E Undergrad Is an ACC and NCAA Champion Swimmer

    March 28, 2021

    While adjusting to the rigors of her second year as a UVA Engineering student and first year in the chemical engineering program, Alexa “Lexi” Cuomo of Clifton, Virginia, also became an NCAA national champion as a member of the University of Virginia women’s swim and dive team.

    The Cavaliers ran away with the 2021 national title with 491 points, followed by N.C. State in second with 354 points and the University of Texas with 344.5. Virginia is the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to become NCAA women’s swimming and diving national champions.

    Cuomo collected four silver medals at the NCAA competition to help the Hoos to overall victory, with second-place finishes in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays and the 200- and 400-yard medley relays. She also placed in the top eight in the 100-yard butterfly to earn First Team All-America honors in the event.

    Following the NCAA win, head coach Todd DeSorbo told UVA Today the 2021 team was on a mission all year, a sentiment echoed by Cuomo.

    “I’m so proud of how much our swim and dive team has accomplished, especially in this past year,” Cuomo said. “This win felt like a celebration of the effort we put in every day and the love and support we have for each other.”

    The Virginia women also won the ACC swimming and diving championship for the second year in a row.

    In the 2021 ACC championships, Cuomo and her teammates won the title in all four relay events, and in doing so, set an American record in the 200-yard medley with a time of 1:32.93. Individually, Cuomo won silver medals in the 100-yard butterfly and 50-yard freestyle in the ACC finals.

    In her UVA swimming career, Cuomo has also earned All-ACC honors and has been named to the All-ACC Academic Team and ACC Honor Roll. She has recorded some of UVA’s fastest times in the 100-yard butterfly, 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle.

    Cuomo comes from a family of engineers, with her mother and father in chemical and mechanical engineering respectively. Two sisters are civil engineers, one of whom is a UVA alumna. She gravitated to chemical engineering because there are many paths you can take with the degree.

    “I wanted a major that will help me become a problem-solver for the big challenges in our world today, especially climate change,” Cuomo said. “It has definitely been a challenge, but having a smaller community in our department makes me feel like I’m part of a team during the hard classes as well.”

    Teamwork and good time management are getting her through her toughest semester yet, she said, but motivation isn’t hard to come by.

    “What keeps me going is probably the fact that I want to make a positive impact after college in a way that feels important to me, and I never want to intentionally limit myself based on the fear that I can’t do something, either academically or athletically.”

    Buoyed by such a memorable and successful swimming season, Cuomo now is looking forward to the summer, when she plans to join assistant professor Rachel Letteri’s biomaterials lab for undergraduate research. She will work with Ph.D. student Mara Kuenen.

    There is one more thing on her swimming to-do list, though.

    “I am planning on swimming in the U.S. Olympic Trials in June. I’ve qualified for the 100 fly and 50 free,” Cuomo said.


    400-yard medley relay team members Kate Douglass (clockwise from top left), Cuomo, Alexis Wenger and Reilly Tiltmann on the podium after their second-place finish in the NCAA championship finals.