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.

    Letteri Lab Ph.D. Student Wins Chemical Engineering’s DuPont Student Safety Award

    April 15, 2020
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    Mara K. Kuenen, a Ph.D. student in assistant professor Rachel Letteri’s research group, has won the 2020 Chemical Engineering DuPont Student Safety Award.

    DuPont provided a gift to fund the annual award to promote safety in research labs. Students can submit a proposal for improving safety or apply for the award based on ideas that have been implemented.

    Kuenen’s fellow Ph.D. student Stephanie Guthrie nominated her to the Department of Chemical Engineering Safety and Security Committee, commending Kuenen’s commitment to laboratory safety, teaching others about safe working practices — particularly with regard to polymer materials — and to communicating hazards and hazard mitigation strategies with her colleagues, including undergraduate students.

    In an email to Kuenen notifying her of the award, Geoffrey M. Geise and George Prpich, faculty members on the committee that made the selection, cited Guthrie’s nomination.

    Guthrie noted Kuenen’s commitment to a culture of laboratory safety, which she wrote is “based on understanding safety hazards and their mitigation — not merely on enforcement of a fixed set of rules.”

    “It is clear that your efforts have made a positive impact on several of your colleagues and ChE students at UVA,” Geise and Prpich wrote to Kuenen.

    The award includes a $1,000 cash prize and an invitation to speak during the department’s annual safety seminar in August, to which Kuenen has said she is happy to contribute.

    “I’m honored that Stephanie took the time to nominate me,” Kuenen said. “And, I’m glad that I have contributed to the safety culture for the students in the undergrad lab.”

    ChemE Presenters Adjust as UVA Graduate Engineering Research Symposium Goes Online

    April 04, 2020

    UVA Engineering and the Department of Chemical Engineering, like the rest of world, is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic in large measure by conducting classes, meetings and as much research as possible online. The Graduate Engineering Student Council’s 16th annual University of Virginia Graduate Engineering Research Symposium is no exception. The symposium, known as UVERS, will go on as planned on April 7, except that it will be conducted through webinars. Details and registration information may be found here.

    As in the past, presenters for each UVA Engineering department were selected through a competitive process based on submitted research abstracts. One podium presenter and three poster presenters from each department will compete for prizes ranging in value from $100 to $1,000. Additionally, the posters will be available for viewing April 7-14 in the online poster gallery, and participants and attendees are encouraged to cast their vote for the People’s Choice Award here.


    Naomi Miyake (left), a Ph.D. student in William Mynn Thornton Professor Robert J. Davis’ catalysis lab, will represent chemE in the podium session, presenting her research, “Understanding the role of Ag and ZrO2 in the catalytic activity of the Ag/ZrO2/SiO2 catalyst for the ethanol to butadiene reactions.”

    ChemE students presenting in the poster sessions are:

    Beverly Miller (Steven J. Caliari lab): “Addressing a Clinical Need: Tissue Engineering to Improve Pelvic Organ Prolapse Repair”

    Devanshi Gupta (Gary Koenig lab): “Analysis of Chemical and Electrochemical Lithiation/Delithiation of a Lithium-Ion Cathode Material”

    Prince Verma (Gaurav Giri lab): “Controlling the orientation of NU-1000 crystals”

    There also will be a Young Professional Panel comprised mostly of recent Ph.D. alumni, including Zachary Young, a former member of Davis’ lab who now works for Exxon Mobil.

    Geise Group’s Undergraduate Battery Research Project Gets Lift From Virginia Space Grant Consortium

    April 03, 2020

    The Virginia Space Grant Consortium recently awarded the Geise Research Group a grant to support an undergraduate research project. Under the direction and mentorship of assistant professor of chemical engineering Geoffrey M. Geise, undergraduate students will work with graduate researchers in Geise’s lab to investigate a new approach to designing polymer electrolyte membranes to make lithium-sulfur (Li-S) batteries viable for space applications. The project will focus on engineering advanced membranes to be used as battery separators in extreme environments. Batteries made using advanced technologies are expected to be a critical part of addressing space-based energy storage needs associated with NASA’s Artemis Mission for moon and Mars exploration.


    Trigon Engineering Society Invites ChemE Department Chair to Speak at Annual Award Dinner

    February 07, 2020

    Professor and chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Virginia Bill Epling was the invited speaker at the Thomas E. Hutchinson Award Dinner on Jan. 25, presented by the Trigon Engineering Society. In his remarks, Epling highlighted the uniqueness of the UVA School of Engineering, the importance of teaching and leadership, and the challenges today’s students will face as engineers of the future.

    Keith WiIliams, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, won the Hutchinson Award, which is given annually by the Trigon Society for “Outreach to students, enthusiastic lectures, obvious love of teaching, and contributions to the Engineering School.” Trigon coordinates the selection process, but nominations and voting for the award are open to all engineering students.

    Last year’s winner was chemical engineering’s own Rachel Letteri.

    UVA ChemE Alumnus to Accept Industry Award for Team’s Work on Important Cancer Drug

    February 01, 2020
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    Alan Hunter, a 2002 chemical engineering Ph.D. graduate who studied with Lawrence R. Quarles Professor Giorgio Carta at the University of Virginia, will represent AstraZeneca as the recipient of the 2020 Division of Biochemical Technology of the American Chemical Society (known as ACS BIOT) Industrial Biotechnology Award at the division’s 2020 meeting in Philadelphia. The award honors AstraZeneca’s Lumoxiti process chemistry, manufacturing and controls team, led by Hunter, for its development and scale up of the process used to produce Lumoxiti, an important new biologic cancer drug. Another Carta lab Ph.D. graduate, Timothy Pabst, was also a member of AstraZeneca’s award-winning team.

    As a student and member of Carta’s bioseparations engineering lab, Hunter studied process chromatography and protein mass transport. He has worked in the biopharmaceutical industry for more than 15 years, beginning his career in 2004 at Pfizer in the global biologics group. In 2009, he moved to AstraZeneca, where he is director of the biopharmaceutical development purification process sciences group.

    Hunter stays involved with the department. He gives an annual lecture on regulatory aspects of biopharmaceutical manufacturing in Carta’s CHE4448 Bioseparation Engineering course. In 2019, he was the keynote speaker at the inaugural CHEERS, the Chemical Engineering Research Symposium.

    Carta said Hunter and Pabst collaborate with his lab on research aimed at better understanding and improving biopharmaceutical manufacturing and have published a number of joint papers.

    Hongxi Luo Will Go to 2020 NAMS Meeting on Student Fellowship Award

    January 26, 2020

    Chemical engineering Ph.D. student Hongxi Luo was selected to receive the NAMS Student Fellowship Award.

    The award is given each year by the North American Membrane Society (NAMS) to “outstanding graduate students in the membrane science and technology area.” The award will support Luo’s participation in the society’s 2020 meeting in May in Tempe, Ariz.

    Luo is a member of the polymer member research group led by assistant professor Geoffrey Geise.

    UVA ChemE Professor’s Agricultural Biotech Startup Reaps Competitive Grant from Virginia Catalyst

    January 13, 2020

    Lytos Technologies, an early-stage startup company co-founded by chemical engineering associate professor Bryan Berger, and its UVA and Virginia Tech partners, have received a $500,000 grant from Virginia Catalyst to continue work on safe, effective alternatives to chemical pesticides for agricultural applications.


    Virginia Catalyst is a non-profit corporation funded by the Virginia General Assembly and several of the state’s leading public universities, including the University of Virginia. Its competitive Grant Funding Program supports collaborative life- and bioscience research and commercialization of new innovations with the potential to address large, unmet needs for improving human health; create high-value jobs in Virginia; and strengthen the state’s competitive advantage in life science technologies, according to a news release from the Office of the Governor.

    The project Lytos is working on with its university partners, “Design and implementation of green, enzymatic biofungicides for pre- and post-harvest crop protection,” is one of six collaborations to win a grant in the organization’s 10th and latest round of funding. This round’s grants total $3.3 million.

    Berger co-founded Lytos with his former student, Evan Eckersley, at UVA. The award will support their ongoing efforts to develop and commercialize effective “green” biocides as well as targeted applications for pre- and post-harvest crop protection. Lytos works with Virginia wine grape growers, Berger said, to find organic biopesticides that outperform traditional chemicals.

    “In working directly with local wineries, we will be able to deliver products that will contribute to the growing sustainable, organic wine movement,” he said.

    ChemE Professor Celebrates With Former Colleagues Being Honored for ‘Doing a World of Good’

    December 23, 2019

    University of Virginia Chemical Engineering Professor of Practice Michael L. King was honored to be invited to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ “Doing a World of Good” gala in New York City in December. At the gala, the institute recognized Merck & Co. and the company’s chief executive officer, Ken Frazier, with a Doing a World of Good award. King worked at Merck for 32 years, retiring as senior vice president science and technology, before joining UVA’s chemical engineering faculty.

    “It was a wonderful event and noted the many contributions that chemical engineers have made at Merck in the development and commercialization of important drugs and vaccines,” King said.

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    Pictured from left: Michael Thien, Merck senior vice president; Ken Frazier, Merck CEO; and Michael L. King, UVA chemical engineering professor of practice.

    Graduate Student From Lazzara Lab Wins Presentation Award

    October 23, 2019

    Evan Day, a student in Associate Professor Matt Lazzara’s lab, is the 2019 winner of the W.H. Peterson Oral Presentation Award given by the Division of Biochemical Technology of the American Chemical Society. The award is for his presentation on work that led to the creation of a new tool to evaluate the in vivo (taking place in a living organism) efficacy of targeted inhibitors for cancer. Evan presented the research, titled “Engineering a bioluminescence-based protein kinase reporter for in vivo, longitudinal studies of receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor response,” at the division’s annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., last spring. The award will be presented at the American Chemical Society Biochemical Technology Division 2020 annual meeting, which will be held in March in Philadelphia.

    “The deployment of this tool will lead to better preclinical in vivo data, and greatly reduce the numbers of animals needed to evaluate drug efficacy, at least for a particular class of drugs,” Professor Lazzara said. “The basic design principle behind it may eventually be adapted for use with other types of drugs.”

    Ph.D. Student Lands National Science Foundation INTERN Funding for Research at Merck

    October 23, 2019
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    Nate Sallada, a Ph.D. student in Associate Professor Bryan Berger’s lab, recently received a National Science Foundation Non-Academic Research Internships for Graduate Students INTERN award. INTERN opportunities provide supplemental funding for students already supported by an active National Science Foundation grant, allowing them to pursue activities and training that complements their academic research experience.

    The funding will support collaborative work with researchers at Merck & Co., which follows up on previous work with the pharmaceutical company that is pending publication. The research involves developing new, protein-based formulating agents to improve drug delivery for the treatment of diseases. Nate will work at Merck in winter and spring of 2020 with Matthew Lamm, director of preformulation at Merck, to further investigate the mechanism of improved drug delivery using the designed proteins developed at UVA.