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.


    Professor Lazzara Awarded NIH Cancer Systems Biology Grant

    August 30, 2019
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    Associate Professor Matt Lazzara was awarded a new five-year U01 grant from the National Cancer Institute to apply systems biology methods for the rational design of combination therapy for pancreatic cancer. The award was made through the institute’s funding opportunity for Emerging Questions in Cancer Systems Biology and establishes the Lazzara Lab as a member of the NCI Cancer Systems Biology Consortium. Lazzara and his team will collaborate with investigators at the UVA School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania and University of Delaware on the project.


    Geise Research Group Paper is Editors’ Choice

    August 29, 2019

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    The Geise Research Group recently published a paper that was selected as an American Chemical Society Editors’ Choice article. The research features the work of graduate students Hongxi Luo (back row, second from left) and Kevin Chang (back row, far left) along with undergraduate Kevin Bahati (front row, far right), who is an Undergraduate Student Opportunities in Academic Research (USOAR) researcher. The paper, titled “Engineering Selective Desalination Membranes via Molecular Control of Polymer Functional Groups” describes a strategy for increasing the effectiveness of water desalination by improving membrane selectivity. The approach is based on controlling chemical functional group position within the polymer that is used to make the desalination membrane. Also pictured above are graduate students Saringi Agata (back row, right), YuanYuan Ji (front row, second from left) and Patrick McCormack (front row, second from right), and Prof. Geoff Geise (front row, far left).


    Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Students’ Summer Work Aims to Prevent Spread of Infection

    August 22, 2019
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    This summer, rising third-year chemical engineering major Molly Caveney (right) and Allie Boboltz, a biomedical engineering major, worked on using engineered proteins to break down biofilms and prevent the spread of infection, with chemical engineering associate professor Bryan Berger.

    “The benefit of engineered proteins is that they are both effective in breaking down biofilms and organically derived, meaning that they won’t contribute to antimicrobial resistance,” Allie said. “We have been working this summer to isolate, express and purify proteins in E. Coli bacteria that could potentially be used against biofilms. This involves cloning my gene of interest into a bacterial plasmid, then using the plasmid to over-express my target protein in E. Coli. My next step is to apply these proteins to biofilms and observe the protein’s activity on the biofilm.”

    When they were not in the lab, Boboltz and Caveney went on ice cream tours throughout the Charlottesville area.


    ChemE Undergrad Kevin Bahati Named American Chemical Society Scholar

    August 22, 2019

    Kevin Bahati, a fourth-year chemical engineering major and undergraduate research assistant in Assistant Professor Geoff Geise’s lab, has been named an American Chemical Society Scholar. Kevin, who spent the summer working as a facilities engineering intern at Southwestern Energy in Texas, joined Prof. Geise’s lab as a first-year student because of the group’s polymer-based water purification research. Kevin was raised in Africa and lived in Congo, Zambia and Uganda before immigrating to the United States through a refugee program in 2014.

    As a first year student in 2016, Kevin explained to UVA Today that he experienced first-hand the consequences of not having reliable access to clean water. At the time, he said he planned to use his education and research experience to help improve living conditions in the developing world — plans that haven’t changed, he said.

    “My end goal is not just about providing clean water,” he said. “I want to contribute to the progress taking place in the developing world.”

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    ChemE Undergraduates Spend Summer Combating Harmful Algal Blooms

    August 14, 2019
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    Rising third-year chemical engineering majors David Lee of Yorktown, Va., and Geoffrey Burns of Concord, Mass., spent the summer at UVA Engineering in the lab with Associate Professor Bryan Berger working on finding a more effective and environmentally friendly way to treat harmful algal blooms.

    “The most common treatment is copper sulfate, which is super toxic and essentially kills the algae and everything else living in the lake or other body of water,” Geoffrey said. “So we developed an enzyme that works to specifically target the algae and kill it without harming the other organisms in water.

    “We’ve spent this summer researching the effects of the enzyme on different types of algae and finding ways to increase the enzyme’s buoyancy so that it can better target the algae that grow mainly on a body of water’s surface.”

    When they were not doing research, their activities included picking peaches at Carter Mountain with friends.


    International Team Collaboration Results in Study Published in Journal of the American Chemical Society

    August 12, 2019
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    Rising fourth-year chemical engineering Ph.D. student Hongxi Luo and his advisor, Assistant Professor Geoffrey Geise, co-authored a study, “Assembling a natural small molecule into a supramolecular network with high structural order and dynamic functions,” that recently was accepted for publication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Luo and Geise collaborated on the research with 2016 Nobel laureate in chemistry Ben Feringa of the University of Groningen and Da-Hui Qu of East China University of Science and Technology.

    “The article reports an approach to assembling a small, relatively simple bio-based molecule into a more ordered polymeric structure that could be functionally interesting for a range of applications,” Geise said. “This assembly is facilitated by interactions between the molecules, and we can use water to adjust those interactions. Hongxi and I contributed to the work by making measurements to help determine how water interacts with the material.”

    Geise added that water also can be used to promote self-healing in the materials, which makes them interesting as recyclable materials.


    Lucas Kimerer’s Poster Prize in D.C. Begets Another Win at International Symposium

    July 07, 2019

    Fourth-year ChE graduate student Lucas Kimerer received a Best Poster Award at the 48th International Symposium on High-Performance Liquid Phase Separations and Related Techniques (known as HPLC 2019) held in Milan, Italy, in June. Lucas’ poster was selected out of 508 poster presentations at the event. He received a certificate and a cash award.

    Last fall, Lucas received a Georges Guiochon Chromatography Award for best poster at the 2018 Washington Chromatography Discussion Group Poster Session held in Bethesda, Md., which provided a travel grant allowing him to attend the Milan conference. In Milan, he presented new work titled “Chomatographic Behavior of Bivalent Bispecific Antibodies on Cation Exchange Columns.”

    Lucas works in Lawrence R. Quarles Professor of Chemical Engineering Giorgio Carta’s Bioseparations Engineering Lab.

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    Professor Geise Wins New Directions Grant

    June 19, 2019
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    Assistant Professor Geoff Geise won a New Directions grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund. The grant will support experimental efforts by the Geise Research Group to study polymeric materials, which could enable advanced water purification and/or clean energy technologies by investigating fundamental dielectric permittivity properties of hydrated polymers. The study will probe important molecular-scale interactions that control which molecules pass through or are rejected by polymer membranes. The grant also will further the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund’s mission of advancing scientific education by supporting graduate student education in chemical engineering.


    ChE Second-year Appointed to Biomedical Data Sciences Training Program

    June 18, 2019
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    Paul Myers, a second-year Ph.D. student in Associate Professor Matthew Lazzara’s Cell Signaling Engineering Lab, has been appointed to the Biomedical Data Sciences training program. The Biomedical Data Sciences Training Program aims to prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers to address the monumental challenge of multi-type biomedical big data manipulation, analysis and interpretation. It proposes a curriculum and a set of programmatic activities to create an interdisciplinary training ground wherein teams of students will work across key disciplines, benefit from a true co-mentoring and interdisciplinary environment, and develop the technical and leadership skills necessary to succeed as independent scientists making groundbreaking new discoveries enabled by biomedical big data.


    ChemE Welcomes Promising Ph.D. Students Thanks to New Fellowships

    June 09, 2019

    The Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Virginia School of Engineering has welcomed the first Gaden, Gainer and Kirwan fellowship recipients to Grounds. The newly arrived Ph.D. students met two of the fellowships’ namesakes, retired chemical engineering professors John Gainer and Donald Kirwan and their wives, and Jenny Gaden, wife of the late Elmer Gaden, at a lunch in the students’ honor. Also attending were department chair Bill Epling and their faculty advisors Matt Lazzara, Chris Highley and Gaurav “Gino” Giri. The fellowship recipients are Prince Verma (Kirwan Fellowship), William Hart (Gainer Fellowship) and Greg Grewal (Gaden Fellowship).

    The fellowships, created in 2018 through donations in honor of Gaden, Gainer and Kirwan, will support the graduate students during their first year. The fellowships provide additional funding to bring talented Ph.D. students to the chemical engineering program, boosting the volume and impact of the department’s research while enriching undergraduate education as teaching assistants and mentors.

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    Back row, from left: Greg Grewal, Assistant Professor Chris Highley and Chair and Professor Bill Epling. Middle row, from left: Associate Professor Matt Lazzara, Will Hart, John Gainer, Assistant Professor Gino Giri, and Mary and Donald Kirwan. Front row: Jenny Gaden, Susie Gainer and Prince Verma.