Month: November 2012

UConn Student Wins Prestigious Marshall Scholarship

November 20, 2012, UConn Today
By: Colin Poitras

Ethan Butler ’12 (ENG), 2013 Marshall Scholarship recipient. (Derek Dudek for UConn)


For the second time in four years, a University of Connecticut student has won a prestigious Marshall Scholarship.

Ethan Butler, a 2012 chemical engineering graduate and past president of the UConn chapter of Engineers Without Borders, will spend the next two years in the United Kingdom pursuing his graduate studies at one, and possibly two, of Britain’s finest academic and research institutions.

A resident of Southbury, Conn. who grew up on a Christmas tree farm, Butler is one of 34 students in the United States to receive the highly-competitive scholarship this year. He is the third student in UConn’s history to be a Marshall Scholar. The others were Michelle Prairie in 2009 and Virginia DeJohn Anderson in 1976.

The Marshall Scholarship is Britain’s flagship government-funded program for American students who represent some of the finest and brightest college graduates in the United States. It is named after former Secretary of State George C. Marshall, and was established as a gesture of gratitude to the people of the United States for the assistance the U.S. provided after WWII under the Marshall Plan.

While in the U.K., Butler hopes to study advanced chemical engineering and innovation, entrepreneurship, and management at Imperial College London, one of the world’s top engineering and scientific universities known for the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography, and the foundation of fiber optics. His second choice is the University of Manchester, where physicist Ernest Rutherford ushered in the nuclear age and Professors Freddie Williams and Tom Kilburn developed the first programmable computer. He will find out his destination in the spring.

Butler’s long-term goal is to develop sustainable, community-based water and energy technologies in order to supply clean water and renewable energies to people in developing countries while simultaneously creating job opportunities for those in critical need.

“ UConn is a place where you have a lot of opportunities. If you shoot for the stars, you get the support of this massive university behind you.”

“It’s all kind of surreal,” says Butler, who was notified of the honor a few days ago. “If you were to ask me four years ago if I’d get something like this, I would have said it was completely outside the realm of possibility … I’m just thrilled. The unimaginable has already happened. I’m just hoping to continue that upward trajectory.”

Butler maintained outstanding academic scholarship during his four years at UConn. A member of the Honors Program, he was named a University Scholar – UConn’s highest academic honor – in 2012, and was inducted into the University’s most prestigious leadership program, the Legacy Leadership Experience, the same year. In 2011, Butler received UConn’s Global Citizenship Award along with a Udall Scholarship, National Collegiate Honors Council Portz Fellowship, and Newman Civic Fellows award. He was a member of EcoHuskies, UConn’s Environmental Policy Advisory Committee, and Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honors society.

But it was Butler’s involvement in the UConn Chapter of Engineers Without Borders that will always stand out as a large part of his UConn legacy. When Butler arrived in Storrs as a freshman in 2008, the chapter had little support and only a handful of members. Butler quickly got to work restructuring the group, organizing events, filing paperwork, and raising funds. As chapter president, Butler helped develop field projects in Nicaragua and Ethiopia, succeeded in raising more than $70,000, expanded the group’s membership to more than 40, and established a strong international support network of more than 50 non-profits, NGO’s, and government, academic, and business professionals.

“Building Engineers Without Borders, USA-UConn was a personally transformative experience for me,” Butler said in his scholarship application. “Not only did it call me to leadership, but also it exposed me to extreme poverty for the first time when I visited our partner-community in Nicaragua: La Prusia.”

During his first trip to Nicaragua, Butler said he went door-to-door speaking with residents living in the extremely difficult conditions. He saw how the community’s access to markets, jobs, schools, and other services was severely restricted due to the heavy flooding and erosion of a local road to nearby Granada. UConn’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders is currently working on rebuilding the mile-long road, a project that Butler hopes will be completed within the next two years.

In order to repair the road, Butler and his engineering team developed a novel soil stabilization technique and used a low-impact design to create an economical solution for La Prusia. During his work with Engineers Without Borders, Butler also founded the Humanitarian Water Purification Lab Group, which is dedicated to advancing sustainable water purification technologies for developing countries and emergency relief. Water purification technology is an area in which Butler has some experience. For his senior engineering capstone project, Butler designed and evaluated a water purification system for Bangladeshi waters contaminated with arsenic.

“Ethan made an indelible mark here as an innovator, researcher, and advocate for sustainable engineering solutions to some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems,” UConn President Susan Herbst wrote in a letter of endorsement submitted with Butler’s scholarship application. “Not only did he demonstrate the intellect and drive to master the scientific and technical knowledge he needed, but also he proved a remarkable leader, bringing together faculty, entrepreneurs, students, and community stakeholders to launch several international projects still ongoing today … He is fiercely smart, thoughtful, and pragmatic – a combination designed to make a tangible difference.”

Butler says he is grateful for the enormous support he received from the University throughout his four years in Storrs. Nowhere was that more evident than in the final days of the Marshall Scholarship process, when Butler had to fight through an early season winter snowstorm to attend his practice interview. Stuck in Storrs after the storm, Butler stayed at the home of Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Sally Reis overnight to be sure he made it to Massachusetts the next day. Other individuals who braved foul weather or opened up their homes to help Butler through the application process include former Associate Vice Provost and Honors Program Director Lynne Goodstein, history professor Christopher Clark (chair of the scholarship nominating committee), Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Associate Professor Elizabeth Jockusch, and Chemical, Materials, and Biomolecular Engineering professor C. Barry Carter. Jeffrey McCutcheon, Northeast Utilities Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering, served as Butler’s academic mentor.

“I am deeply grateful for all the support I received from the University,” says Butler, whose mother is a UConn alum. “UConn is a place where you have a lot of opportunities. If you shoot for the stars, you get the support of this massive university behind you. I was able to do things I never imagined I would do.”

Jill Deans, director of UConn’s Office of National Scholarships, says Butler exemplifies the best UConn has to offer and does so with humility and grace.

“UConn students have both the drive and the intellect to be national leaders in their fields,” Deans says. “Many, like Ethan, are also deeply humble. I am delighted that these qualities are being recognized in premier competitions like the Marshall. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Ethan. His aspirations are indistinguishable from the common good, and his talents are vast. This award will indeed help him maximize his potential to solve some of the most pressing social and environmental issues of our age.”

Butler expects to begin his graduation experience overseas in fall 2013.

Watch a video of Butler.

Drs. Shor & Gage Win Gates Grant

Two UConn professor, Drs. Leslie M. Shor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and Daniel J. Gage of Molecular & Cell Biology, have been awarded a Grand Challenges Explorations grant, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to conduct innovative global health and development research project intended to increase crop yields in developing countries through the expanded use of beneficial bacteria.

Please read the full announcement here.




UConn Partners with Penn State Altoona in Groundbreaking Project on Solar Power Technology

The University of Connecticut has partnered with Penn State Altoona in a collaborative research initiative, supported by a three-year, $650,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The project is entitled “Electro-optical studies of nanoscale, geometrically asymmetric tunnel junctions for collection and rectification of light from infrared through visible” and will study the physics of a device, called a “rectenna,” that has the potential to dramatically advance solar power technology.

The research team includes UConn’s Dr. Brian Willis of Chemical Engineering; Drs. Gary Weisel, Brock Weiss and Darin Zimmerman (Altoona Physics); and emeritus professors Paul Cutler and Nicholas Miskovsky (Penn State Physics).

The rectenna will harness the visible portion of the solar spectrum, setting it apart from current technologies that are only capable of utilizing the infrared portion. The rectenna will comprise a nanosized antenna and ultra-fast tunnel diodes that collect and rectify solar radiation from infrared to visible. To manufacture such a device, the team developed a process called selective atomic layer deposition. This process makes the fabrication of arrays of thousands of nanoscopic, geometrically asymmetric tunnel junctions possible for the first time. The progress made possible by this research endeavor may increase solar power conversion technology efficiency, reduce costs, and create new economic opportunities. The project will enfold research and educational opportunities for high school, undergraduate and graduate students.


Professor Ma Received the “Distinguished Young Rheologist Award” from TA Instruments

AnsonMa2012Dr. Anson Ma of the Chemical Engineering Program has been chosen to receive the “Distinguished Young Rheologist Award” from TA Instruments. The decision was made by a panel comprising some of the most established and respected scientists in the field of rheology. Dr. Ma and his research team will receive an equipment grant for a new rheometer valued at $50,000.

Dr. Ma joined UConn in August 2011 with a dual appointment in the Polymer Program at the Institute of Materials Science. The mission of his lab, Complex Fluids Laboratory, is to understand the rheology and processing of complex fluids (e.g., foams, emulsions, polymers, and biological fluids). Current research interests in Dr. Ma’s lab involve (i) exploring the interfacial rheology of nanoparticle-laden interfaces for creating ultra-stable emulsions and microcapsules, and (ii) understanding the flow dynamics of nanoparticles in simulated blood flows for improved cancer treatment (currently sponsored by the National Science Foundation through NSFGRF and EAGER awards).

TA Instruments – a subsidiary of Waters Corporation (NYSE: WAT) – is a leading manufacturer of analytical instruments for thermal analysis, rheology, and microcalorimetry. The company is headquartered in New Castle, Delaware, USA, and has direct operations in 23 countries. TA Instruments established the “Distinguished Young Rheologist” award to recognize product innovation and research into new materials and applications that expand the field of rheology, and to help accelerate the research of new academics.

UConn Engineering: Outstanding Environment for Grad Studies

In the University of Connecticut School of Engineering, graduate students enjoy an outstanding combination of academic excellence, student resources, a vibrant community, convenient access to major urban centers and outstanding financial support. We have five engineering departments, and offer nine master’s and Ph.D. programs in core and interdisciplinary subjects. We are pushing technological boundaries in new and inventive ways, in exciting areas like nanotechnology, sustainable engineering, alternative and grid energy, national security and resilient infrastructures, wireless and sensor network systems, bioinformatics, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Chemical Engineering Well Represented at Annual AIChE Meeting 2012

UConn chemical engineering students shone at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) annual meeting held in Pittsburgh from October 26th to November 2nd.  With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard, it was challenging to get everyone out to the conference in advance of the storm, and some faculty and students were unable to attend.

Despite the weather setbacks, during the undergraduate conference, which preceded the professional/academic portion of the conference, UConn’s AIChE student members performed admirably.  Officers Breanne Muratori (chapter President) and Kimberly Dout (chapter Secretary) attended student leadership events, which they found to be informative and productive in terms of networking with fellow officers across the country.

Seven undergraduates participated in the undergraduate poster competition.  Emily Anderson (‘12), advised by Dr. Leslie Shor, was awarded first place in the Environmental Science and Engineering division for her poster, “Impact of Hydrogel Content on Water Retention in Soil Micromodels.”  Additionally, Breanne Muratori, advised by Dr. Jeff McCutcheon, gave an oral presentation entitled “Improving the Mechanical Properties of Activated Carbon Nanofiber Nonwovens.” It was one of only a handful of talks given by undergraduates at the meeting and reflects UConn AIChE’s dedication to better bridging the student section and the professional conference.

(Left to right) Dr. Daniel Burkey, Breanne Muratori, Kimberly Dout


In celebration of their accomplishments, the UConn chemical engineering students and faculty held a dinner at the Bigelow Grille in Pittsburgh.  A bonus of Hurricane Sandy’s grounding of the group in Pittsburgh was that it enabled the undergraduates to stay a few extra days and experience the larger professional conference, including the university hospitality suites. UConn’s hospitality suite was a great success, with over 300 alumni and friends in attendance.

(From left to right) Kelsey Boch, Breanne Muratori, Christine Nykyforchyn, Dr. Leslie Shor, Laurelle Giovannoli, Kimberly Dout, Amanda Card, Dr. Jeff McCutcheon, Emily Anderson, Andrea Kadilac, Dan Anastasio, Dr. Aravind Suresh, Ari Fischer, Dr. George Bollas