Month: September 2014

Dr. Yu Lei Receives US Patent for Explosive Detecting Sensors

By Sydney Souder

Dr. Yu Lei, Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Connecticut, received a US Patent for his explosive detection technology.

Working with Ying Wang, a former graduate student, Dr. Lei engineered a sensor that provides clear and near-instant results upon contact with explosive vapors. “We initially wanted to synthesize low-cost materials that change color almost immediately when in contact with explosives,” says Lei. The project proved successful and was recently awarded a patent entitled, “Explosives Detection Substrate and Methods of Using the Same.”

The detector senses a range of explosives, from TNT used in construction, to RDX used by the military. It reveals minute traces of explosives when exposed to UV light and viewed by the naked eye.

Lei is now expanding his detection technologies in other forms beyond vapor detection. His latest research seeks to develop a nanoporous florescent film and a fluorescent protein that can reveal explosives in aqueous solutions.

These projects acknowledge funding by the National Science Foundation, the University of Connecticut Prototype Fund, and the Department of Homeland Security. For more information on Dr. Lei and his research, please visit his website.

A Short Interview With Dr. Ioulia (Julia) Valla About Women in Engineering

Women have traditionally been underrepresented in the field of Engineering, but things are changing. Dr. Ioulia (Julia) Valla is an Assistant Research Professor in the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department at the University of Connecticut.

Dr. Valla has won recognition for her work on cleaner fuels while working in industry and academics and is the leader of the iKnowGreen Team. iKnowGreen at the University of Connecticut, is a place for students, teachers, and UCONN engineers to explore green energy together.

Grad Student Spotlight: Andrea Kadilak

By Jayna Miller

andrea1The Chemical Engineering graduate program at UConn provides the opportunity for students to obtain a thorough understanding of the principles of chemical engineering and gain the practical skills needed to succeed in the workplace. Students have the chance to get involved in a number of useful research and teaching opportunities to better prepare for their future.

Grad student Andrea Kadilak has taken advantage of many of the programs and activities that UConn had to offer. Her most rewarding experience during her years at the university was her involvement with the NSF GK-12 Fellowship Program, where she worked with high school students to inspire an interest in science.

“I worked with students at Windham Tech to raise awareness of career options in physics, chemistry, and engineering – I also showcased the fun side of science through experimental demonstrations,” she says.

In addition to the NSF GK-12 Fellowship, Andrea was also involved in a number of on-campus engineering groups. She is currently the Chairperson for the CBE Grad Student Association, and is the Activities Director for the local chapter of AIChE.

“These leadership positions provide an opportunity for me to plan events, network, and organize meetings that bring together all of the engineering programs at UConn, to create a collaborative atmosphere and provide a wide variety of research opportunities for students,” she says.

These positions were not Andrea’s first leadership and work experiences. Prior to attending UConn, she worked as a Process Engineer at Solutia for two years, but decided that she wanted to return to research in a university setting.

Andrea’s research currently focuses on the NSF EFRI Termite Grant, which involves working with a team of engineers, including CBE professor Leslie Shor, to simulate the termite digestive tract in a micro-fluidic device. Termites are able to efficiently break down cellulose and other woody materials into biofuels to use as a food source. Through this research, the team hopes to culture the digestive bacteria in the micro-fluidic device in order to observe it, and perhaps recreate the biofuels, which will have an environmental benefit because it can reduce fuel needs.

Andrea has received multiple accolades for her research at UConn.  She received the Women’s Initiative Committee Travel Award at the Minnesota AIChE Meeting in 2011, and earned 2nd place in the Poster Presentation Competition. In addition, she was the recipient of an ACS Meeting Certificate of Merit in 2012.

In the future, Andrea hopes to work in industry, but also to continue her personal research. She enjoyed working in a chemical plant in the past, but would like to achieve a balance and bridge the gap between research and the implementation of research practices in a process.

Leslie Shor Named a DuPont Young Professor

Momentum logoRepublished with permission of Momentum,

a School of Engineering electronic publication.


Dr. Leslie Shorshor caption of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering specializes in recreating very small habitats – smaller than the width of a human hair in some cases. Building from scratch a simulated habitat that might sustain up to a thousand different organisms that each need different conditions to survive is no easy trick.

But the potential payoffs can be huge – more sustainable agriculture, better ways to fight infection, or more sustainable energy production from biofuels.

One particular project in her lab prompted DuPont to name her a 2014 Young Professor. The annual program recognizes professors engaged in innovative research that addresses global challenges regarding food, energy and production. Shor, one of 10 professors to receive the appointment, will receive $75,000 over the next three years to support their research.

The project that won DuPont’s attention is the same one that won a Grand Challenges Exploration grant of $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2012.

Hunger and poverty affect 1 billion people. Population growth, changing consumption habits, and a shifting climate will only magnify the problem. So developing new ways to increase food production is crucial. To that end, Shor and other researchers in her lab hope to find a new way to increase crop yields. For this research, she teamed up with Daniel J. Gage (Molecular & Cell Biology), a microbiologist with expertise in the rhizosphere. That’s the region of soil around a plant’s roots where crucial nutrients are absorbed. Beneficial bacteria in the rhizosphere can help plants by inhibiting pathogens and producing antibiotics. The rhizosphere is also home to protozoa – a kingdom of single-celled animals with the ability to move efficiently in soil. That’s where Shor comes in, with her knowledge of artificial microbial habitats and how protozoa migrate in micro-structured environments.

With her collaborators and students, Shor seeks to increase crop yields by using protozoa to distribute bacteria along growing roots. Currently, applications of biologicals or agrichemicals are not targeted, leading to inefficiency and adverse environmental impacts. Solving one problem might lead to the creation of several more. In Shor’s lab, they’re trying to use the environment as part its own solution.

“The soil system is an incredibly complex habitat, and it’s home to organisms from all five kingdoms – plants, animals protista fungi and archae – are all present in the soil,” she said. They interact with each other, and with the air, water, organic matter and soil grains in complex ways. Typically, microbiologists will take organisms out of their natural habitat and put them into an overly simplified lab habitat.

“There’s no microstructure in those habitats, typically,” she said. “Our microhabitats are not the same thing as real soil, but they do contain some of its features. Our microhabitats offer a window into the microworld.”


Fellow of the American Chemical Society named

By: William Weir

laurencinDr. Cato T. Laurencin, a Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and designated University Professor at UCONN has been named a Fellow of the American Chemical Society.

“The scientists selected as this year’s class of ACS fellows are truly a dedicated group,” said ACS President Tom Barton, Ph.D. “Their outstanding contributions to advancing chemistry through service to the Society are many. In their quest to improve people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry, they are helping us to fulfill the vision of the American Chemical Society.”

Laurencin, an internationally recognized engineer, scientist and orthopedic surgeon, holds the titles of University Professor and Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery. He also is a Professor of Materials Sciences and Engineering, and a Professor of Biomedical Engineering. He is the director of UConn Health’s Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for Biomedical, Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences and founding director of UConn Health’s Institute for Regenerative Engineering. He is the Chief Executive Officer of UConn’s cross-university translational institute, the Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science.

“This is a great honor,” Laurencin said. “The American Chemical Society is one of our nation’s largest science organizations and has made great contributions to the field.”

Laurencin was cited for his seminal contributions in polymer science and polymer-ceramic systems applied to biology. Well-known for his groundbreaking work in biomaterials, he has patented and invented a number of breakthrough technologies. These include the L-C Ligament, the first bioengineered matrix that completely regenerates ligament tissue inside the knee. A Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Dr. Laurencin was named one of the 100 Engineers of the Modern Era at its Centennial celebration. He is an elected member of both the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Engineering.