Month: December 2016

Professor Yongku Cho Receives National Institute of Health Grant


By: Taylor Caron


Professor Yongku Cho of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department has received a research grant from the National Institute of Health, a primary Federal funding source, this past August. His research centers on engineering an antibody that could potentially elucidate the mechanism of neurotoxicity in Alzheimer’s disease.


The project, which is being led by Professor Cho, began in September with his graduate student Dan Li, and is focusing on what is known as the Tau protein. The Tau protein exists in brain tissue and is thought to result in neurodegeneration when improperly modified. According to Professor Cho, antibodies are a valuable tool in Alzheimer’s research because they are capable of recognizing these modifications, such as phosphorylation and acetylation of the Tau. However, a critical issue with many antibodies is that they bind unmodified Tau and proteins other than the desired target. This process is called cross-reactivity and can mislead research in Alzheimer’s disease. The focus of Professor Cho and his lab is to develop an antibody which will be more accurate in targeting the defective Tau alone.


“One study estimated that half of the antibodies currently sold on the market do not work as intended. A primary reason for this is cross-reactivity,” Professor Cho said.

Professor Cho’s project is entitled Early Detection of Tau Acetylation Using Ultra-High Affinity Antibodies.  There are two primary functions to determine an antibody’s effectiveness: affinity and specificity. Affinity refers to the strength with which an antibody attracts other proteins, and specificity refers to an antibody’s ability so single out an individual protein like the Tau, without cross-reactivity. Professor Cho said much attention has been placed on affinity to the neglect of specificity, but that his project will focus on both.

“The proposal is about affinity and specificity, but I believe it is essential to develop a high-quality antibody that can both isolate the Tau and sufficiently attract it. Affinity and specificity go hand in hand,” he said.


Professor Cho spoke about what the Tau looks like under a harmful modification called acetylation, and how the grant from NIH will help him and his team detect it with high sensitivity, allowing to better elucidate its effect on Alzheimer’s disease.


“The Tau protein forms a tangle inside the brain that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease,” Professor Cho said. “There are many forms or modifications of the protein, and one is known as acetylation which we believe may be the cause of the neurotoxicity.”


Professor Cho and his lab will be working with Dr. Benjamin Wolozin from Boston University to test their antibodies on human tissue samples. He is hopeful that this antibody could someday be used in detecting the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and enable the development of therapeutics.

ChEGSA Hosts Halloween Party for Students & Faculty


By: Taylor Caron

The Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association (ChEGSA) hosted a Halloween party for graduate students and CBE faculty on the Friday before Halloween.


The room in Engineering II was filled with video games, large pizzas, and tabletops games as CBE members mingled with some decked out in Halloween costumes.


Travis Omasta, a graduate student who organized the event, said the aim was to allow for faculty and students to meet and talk with another, which is often the catalyst for both friendship and networking.


“The main goal of many of our events, the Halloween party included, is to build comradery and community within the CBE graduates.” Omasta said. “This particular event was held on Friday afternoon during typical work hours so it is easy for students and faculty to come by and socialize.”


Introductions and lively conversation was abundant throughout the event. According to Omasta, this is the kind of function ChEGSA regularly hopes to provide to the department, and there are many more events to come.


“We consider this event successful as we have all of our events this year, with our primary focus of getting more students involved, especially the ones that don’t know as many people around campus,” he said. “ChEGSA also hosts enriching events such as rapid fire presentations competitions, seminars on job and real work skills, and practices for conference presentations.”

UConn CBE Welcomes Assistant Professor Matt Stuber

Matthew Stuber on Sept. 15, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Assistant Professor Matthew Stuber (Peter Morenus).

By: Taylor Caron


The Chemical Engineering Department is pleased to announce Matt Stuber as an Assistant Professor whose research focus will be on process systems and optimization.

Professor Stuber received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT, and co-founded a company called WaterFX which is about making conventional approaches to water desalination more efficient and powered by renewables. He said that his work in the private sector was great experience as Director of Process Systems Engineering, and that he is excited to make the shift to academia to continue working on important challenges concerning sustainability and energy.

“WaterFX has been very successful, but I didn’t really find passion in its administration. I’m a scientist and an engineer,” Stuber said. “Sometimes too much of the tech industry is based on growth trajectories and not solving real problems. I decided to refocus my efforts on research and am very pleased to become a member of UConn’s CBE faculty.”

WaterFX, where Stuber led the efforts in all things technical, has gained much attention from national outlets like PBS, National Geographic, and even involvement with The White House, helping shape their efforts in addressing national water challenges. However, Professor Stuber is excited to work with UConn’s Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering which aligns with his experience and interests.

“The new institute has emphasized the kind of research values I consider really important. It’s a great up -and -coming institute which will be a massive force to be reckoned with,” he said.

Professor Stuber’s work at MIT focused on researching and developing theoretical mathematical tools for chemical and energy processes. His research was highly mathematical and he developed algorithms for advanced formal methods in robust and optimal design under uncertainty problems.

Professor Stuber’s research at UConn will continue to focus on process systems engineering, and in particular, rigorous design under uncertainty.

“Process systems is sort of a broad buzz word. It’s a subject of applied mathematics, computer science, and engineering. It applies systems-level thinking to engineered processes,” he said.

Professor Stuber said that his research will be somewhat similar to his work with WaterFx where he developed models and used advanced optimization methods to innovate processes for enhancing efficiency and augmenting them for renewable energy. The company’s ultimate goal is to reduce costs and enhance access to scarce natural resources through sustainable means.

“I’m definitely interested in solving real world problems. Water scarcity is directly related to issues of climate change which is a big part of what attracted me to the issue,” he said. “I’m incredibly glad to be a part of the CBE department to continue to progress this work which has timely and significant benefits to most industries as well as the natural environment.”