Author: Heike Brueckner

New Design of Nanodiscs and Nano-vesicles to Target Disease

By Jayna Miller

Lipids are the basic building blocks of biological membranes – and one of the best materials that nature provides us to entrap materials in nanoscale.


Dr. Mu-Ping Nieh, an associate professor at UConn, is leading a research group investigating the potential of lipid-based nanoparticles for drug delivery.  Under certain conditions, lipids can self-assemble into hollow, nanoscale spheres (vesicles), solid nanodiscs, or worm-like nano-ribbons. Depending on the properties of drug molecules, it is possible to insert drugs into these structures to help fight diseases, particularly cancer.

muping2One of the challenges involved in this research is how to determine whether the nanodiscs will target cancer-infected cells rather than healthy cells. Current chemotherapy techniques are often harsh, as many good cells are killed in the process of destroying cancer cells, causing patients to become weak from the treatment. The new treatment method proposed by Dr. Nieh’s research team will recognize and attack infected cells only, and thereby reduce patient discomfort.

muping3Dr. Nieh was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant in 2012 to design such nano-carriers. “Lipid-based nanodiscs and vesicles have the potential to serve as delivery carriers for therapeutics or diagnostic agents, so the stability of the structure is an important issue,” he said.

By examining the morphology of the nanoparticles, Dr. Nieh hopes to gain a better understanding of how the structure affects the targeting efficacy of the nanoparticles, leading to the design of a stable drug delivery system. His next challenge is to generalize the strategy to manufacture uniform nanoparticles from any lipid system in large quantities.

Science Radio Show Enlightens Listeners

Screen shot 2013-06-26 at 1.29.22 PMRepublished with permission of Momentum,
a School of Engineering electronic publication.



Photo of Jeff McCutcheon in radio studio

Dr. Jeffrey McCutcheon, an assistant professor in the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department, is intent on bringing science, engineering and technology to a broader audience where preconceptions can be discussed openly and overturned. To that end, in April he launched a weekly, two-hour talk radio program on UConn’s noncommercial college and community radio station, WHUS (91.7 FM;, called Science Friction.

He chose an edgy name to underline the show’s focus, which squarely targets scientific controversies. The program currently airs Mondays from 1-3 p.m. and reaches a listening audience well beyond the boundaries of the UConn campus.  According to Ryan Caron King, the station’s general manager, “The geographic broadcast area of WHUS’s 4,400 watt signal reaches slightly past Hartford, into western Rhode Island and into southern Massachusetts.”

In explaining his decision to launch the radio show, Dr. McCutcheon says, “A gap exists between scientists and the general public, and some view science and technology as the doom of humanity.  For example, there are debates about certain scientific issues such as climate change, nuclear power, alternative energy and water resources.  I believe that by giving scientists a platform to discuss these controversies, we can allay some of the public’s fears surrounding technology and science.”

“I look at this as a platform much like NPR’s ‘Science Friday.’  Each week I present a different topic or series of topics covering all subjects STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics]. I interview students, professors, entrepreneurs, people from the business arena – and not just strictly from UConn but from around the country. It’s important to get a broad spectrum of individuals to talk about the challenges they face and see in certain areas, and to allay fears that nonscientists may have about these technologies.”

His shows have generated eager calls from listeners on either side of the topical debate, and he notes that most callers have been complimentary and respectful.

To date, Dr. McCutcheon, who directs the Sustainable Water and Energy Learning Laboratory (SWELL), has interviewed engineering professors Daniel Burkey, Mei Wei, and Allison MacKay; plus student leaders Kelsey Boch (’13), Breanne Muratori (’13) and Andrew Silva (’14).  He has lined up six more programs for the summer, including interviews with professor Ranjan Srivastava, local businessman Kevin Bouley, Interim Engineering Dean Kazem Kazerounian and students participating in his NSF-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), who will be carrying out novel research at UConn that has a business focus.

He notes that the radio show serves both the listening audience and the interviewees. “Very few people have the opportunity to be on the radio these days.  Professors and scientists relish this opportunity to talk about what they do, and students value the opportunity as a singular life event.”

Radio is a life-long interest of Dr. McCutcheon’s, whose father, a professional guitarist, has hosted a classical guitar radio show for 20 years on public radio in Dayton, Ohio.  “But what really got me into radio was listening to baseball games. I’m a big Cincinnati Reds fan and grew up listening to Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall.  When I was older, I began listening to news-talk radio. Radio is a great way to convey news, because radio broadcasts have to be clearer, in a way, than television broadcasts. Not to mention you can listen to radio anywhere, any time without it interfering with whatever you’re doing.”

Science Friction will play a central role in a proposal he is submitting to the National Science Foundation’s Early Career Development program. In his proposal, Dr. McCutcheon will articulate his intention to use this platform as a vehicle for broadening societal awareness of his research as well as that of other scientists, engineers and technologists.

Dr. McCutcheon is planning to make the show’s podcasts available via RSS feed to broaden listenership. He is eager to engage local teachers as well so that the program can reach students as they are beginning to examine scientific concepts and can learn from a spirited discussion involving alternate views.

Join CBE at Innovation Connection

The Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering department invites you to our Innovation Connection networking event on Thursday, July 25th at Nerac, Inc. The panel topic will center on Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), which is a program that brings undergraduate students to campus for summer research and development in energy, environmental, process, polymer and materials, and bioengineering and biotechnology areas. We will have a lively discussion with students who worked on projects and were enrolled in a business and entrepreneurship course on the mechanics of business.  They include:

KX Technologies: Justine Jesseinnovationconnection
Faculty Advisor: Professor McCutcheon

W.R. Grace: Isaac Batty
Faculty Advisor: Professor Bollas

Scitech Solar: Kyle Stachowiak
Faculty Advisor: Professor Willis

Proton OnSite: Joseph Amato
Faculty Advisor: Professor Maric

KX Technologies: Zacharia Rueger
Faculty Advisor: Professor McCutcheon

RPM Sustainable Technologies: William Hale
Faculty Advisor: Professor Parnas

VeruTech: Kyle Karinshak
Faculty Advisor: Professor Suib

Nanostannate Film: Urian Vue
Faculty Advisor: Professor Gao

BASF: Ryan Carpenter
Faculty Advisor: Professor Shor

The monthly Innovation Connection networking series began at UConn in late 2010 as a way to bring together business technology owners, large company representatives and the best and brightest of UConn students and faculty to share ideas and build connections.

Everyone is invited!

Date: Thursday, July 25th
Time: 3:30 – 4:30 – Panel Discussion
4:30 – 6:30 – Innovation Connection Networking Reception
Location: Nerac, Inc.; One Technology Drive; Tolland, CT  06084 (860-872-7000)

Please RSVP. We hope to see you there!

Dr. Jeffrey McCutcheon Named a DuPont Young Professor

Momentum logo

Republished with permission of Momentum,
a School of Engineering electronic publication.



Assistant professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Jeffrey McCutcheon was selected a 2013 DuPont Young Professor.  He is one of just 14 young professors, representing seven countries, to receive one of the three-year awards this year.  The award will fund his ongoing research in the area of novel membranes for use in water filtration and energy storage.

The DuPont Young Professor Program is designed to help promising young and untenured research faculty, working in areas of interest to DuPont, to begin their careers.

Dr. McCutcheon, who has a dual appointment in the Center for Environmental Science & Engineering (CESE), joined UConn in 2008 and has established a respected program in novel filtration technologies and, in particular, forward osmosis (FO) and pressure retarded osmosis (PRO).

Both FO and PRO are osmotically-driven membrane separation processes based on the natural tendency of water to flow from a solution of low solute concentration to one of higher concentration.  In both processes, water moves across a selective, semi-permeable membrane from a relatively dilute feed solution – such as seawater, brackish water or wastewater – into a highly concentrated ‘draw’ solution. Clean water permeates through the membrane from the feed water to the draw solution, leaving behind salts, contaminants and other feed solutes as a concentrated brine stream. And unlike conventional reverse osmosis, Dr. McCutcheon notes, these processes require no addition of energy. In FO, the diluted draw solution is carried to a secondary separation system that removes the solute from the water and recycles it within the system; drinkable water is one product of the process. In the case of PRO, the chemical potential energy of a saline solution is converted directly into electricity.

Central to his work in advancing both techniques is novel membranes that employ electrospun nanofiber nonwovens.  For his DuPont-sponsored research, Dr. McCutcheon will seek to establish that DuPont’s Hybrid Membrane Technology can be used in thin film composite membranes for salinity-driven processes.

Dr. McCutcheon directs the Sustainable Water and Energy Learning Laboratory (SWELL) at UConn, which serves as an educational and research center for innovative technologies aimed at addressing the world’s water and energy problems. He also oversees an NSF-sponsored, entrepreneurial Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) site at UConn, which brings undergraduate students from across the nation to campus for summer research and development in energy, environmental, process, polymer and materials, and bioengineering and biotechnology  areas in collaboration with industry.  He also advises the UConn student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), which is working to develop desalination and water treatment technologies for local use in developing countries.

Read more about Dr. McCutcheon’s research here and watch a YouTube video here.

Engineering Scholarships: Unlocking Opportunities

Education is a key that unlocks the potential of the nation.
And engineers, perhaps more than any other profession, help America build and strengthen its future through their tenacious ingenuity, analytical mindset and constant drive to innovate.
Making a great engineering education available to every outstanding student — no matter their background, economic class, religion or cultural tradition — is an objective we in the UConn School of Engineering are committed to achieving.
Generous scholarships enable hundreds of UConn Engineering students every year to gain a world-class education that might otherwise be unaffordable. Meet a few of our scholarship recipients in this video.

CBE Students Receive Tanaka Fellowships

Republished with permission of Momentum,
a School of Engineering electronic publication


Doctoral candidates Neil Spinner and Ying Liu (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering) have received John Tanaka Graduate Student Fellowship awards, which are presented to outstanding University of Connecticut graduate students who are members of Phi Kappa Phi, the nation’s oldest honor society.

ying-liu Just two awards are presented annually.

“Both Neil and Ying are model graduate students.  They are smart, hard-working, dedicated researchers.  I am very proud of both of them – I could not think of two more qualified students for this award,” says Dr. William Mustain, their thesis advisor.

The John Tanaka Award, first given in 1993, was established in honor of Dr. John Tanaka, emeritus professor of chemistry and former Director of the Honors Programs. Dr. Tanaka, who died in April 2012, led the Phi Kappa Phi chapter for many years.neil-spinner

Selection is based on an applicant’s promise of success in graduate or professional study as evidenced by: academic achievement, relevant research experience, service and leadership experience on and off campus, and personal and career goals.

Ying, who has nine archival publications in high impact journals, is researching novel electrocatalysts for proton exchange membrane fuel cells, which is expected to play a significant role in providing clean, sustainable power for the 21st century and beyond.  In nominating Ying for the honor, Dr. Mustain noted “…her most important mentoring and leadership has occurred in the laboratory where she has worked side-by-side with five of our young undergraduates.”

In his graduate research, Neil is synthesizing first generation electrocatalysts for the electrochemical synthesis of fuels at room temperature, with very low required energy input, and has used the results to develop design criteria for next generation catalysts. As a National Science Foundation GK-12 Fellow from 2010-12, Neil mentored students at Howell Cheney Technical High School in Manchester, CT and has contributed toward the UConn Mentor Connection and the Joule Fellows programs at UConn.

Dr. Laurencin to Receive 2012 AAAS Mentor Award

Republished with permission of emagination, a School of Engineering electronic publication
emagination logo


The 2012 Mentor Award of the American Association for thePhoto of Cato Laurencin Advancement of Science (AAAS) will be presented to Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D., “for his transformative impact and scientific contributions toward mentoring students in the field of biomedical engineering.”

Dr. Laurencin is the Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Chair Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Professor of Chemical, Materials and Biomolecular Engineering at UConn. The Director of both the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center, and the Institute for Regenerative Engineering at UConn, he is one of only two designated University Professors in the School of Engineering.

Throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Laurencin has taken significant steps to ensure that the impact of his pioneering work in biomaterials and tissue engineering benefits both the research community and, through his mentoring, future scientists and engineers.  In 2011, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), among the nation’s highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer, for his work in biomaterials science, drug delivery, and tissue engineering involving musculoskeletal systems, and his academic leadership.

Please read the full press release here.

Join CBE at Innovation Connection

innovationconnectionThe Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering faculty invite you to our Innovation Connection networking event on Thursday, February 21st, from 3-6pm.

We invite alumni, entrepreneurs, and members of the industrial community to join our faculty in a casual environment that fosters collaboration and networking.

During this time, you will have the opportunity to learn about our ongoing research, tour our laboratories, network, discuss technology, and enjoy research posters.

Research talks will take place in the
United Technology Engineering Building,
UTEB Room 150 (191 Auditorium Road, Storrs),
from 3-4 pm.

The networking and poster session will be held in the
UConn Foundation building (2390 Alumni Drive, Storrs),
from 4-6 pm.

Park in North Campus Garage
103 North Eagleville Road, Storrs, CT 06269

Please RSVP. We hope to see you there!

Professor Anson Ma and Rice University Colleagues Publish Breakthrough in Prestigious Science Journal

Anson and Matteo

In a recent Science journal article entitled “Strong, Light, Multifunctional Fibers of Carbon Nanotubes with Ultrahigh Conductivity,” Professor Anson Ma and colleagues from Rice University detail their recent breakthrough revolutionizing the use of carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are rolled cylinders of graphene sheets that have unprecedented mechanical, electrical, and thermal properties. In the past, many of the potential real-world applications of CNTs remained unfulfilled because researchers experienced great difficulties dispersing and processing CNTs into macroscopic objects while maintaining their fascinating properties. To address this problem, Dr. Ma and colleagues from Rice developed a scalable fluid-based process for spinning CNTs into lightweight and multifunctional fibers. These fibers combine the mechanical strength of carbon fibers with the specific electrical conductivity of metals, opening up the exciting possibility of using CNTs in aerospace, field-emission, and power-transmission applications. The article can be accessed at:

Dr. Ma, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the UK, joined UConn in August 2011 as an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering with a dual appointment in the Institute of Materials Science Polymer Program.  He recently received the Distinguished Young Rheologist Award from TA Instruments, which recognizes young faculty members who show exceptional promise in the field of rheology. Prior to that, he received the National Science Foundation Early Concept Grant for Exploration Research (EAGER) award, which focuses on investigating the use of nanoparticles in the delivery of cancer drugs.


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.