New Faculty

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.”

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Kelly Burke

By Sydney Souder

BurkeCaptionDr. Kelly Burke is excited by the multidisciplinary challenges of developing bio-derived polymers and stimuli-responsive materials in her lab. An assistant professor in the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, her work encompasses elements of medicine, biology, chemistry, tissue engineering and materials science. As a key member of the Polymer Program in the Institute of Materials Science, she is well-poised to develop a program that answers her fundamental research questions.

In her words, Dr. Burke’s work is a marriage between her graduate and post-doctoral projects. During her graduate studies at Case Western Reserve University, she studied polymer synthesis and characterization. She then delved into the world of silk materials as an NIH postdoctoral fellow at Tufts.

SilkCaption“Typically, we think of silk as a means of creating fabrics or sutures. However, it is possible to chemically modify the proteins in silk materials to alter their functionality.” To this end, she is using her breadth of experience to create stimuli-responsive biomaterials from silk.

Dr. Burke’s goal is to manipulate silk polymers so that human cells respond to her materials. Specifically, she aims for her materials to moderate inflammation and promote healing. This could be invaluable for people with chronic diseases that impede healing, such as diabetes. Most existing wound materials are passive and only protect the area from bacteria and dirt. Dr. Burke seeks to create an interactive material that controls cells and encourages healing. Natural silkworm material is not recognized by the body, so the challenge is to ensure they respond to the chronically-inflamed environments.

“In many ways, being on the faculty at UConn is like coming home,” Dr. Burke says. An alumna who earned her B.S. in chemical engineering in 2005, she knows the people and the campus, including her favorite dairy bar ice cream flavor (Coffee Expresso Crunch).

With tremendous support from Connecticut state initiatives like Next Generation Connecticut, Tech Park, and Bioscience Connecticut, Dr. Burke says with a smile, “It’s an exciting time to be at UConn.”






Faculty Spotlight: Prof. Kristina Wagstrom

By Sydney Souder

Wagstrom CaptionProf. Kristina Wagstrom, through work in her Computational Atmospheric Chemistry and Exposure Lab, strives to improve the science and functionality of computational approaches in air pollution. Her overarching objective is to develop improved regional and global air pollution models for use by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other state agencies.

Prof. Wagstrom’s current projects here in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department at UConn include tracking the global transport of particulate matter, and high resolution modeling. One of her goals is to determine the impact of particulate matter generated in different regions and continents on air pollution throughout the globe. Her research group is improving air pollution exposure estimates by coupling local and regional scale models. The overall intention is to create an efficient means of assisting policymakers in their decisions.MapCaptionWagstrom

“I want to be doing something that makes a difference in both the short and long term,” she says, “I enjoy working on projects where I can see the impact in five, six, seven years.”

Prof. Wagstrom’s outlook is strongly influenced by the Science and Technology Policy Fellowship she was engaged in directly before coming to UConn in 2013. This highly competitive fellowship, administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), immerses outstanding scientists and engineers into federal policymaking to gain a stronger understanding of the intersection between science and policy.

As a fellow, Prof. Wagstrom worked at the EPA and, as a consequence, was able to observe the research grant funding process from an insider’s perspective, as well as how larger government decisions influence what science is funded and therefore carried out.

One outcome from her experience is discovering how to structure research proposals so they will be of use in future policy decision making, and how to organize a project for potential maximum impact. “There are often minor ways to change a project to make it more accessible to policymakers,” she says.

Prof. Wagstrom’s experience will undoubtedly benefit her research and contributions to the department. More information on Prof. Wagstrom’s research is available on her website here.


Research Insight: Using Light to Control Neural Activity

By Sydney Souder

Prof. Yongku Cho’s research ambition is to engineer light-activated proteins as a tool to manipulate brain circuit activity. He is currently equipping his laboratory here at UConn to build on his work recently published in Nature Methods. The research article—coauthored by Dr. Cho, his postdoctoral advisor Ed Boyden, and other colleagues—documents the group’s progress in controlling neural activity using novel light-activated ion channels.

Traditionally, optical techniques have been used to observe what is happening in biological systems.  However, researchers have recently begun using light to actively control biological processes through proteins that trigger a specific function when illuminated.

“We use light-activated ion channels naturally found in green algae, which are single-celled microorganisms, to control the electrical activity of mammalian neurons,” says Prof. Cho.

In 2003, researchers realized that green algae respond to high intensities of light using ion channels that sense blue light. The light-activated channels allow ions to flow through the cell membrane, resulting in the initiation of electrical signals called action potentials in neurons. This finding signifies that light energy can be used to trigger electric signals in specific populations of neurons.

“Until now, we were able to activate one type of neuron at a time using blue light,” Prof. Cho says, “but in the brain there are many different types of neurons, forming multiple connections. So the task was to find a way to activate multiple types of neurons independently.” By collaborating with a consortium that sequenced the RNA of over a thousand species of plants (including green algae), more than one hundred new light-activated ion channels were discovered. From these novel ion channels, the group made a breakthrough discovery of a unique ion channel that senses red light, and another that is ultra-sensitive to blue light. Using these two new ion channels, it is now possible to activate two different types of neurons independently using blue and red light.

Prof. Cho intends to extend this approach to control other types of processes in neurons.  “In plants, light-activated proteins are used for controlling a wide array of functions, such as opening a flower in response to sunlight,” he says. “I believe that we can use this approach of controlling individual components in the brain to gain insight on the root cause of brain disorders, such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease.” Prof. Cho’s group will continue engineering novel proteins to further understand the brain and perhaps identify the causes of its disorders.


CBE Welcomes 5 New Faculty

Following an especially ambitious recruiting year, the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) Department is excited to announce that 5 impressive new faculty members will join us for the fall 2013 and spring 2014 academic terms. The leap in faculty hiring is rooted in President Susan Herbst’s 2012 announcement that UConn will hire 290 new tenured/tenure track faculty members – in addition to filling vacancies – across the university by 2016.

All bring substantial academic credentials that will strengthen UConn Engineering programs. The new faculty members are profiled briefly below.

KellyBurke_profileKelly Burke joins the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department, and has an appointment in the Polymer Program of the Institute of Materials Science. Dr. Burke, who joins UConn under the Eminent Faculty Initiative, earned her PhD at Case Western Reserve University in 2010 and brings expertise in protein modification strategies, tissue engineering, structure-property relationships of liquid crystals, and biocompatible multifunctional polymeric materials. Dr. Burke was a post-doctoral associate at Tufts University (2010-13), where she received an NIH National Research Service Award Fellowship.



yongku_profileYongku Cho joins the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department. He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2010. Dr. Cho’s research centers on protein engineering, optogenetics, neuroimaging and molecular neurobiology. He was most recently a post-doctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his work involved the molecular engineering of light-activated proteins.




SunLuyi2013_profileLuyi Sun joins the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department, and has an appointment in the Polymer Program of the Institute of Materials Science. Dr. Sun, who joins UConn under the Eminent Faculty Initiative, received his PhD at the University of Alabama in 2004 and brings expertise in multi-functional nanostructured materials; polymeric materials and new polymer processing development; layered compounds; green science and engineering; hydrates and porous materials for energy storage. He was an assistant professor of chemistry at Texas State University (2009-13) and was a post-doctoral fellow at both Texas A&M and the University of Alabama.



VallaJulia2013_profileJulia Valla joins the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department with expertise in the design and development of novel catalysts for industrial applications and design of new, emerging technologies and processes for the clean and sustainable energy production. She earned her PhD at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece in 2005. Dr. Valla was previously an assistant research professor in CMBE and the Center for Clean Energy Engineering and, earlier in her career, a Project Leader for Rive Technology Inc.



wagstrom_kristina_profileKristina Wagstrom joins the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department as the Northeast Utilities Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering Education. She brings expertise in sourcing and modeling atmospheric particulates, air pollutants, health impacts of atmospheric particulate matter deposition, and air quality models. Dr. Wagstrom received her PhD from Carnegie Mellon University in 2009. She conducted post-doctoral research at the University of Minnesota (2009-12), and was an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the U.S. EPA (2012-13).

CHEG Welcomes New Faculty Member

Wagstrom_squareThe Chemical Engineering Program is pleased to announce the addition of Kristina Wagstrom to the ranks of its faculty.  Beginning this fall, Dr. Wagstrom will join the program as Assistant Professor. In addition to this new role, Dr. Wagstrom will be spending the next year as a Science and Technology Policy Fellow within the Environmental Protection Agency, as part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Program. This program provides opportunities for scientists and engineers to engage in the policymaking process on a federal level. Kristina will be working to evaluate the current state of the science as it relates to air pollution and climate policy and participate in activities to determine funding priorities for EPA to encourage research in areas aimed at filling the gaps in our current knowledge.
Dr. Wagstrom joins the department and embarks on this fellowship following a term as Civil Engineering Postdoctoral Associate at the University of Minnesota (2009-2012). Previous to this, Dr. Wagstrom received her Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University in 2009. Her current research focuses on improvements and novel applications of modeling to understand the impacts of air pollution to human health. Further information on Dr. Wagstrom can be found here.

Dr. Aravind Suresh Joins the CMBE

SureshDr. Aravind Suresh joins the CMBE Department as an Assistant Professor- in-Residence. Dr. Suresh, who earned his Ph.D. at UConn, received his bachelor’s degree from the National Institute of Technology, India in 2004. His area of expertise is in inorganic oxide synthesis, structural characterization, catalytic analysis and high-temperature processing.

CMBE Welcomes Dr. Anson Ma

Anson_profile2013Dr. Ma received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, England (2009) and recently completed a post-doctoral research position at Rice University.
Dr. Ma’s research focuses on the development of novel, scalable techniques for processing nanoparticles into multifunctional, high performance materials. In particular, he seeks to develop nanoparticle-stabilized foams for enhanced oil recovery and “smart” polymer nanocomposites for aerospace applications.
He is the founding president of the Carbon Nanotube Club and the recipient of the J. Evans Attwell-Welch Fellow award, presented by the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology. He has published one book chapter and seven first author journal articles. read his profile