Category: chemistry

UGA engineering enrollment grows


Congratulations to the UGA College of Engineering, which is experiencing tremendous growth in enrollment. This growth was forecast long ago, forecasts themselves that were part of the rationale for offering a wider range of engineering degrees at the university in the first place, for which the Franklin College has long been an advocate and supporter:

The college now has UGA’s fifth-largest undergraduate enrollment after passing the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and the School of Public Affairs this year.

“There’s a lot of demand for University of Georgia engineering,” said Donald Leo, the school’s dean.

As of Sept. 9, the college had enrolled 1,233 majors this fall, up exactly 300 more than a year ago. Adding in the 81 engineering graduate students and the 1,314 total enrollment is nearly twice what it was in fall 2012 ‑ 63 graduate students and 631 undergraduates in the college’s first year.

In undergraduates, the engineering college now ranks sixth in size behind arts and sciences (9.457), business (6,418), education (2,436), journalism (1,895) and agriculture and environmental sciences (1,488). Just behind engineering in size are family and consumer sciences, with 1,195 majors, and the School of Public and International Affairs, with 1,108.

There is a long history of engineering at UGA - long, very long, as in dating from the 1840's. All classes in the mechanical arts were once taught in Athens until those degrees were consolidated at the North Avenue Trade School in the 1930's. In the more recent era, Franklin College deans Wyatt Anderson and Garnett Stokes supported UGA engineering efforts with people and resources, funding joint-appointments between engineering and computer science, physics and astronomy, chemistry and other Franklin departments. These new, interdisciplinary positions allowed UGA to bring to campus some of the best young researchers in the country, laying the groundwork for innovative degree programs and building for the succes we see today.

And to digress a bit further, conventional wisdom has certainly coalesced around the idea that it is important for UGA to have engineering (and a medical school) for obvious reasons and these are not inaccurate. But it is at least as important for engineering to be offered in the context of a liberal arts learning environment, where future engineers can be trained alongside future historians, writers journalists, attorneys, artists, social workers and entrepreneurs of all sorts. Those are the people who will live the world they are going to design for, and the more engineers understand that world and its people, the better their design solutions will be. The folks who conceived of the UGA engineering programs, including the deans mentioned above, understood this quite well. All are to be commended.

New chemistry study challenges fundamental mechanism


As one of the fundamental disciplines that help us understand the physical world and how it works, organic chemistry plays an essential role in both our instruction and research missions. So it is significant that researchers continue to test and challenge this crucial area of study at its most basic levels:

A family of millions of known chemical compounds called "aromatics" or "arenes" and their products, including a great number of medicines, plastics and synthetic fibers, are characterized by their regular arrangement of ring atoms instead of alternating single and double bonds. A new study published by researchers in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of chemistry posits a different fundamental mechanism for the way these compounds react to replace atoms.


Aromatics constitute a diverse and widely used chemical family. Employed to make derivatives, benzene consistently ranks among the top 20 chemicals produced annually.

The key chemical reaction giving these derivatives depends on the underlying ring structure. "Electrophilic aromatic substitution" describes the reaction whereby an atom of an aromatic is replaced by another of an "electron-seeking" reagent. This fundamental organic chemical reaction of aromatics is the focus of the paper.

"The electrophile is supposed to attach itself to the aromatic in a first stage to give an ‘intermediate,' from which another group, present at the same site, is then lost in a second stage," said Paul von Ragué Schleyer, Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry at UGA and one of the study's authors. "Although this putative intermediate has garnered much attention in the literature as a simplification, we find instead that it doesn't exist when the reaction conditions are modeled computationally."

Re-evaluting how this fundamentally discipline itself works only reinforces its reliability and rigor, as well as the theories and products that derive therein. Significantly, when reseachers of the caliber of Schaefer, Schleyer and their internaitonal colleagues publish the results of their investigations, the scientific community takes notice. This is a major contribution to the overall body of knowledge and we are proud of and humbled by their ongoing scholarship on both a fundamnental level and an over-arching plane.

For more on the UGA Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry, visit here.


Chemistry doctoral graduate Gilliard awarded Merck Fellowship


R_Gilliard.gif2014 doctoral graduate in the department of chemistry Robert J. Gilliard, Jr., has been awarded a UNCF/Merck Foundation Postdoctoral Science Research Fellowship. The award provides $92,000 and includes a stipend, research grant and travel funds for up to two years of fellowship tenure:

Gilliard will pursue research projects focused on synthetic chemistry and will collaborate with John Protasiewicz of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and Hansjörg Grützmacher of ETH Zürich—an engineering, science, technology, mathematics and management university in Zürich, Switzerland. Gilliard will depart for Zürich in August.

"This is a tremendous honor for which I am extremely grateful," said Gilliard, a native of Hartsville, South Carolina, who came to UGA in 2009 to work with Gregory H. Robinson, the Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. "My experience at UGA has been highly rewarding in research as well as teaching, and I'm looking forward to these new opportunities for collaboration."

Gilliard is one of UGA's best, who chose to come to the university to work with our best faculty. In Gilliard's case, that meant Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Gregory H. Robinson. said Robinson of Gilliard:

"Robert arrived at UGA with a clear career plan, and he has worked hard to realize his ambition, forging new directions in the synthetic organic chemistry of beryllium."

An extraordinarily bright young researcher and teacher, Gilliard has already achieved great, early career distinction and we look for more in the future. Congratulations to Gilliard and to the department of chemistry on this prestigious fellowship.

Robinson receives SEC Faculty Achievement Award


Gregory-H-Robinson.jpgThe accolades continue to roll in for Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Gregory H. Robinson. One of our most outstanding faculty members, Robinson

has been named the University of Georgia's 2014 recipient of the Southeastern Conference Faculty Achievement Award.

The award, which is administered by SEC provosts, recognizes one faculty member from each of the 14 SEC schools and includes a $5,000 honorarium. Robinson joined the UGA faculty in 1995 and was named Distinguished Research Professor in 2000, Franklin Professor in 2005 and Foundation Distinguished Professor in 2013.

"Dr. Robinson excels as a scholar and as an instructor who demonstrates an outstanding level of commitment to the university and to his field," said Pamela Whitten, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. "He represents the University of Georgia with distinction in all that he does and is most deserving of this honor."

A dear friend of the blog in addition to being a great scientist and scholar, Robinson's findings on chemical bonding in inorganic compounds have reshaped the view of scientists around the world on that subject. A dedicated mentor, Robinson is involved with students at every stage of their experience at UGA - from prospective to post-doc. We are very proud of this most recent achievement, and humbled by Dr. Robinson's efforts on every front of UGA's mission.

Image: Gregory Robinson, courtesy of UGA Photo Services.

World's Most Influential Scientists


Schaefer-Henry-230x344_1.jpgIf you wanted to create a list of the 50 most influential scientists in the world today, and someone has, the list would be incomplete without UGA computational chemist Henry F. Schaefer.

The Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and director of the Center for Computational Chemistry, Schaefer was named in list of influential scientists at number 38. A Humboldt Award winner and slated to receive the Peter Debye Award from the American Chemical Society in 2014, Schaefer is known for

inventing the field of computational quantum chemistry, developing it into a reliable quantitative discipline in chemistry. Using supercomputers and simulations rather than actual chemical substances, his lab uncovers chemical structures by crunching numbers. His theoretical research has been directed at one of the most challenging problems in molecular quantum mechanics, the problem of electron correlation in molecules.

Said Dr. Schaefer from IIT Bombay where he was accepting another award, "This one caught me by surprise. My research strategy is one I have used for 40 years. Surround yourself with 15 of the brightest, most original, and most motivated young scientists in the world. Encourage them to work as a team.  Suggest some good scientific projects, provide so little scientific advice that they are forced to learn by themselves, and help them write excellent papers describing their research."

A true gentleman who humbles us by his accomplishments. Congratulations and thank you for the honor and distinction your achievements bring to UGA and the Franklin College.

UGA chemistry researchers develop new treatment for chemotherapy side effects


A prodrug is medication introducded into the body in an inactive (or less than fully active) form, that then becomes converted to its active form through the normal metabolic processes of the body, as a sort of precursor to the intended drug.

Researchers in the department of chemistry announced the development of a new aspirin-based prodrug that may prevent damage caused by chemotherapy:

[The new treament] promises to reduce many of the negative side effects caused by cisplatin, a commonly prescribed chemotherapy treatment.

Cisplatin may be used to treat a variety of cancers, but it is most commonly prescribed for cancer of the bladder, ovaries, cervix, testicles and lung. It is an effective drug, but it often causes severe and irreversible damage to a patient's kidneys, hearing and sense of balance.

UGA researchers combined cisplatin with aspirin in a new single prodrug formulation they call Platin-A, which prevents these negative side effects by reducing inflammation. They reported their findings recently in Angewandte Chemie, a journal published by the German Chemical Society.

"We know that inflammation plays a major role in the development of these side effects," said Rakesh Pathak, lead author of the paper and postdoctoral research associate in the UGA chemistry department. "By attaching aspirin to cisplatin, we can help control this response and reduce damage to the body."

Congratulations to Pathak and assistant professor Shanta Dhar, the principal investigator on the paper, but more importantly to the thousands of patients who suffer these side effects during their treatment regimes. Researchers work to improve human health in all kinds of ways and this work reminds of a very important one: combating the side effects of established treatments. 

Organic Chemistry II app


Local High School Student, UGA Professor Team Up to iPhone/iPad application

By Jessica Luton

For North Oconee High School student Chuanbo Pan, computer programming just comes naturally. After creating an iPhone app to help fellow high school students learn Latin, Pan was sought out by his neighbor, chemistry professor Jason Locklin, to help create an app for what is often known as one of UGA’s most difficult classes—Organic Chemistry II.

$7.4 million NIH grant to Franklin researchers


glycoenzymesFor the second time in two months,  a group of UGA researchers have received significant grant support from the NIH to study and experiment on the sugar molecules known as glycans:

[The researchers] have received a five-year $7.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to help better understand one of the most fundamental building blocks of life.

Student and Faculty features


Grayeski_Phillip, with basketball outdoors.A great way to start off the week, with a feature on Amazing student Phil Grayeski, Goldwater Scholar and a senior in genetics and chemistry:

Research has been a cornerstone of my life at UGA. As a sophomore, I worked in Janet Westpheling’s lab on prokaryotic genetic engineering and gained the necessary experience and professionalism to be a contributing member in a research environment. The next summer, I conducted research in Munich, Germany, in Manfred Ogris’ lab at the Ludwig-Maximilians Institute designing promoters that exhibited transcriptional selectivity, yet high expression in metastatic melanoma cells in nucleic acid-based therapies. There, I realized that I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and implications of drug design and the integration of chemistry, genetics, computer science and immunology within this new field. In my junior year, I transitioned into Jonathan Eggenschwiler’s lab, a eukaryotic genetic engineering lab, to become more familiar with this system. Currently, we are working on deciphering the gating mechanism of the cell cycle on Sonic Hedgehog signaling and determining its possible clinical applications. I was fortunate to be named a Goldwater Scholar in 2012 for this compilation of work. This past summer, I worked in Dr. Michael Goldberg’s lab at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to develop formulations that deliver small molecules to strengthen the immune system’s response toward cancer.

In the fall of my sophomore year, I co-founded Whatever It Takes at UGA along with Anna Konieczny, who has been an incredible friend and co-director throughout a tumultuous beginning. WIT at UGA attempts to improve family life, safety, health and education simultaneously in specific low-income neighborhoods in order to ensure every child will be on track to have the option to pursue a post-secondary education. We believe that it’s not possible to improve education without this multi-targeted approach of these four critical areas. 

Locklin with blue backgroundAnd this week's Focus on the Faculty features associate professor of chemistry Jason Locklin:

What are your favorite courses and why?
Well, in a way, I live a double life. In the spring semesters, I teach Organic Chemistry II. This is one of the more challenging courses for pre-professional students in their curriculum, and the class size averages approximately 350 students. This class is high intensity, and I really enjoy lecturing to this class size. On one hand, I get to interact with some of the best students in the university. On the other, many students struggle mightily with this course, which makes for not-so-pleasant encounters. In the fall semesters, I teach smaller sections of either Equilibrium Thermodynamics or Soft Materials. These classes are very enjoyable because of the more personal interactions that I can have with the students. I would have to say that Soft Materials is my favorite overall. This is an upper-level undergraduate/graduate course in both chemistry and engineering about the properties of polymers. The diversity of thought from the students makes this course enjoyable, since students from different colleges and departments such as pharmacy, food science, engineering, chemistry and physics are usually enrolled.

Great stories about our faculty and students on the UGA homepage every week.

Re-programming immune cells with nanoparticles


Researchers from the department of chemistry, in the early online edition of ACS Nano, report progress on an innovative new use for nanoparticles:

The human body operates under a constant state of martial law. Chief among the enforcers charged with maintaining order is the immune system, a complex network that seeks out and destroys the hordes of invading bacteria and viruses that threaten the organic society as it goes about its work.

The immune system is good at its job, but it's not perfect. Most cancerous cells, for example, are able to avoid detection by the immune system because they so closely resemble normal cells, leaving the cancerous cells free to multiply and grow into life-threatening tumors while the body's only protectors remain unaware.

Shanta Dhar and her colleagues are giving the immune system a boost through their research.

"What we are working on is specifically geared toward breast cancer," said Dhar, the study's co-author and an assistant professor of chemistry in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "Our paper reports for the first time that we can stimulate the immune system against breast cancer cells using mitochondria-targeted nanoparticles and light using a novel pathway."

A full version of the paper is here. The nano scale is permitting our researchers to move closer to solutions to complex problems. Congratulations to Dhar and her group, and our hopes for further progress and success with these activated new cells.