Category: chemistry

Robinson receives SEC Faculty Achievement Award

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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

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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 thebestschools.org 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

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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

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

By Jessica Luton  jluton@uga.edu

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

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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

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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

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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.

Robinson named UGA Foundation Professor

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Gregory-Robinson, with chemistry building2012-13 has been a banner year for chemistry professor Gregory Robinson, and now a new professorship has been offically added to his list of recent accolades:

Gregory H. Robinson, Franklin Professor and Distinguished Research Professor of Chemistry at the University of Georgia, has been appointed the UGA Foundation Distinguished Professor in Chemistry. The special appointment was approved by the Board of Regents at its May 2013 meeting and will be effective as of August.

Over the past 25 years, Robinson and his team have published a series of findings that have reshaped how scientists view certain aspects of chemical bonding. In a widely cited 1995 paper, he demonstrated that metals can display electronic behavior previously only thought possible with carbon-based ring systems such as benzene-a phenomenon known as metallaromaticity.

...

In April 2013, Robinson received the F. Albert Cotton Award from the American Chemical Society, presented to one person annually by the world's largest scientific society. In May 2012, Robinson joined a select group of international academics awarded a Humboldt Research Award from Germany's Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, presented to academics whose fundamental discoveries, new theories or insights have had a significant impact on their own discipline

Congratulations Dr. Robinson. This list of honors reflects the pinnacle of scientific creativity and a research team hitting on all cylinders for a sustained length of time. We wish Dr. Robinson continued good fortune in the lab and among his international colleagues.

Scientists unravel complex machinery of cell function

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Intriguing new work on the behavior of sugar molecules in the body, known as glycans, just published by UGA researchers. The research, startling in its breadth, is focused on the causes of a debilitating brain disease:

These complex carbohydrate chains perform a host of vital functions, providing the necessary machinery for cells to communicate, replicate and survive. It stands to reason, then, that when something goes wrong with a person's glycans, something goes wrong with them.

Now, researchers at the University of Georgia are learning how changes in normal glycan behavior are related to a rare but fatal lysosomal disease known as Niemann-Pick type C (NPC), a genetic disorder that prevents the body from metabolizing cholesterol properly. The findings were published recently in the PNAS Early Edition.

"We are learning that the problems associated with cholesterol trafficking in the cell lead to problems with glycans on the cell's surface, and that causes a multitude of negative effects," said Geert-Jan Boons, professor of chemistry in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and researcher at UGA's Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. "Now, for the first time, we can see what these problems are, which we hope will lead to a new understanding of diseases like NPC."

Because NPC patients are unable to metabolize cholesterol, the waxy substance begins to accumulate in the brain. This can lead to a host of serious problems, including neurodegeneration, which the researchers hypothesize may be caused by improper recycling of glycans on the surface of an NPC patient's cells.

Congratulations to the researchers and as we've acknowledged previously, building the infrastructure that facilitates this kind of work is also one of the keys to its progress. This is the level of research that private sector R & D will simply not support, for obvious reasons of time and expense. We are grateful to Boons and his team, and to the university research leadership for putting talented people in a position to succeed. The Complex Carbohydrate Research Center is at the locus of this effort,  bringing together Franklin College researchers from Chemistry, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Stickney, 2013 Distinguished Research Professor

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stickney in his labOne thing we missed in the rundown of the Faculty Awards banquet is the announcement of the 2013 Distinguished Research Professors. Among the three awardees is one of our favorite researchers and teachers from the department of chemistry, John Stickney.

Stickney has received worldwide recognition for his contributions to the field of electrochemistry. He singlehandedly invented a method of producing extraordinarily thin semiconductors created one atomic layer at a time through a process he called electrochemical atomic layer epitaxy, or EC-ALE. He patented this approach and founded a company to market equipment for making materials by this process. The materials produced by EC-ALE are of a quality previously unmatched through traditional methods of electrodeposition, and they have great potential in a number of technological applications, including solar energy conversion, as specialty sensors and for catalysis, the process of accelerating a chemical reaction by a catalyst.

I am fortunate to have spent time with Stickney, intervewing and writing about his work several times over the years. The EC-ALE process is fascinating and he can make it sound easy to understand and obvious, a true mark of genius in my view. But more than that, Stickney is as funny and engaging as he is serious and creative about his work. Even in formal settings, he is able to talk about very complex science in a way that makes you want to learn more. He is intrigued and fascinated by his field, and maybe that is one of the keys to thinking creatively about sensors and semiconductors.

The title Distinguished Research Professor is bestowed upon faculty who are internationally recognized for their original contributions to knowledge and whose work promises to foster continued creativity in their discipline. That describes John Stickney perfectly. Congratulations.