Professor Linda Doerrer and fourth year graduate student, Steven Hannigan, were chosen as recipients of a Boston University Ignition Award. This program provides funds to validate early-stage research projects with clear commercial potential.
The Doerrer group has determined that a fully fluorinated copper(II) compound can electrocatalytically reduce nitrate in water. Such a technology would be extremely relevant to today’s market for water treatment systems because it addresses an increasingly significant environmental problem. Nitrate is a common component in all man-made fertilizers and is, therefore, increasingly found in all salt- and fresh-water bodies. The nitrate is a fertilizing food source for microorganisms whose excessive growths are called harmful algal blooms (HABs), which can lead to aqueous “dead zones” in rivers, seas, and lakes that can be seen from satellites.
The Ignition Award Program was launched in 2007 by the Boston University Office of Technology Development. Since then, it has issued 46 awards, 10 of which have been given to Chemistry faculty to advance their innovative ideas.
Chemistry faculty, John Snyder and Binyomin Abrams, in conjunction with colleagues in the Departments of Biology (Kathryn Spilios and John “Chip” Celenza) and Neuroscience (Paul Lipton and Lucia Pastorino) have successfully proposed ideas to develop integrated, inquiry-based laboratory courses for first and second year biology, chemistry, and neuroscience students. Jointly funded by the Office of the Provost, the Center for Excellence & Innovation in Teaching, and the College of Arts and Sciences, these interdisciplinary course development grants aim to promote faculty and student collaboration across disciplines in support of innovative, research-oriented undergraduate laboratory education. The new courses that are being developed, Integrated Science Experience 1 (ISE 1) (for second semester freshmen) and ISE 2 (for first semester sophomores), will facilitate students making connections across biology, chemistry, and neuroscience early in their undergraduate careers. Such interdisciplinary insights will better prepare for advanced courses and undergraduate research. Developed in 2015, the courses are anticipated to start in the Spring 2016, and Fall 2016 terms, respectively.
Every year, as the academic year draws to a close, Boston University honors a number of faculty for their outstanding work in the classroom and with their students with the Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching. This year, Senior Lecturer in Chemistry, Dr. Binyomin Abrams, has received Boston University’s top teaching award.
Dr. Abrams investment in the advancement of his students influences all of his activities as an educator, including making chemical education his primary research pursuit. In his second year at BU, he received the College of Arts and Science’s 2010 Templeton Prize for Excellence in Student Advising. In the area of chemical education, he has developed, both with colleagues and independently, a number of programs to improve Boston University’s level of chemical education and to provide his students with the best possible science learning experience. This year, he and colleagues in Chemistry, Biology, and Neuroscience successfully competed for Office of the Provost grants to develop integrated, inquiry-based laboratory courses for first and second year Biology, Chemistry, and Neuroscience students. These interdisciplinary course development grants will generate faculty and student collaboration across disciplines in support of innovative undergraduate education.
Dr. Abrams received his PhD from New York University and does research in molecular dynamics with a focus on the development of computational models for biomimetic foldamers. In the area of education, he has developed and run the BU Chemical Writing Program, which introduces Chemistry students to research-based writing in the context of inquiry-based chemistry laboratory courses. Additional projects have included the development of workshops to help incoming undergraduates succeed in the sciences; preparing hybrid, partially “flipped” activities for out-of-class student engagement in introductory chemistry courses; and the continued expansion of the freshman year chemistry lab alternatives to the honors freshman chemistry lab.
Dr. Abrams is the sixth Chemistry faculty recipient since the award was established in 1974. Previous recipients have included:
2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award recipient, George Pantelopulos, has joined Chemistry to do his proposed graduate research in theoretical chemistry with Prof. John Straub and his group. George aims to model the kinetics of phase transitions in a system of components (lipids and cholesterol) commonly found in eukaryotic cell membranes using the Generalized ReplicaExchange Method (gREM) developed by the Straub group and constructing a Markov State Model (MSM) of a mixed bilayer. George believes that his study will yield a statistically detailed model of the thermodynamics and kinetics of mixed bilayer phases, something which has been sought for years via experimental techniques and previously out-of-reach for standard simulation methods.
George is no stranger to BU Chemistry. In 2013 he was one of the 10 students selected for Chemistry’s NSF site Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. At the time, he was at the Community College of Philadelphia. During his summer REU program here, he helped to synthesize nanohoops of high electron density, which were hypothesized to serve as high performance coatings for solar cells. In Fall 2013 he transferred to Temple University (Philadelphia, PA), where he did research with Prof. Vincent Voelz on simulation studies of the p53-MDM2 complex. MDM2 is an ubiquitin ligase protein which downregulates the tumor suppressor protein p53. As such, inhibition of the p53-MDM2 complex is a major goal in targeted cancer therapy research.
In addition to chemistry, George’s interests are broad and varied. He has a strong commitment to community service and have volunteered with such organizations as TeenSHARP, a weekend educational program for minority students in Philadelphia and Camden schools, where he was a science instructor and Habitat for Humanity.
The Director of the Consumer Safety and Sustainability Group for Consumer Reports, Dr. Urvashi Rangan, was the Distinguished Alumni Speaker at this year’s Chemistry Convocation (May 16, 2015). Dr. Rangan received her BA in Chemistry from Boston University in 1990, doing undergraduate research in organic chemistry with Prof. John Snyder. She received her PhD in Environmental Health Sciences from Johns Hopkins University in 1995 and did postdoctoral work at the Environmental and Occupational Health Science Institute (Rutgers University). She was an NIH fellow from 1990-97.
A noted environmental health scientist, Dr. Rangan has a column in Consumer Reports’ ShopSmart magazine and also serves as a top spokesperson for Consumer Reports in the areas of sustainable production and consumption practices. She has a wide area of expertise, including organic standards, food safety issues, environmental pollution, toxics in consumer products, and environmental health concerns and has appeared in numerous national broadcast outlets. Her expertise is called upon to respond to breaking product safety news, speak on behalf of CU investigative test stories, and to discuss production problems and consumer solutions around a wide range of sustainability topics including food safety issues, organic food, risky ingredients in personal care products, misleading labels, electronics recycling, and energy efficiency for household products.
At the Consumers Union, which she joined in 1999, she has been responsible for managing risk analysis, policy assessments, label evaluations and consumer advice for tests, reports, and related advocacy work. She developed the ratings system, database, and Web site, Eco-labels.org, for evaluating environmental and food labels. In 2005, she managed the launch of GreenerChoices,org, which covers green aspects over a wide range of products and services. To “meet” Dr. Rangan, please go to her 2012 TEDxManhattan talk, “From fables to labels.”
A publication from the research group of Professor Adrian Whitty has been selected by the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) as “Paper of the Week.” This distinction is conferred upon JBC papers that the Associate Editors and Editorial Board Members consider to represent the “top 2% of JBC papers in overall importance.” The paper, “Quantitative Analysis of Receptor Tyrosine Kinase-Effector Coupling at Functionally Relevant Stimulus Levels,” provides a rare, quantitative view of how activation of a growth factor receptor is linked to signaling and function. The work is significant because it sheds new light on some of the factors that determine what concentration of growth factor is required to achieve a functional response, and how this functional sensitivity relates to the dose-response behavior observed for receptor activation and for intracellular signaling events. The paper also shows that experiments done using high ligand concentrations can obscure quantitative features of receptor signaling. The journal will publish a profile of the paper’s first author, 5th year graduate student Simin Li (pictured). Other Whitty group investigators who contributed to the work include Dr. Devayani Bhave and Dr. Thomas Riera (former Postdoctoral Fellows), Jennifer Chow and Mariya Atanasova (graduate students), Simone Rauch (undergraduate student), and Dr. Richard Cate (Visiting Scientist).
Mr. Chao Qi is the recipient of the 2015 Vertex Scholar Award. He is a 4th year graduate student in the group of Prof. John A. Porco. Chao was selected based on his demonstrated excellence in organic chemistry. He has developed extremely elegant and enabling synthetic methodology towards two different natural products, making reactions work, and building complex natural product architectures. Highly productive, he has two major publications, with a third manuscript nearing completion. In addition, Chao plays a leadership role in the Porco laboratory and is currently mentoring an undergraduate researcher.
The 2015 award is made possible by Vertex Pharmaceuticals which has provided this generous graduate fellowship in organic chemistry for an exceptional 2nd, 3rd or 4th year graduate student in our Ph.D. program. The BU-Vertex Educational Partnership Program, established in 2010, offers scholarships funded by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company-based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US.
Ariel Hyre, a first-year graduate student in Professor Linda Doerrer‘s laboratory, has received a 2014 NSF Graduate Research Program Fellowship on her initial attempt. NSF stated that she was awarded the 3-year fellowship based on her “outstanding abilities and accomplishments, as well as [her] potential to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the US science and engineering enterprise.” Ariel, who came to BU after receiving her BS from Brandeis University in 2013 (Cum Laude, High Honors in Chemistry), is deeply committed to materials research that will contribute to environmentally sustainable energy.
As an undergraduate, Ariel explored many aspects of chemistry, working in three different laboratories at Brandeis to learn organometallic techniques and instrumentation (with Professor Christine Thomas); engineering-based materials research (with Professor Seth Fraden); and oscillatory chemical reactions (with Professor Irving Epstein). Coming to BU, she decided to join the Doerrer Group and work on a project that focuses on synthesizing one-dimensional, heterobimetallic nanowires supported and bridged by carboxylate ligands. The infinite chains found in the crystals of these complexes will be tested for electronic conductivity to understand the fundamental design principles needed to produce highly efficient nanoscale wires for electronic devices. Other research directions within the Doerrer lab include C-H and O-H bond oxidation and facile synthesis of zero-valent iron nanoparticles.
Ariel, who minored in political science as an undergraduate, is also committed to scientific outreach, believing that a vibrant scientific community is vital to the health and development of society, at the both local and national levels. She and Professor Doerrer have exciting plans to develop a bilingual English/Spanish outreach program for the elementary school students. Their aim is to engage students from one of the most underrepresented groups in the sciences in the excitement of chemistry.
Jennifer Chow, a third-year graduate student in the group of Professor Adrian Whitty, has received an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA). Jennifer received the award for her initial submission, which is a singular honor given how competitive this award is each year. Jennifer will receive 4 years of support to pursue her project, “Activation and Signaling Mechanism of the RET Tyrosine Kinase Receptor.”
The goal of Jennifer’s project is to develop a system using Forster resonance energy transfer (FRET) to understand the changes that occur upon binding of ligand to growth factor receptors. Aim 1 will develop the FRET constructs, which will be used in Aim 2 to investigate the mechanism of RET (REarranged during Transfection receptor) activation in cell culture. In Aim 3, potential crosstalk between the RET and vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2 (VEGFR2) pathways will be investigated. The research will aid in the physical understanding of growth factor (GF) receptor activation and how aberrant GF receptor signaling in cancer might be therapeutically modulated.
Jennifer received her undergraduate degree from San Francisco State University (CA) and worked at an academic lab for three years after graduation. She came to BU in 2011 and joined Prof. Whitty’s research laboratory, which focuses on quantitative approaches to various fields of chemical biology. In addition to her research, Jennifer is currently the president of the Chemistry Department’s student organization, BUYCC.
Matthew Golder is the recipient of the 2013-2014 Vertex Scholar Award. The award is in recognition of his scientific creativity and leadership. Matt is a fourth-year graduate student in the group of Prof. Ramesh Jasti.
Matt has been working for the past 3 years in the development of synthetic procedures to produce cycloparaphenylenes, the simplest sub-segment of a metallic armchair carbon nanotube. His efforts have lead to three publications thus far (most recently a first author paper in Chemical Science) and several presentations at national meetings.
Matt is the fourth Vertex Scholar in the Department. The award is made possible by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Each award funds a student’s stipend, fees, and travel to conferences for one year. As part of its aim to promote cooperation between industry and academia, Vertex provides the Scholars with access to mentoring from their scientists. Vertex, with a market capitalization of more than $7.2 billion, is committed to the discovery and development of breakthrough small-molecule drugs for serious diseases.