Tag Archive for Chemistry

Students Inducted into Honor Society, Win Awards At American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Julianne Riggs in Chicago last month, where she attended the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting.

Julianne Riggs ’17 in Chicago last month, where she attended the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting.

Five Wesleyan seniors were inducted into the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology honor society at the ASBMB annual meeting in Chicago, April 22-26. They are: Jennifer Cascino ’17, Kaileen Fei ’17, Julianne Riggs ’17, Rachel Savage ’17 and Stacy Uchendu ’17.

The ASBMB Honor Society recognizes exceptional undergraduate juniors and seniors who are pursuing a degree in the molecular life sciences for their scholarly achievement, research accomplishments, and outreach activities. The mission of the society is to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology through organization of scientific meetings, advocacy for funding of basic research and education, support of science education at all levels, promotion of the diversity of individuals entering the scientific workforce, and publication of a number of scientific and educational journals, including the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the Journal of Lipid Research.

Bios of all the inductees, in alphabetical order, can be found here.

Riggs attended the meeting, where she took part in the induction ceremony and presented her research.

“Overall, it was a great experience. I got to present in the undergraduate poster competition and won honorable mention for best chromatin and gene expression poster. I also presented my poster to the general meeting,” she said. “It was a huge conference and there was so much going on. It was great to talk to people of all levels of science, get their perspectives on what it takes to be a scientist, and hear them passionately discuss their research projects. It was also wonderful to talk to people who were researching similar topics to mine, and get their advice and validation on my work.”

In addition, two students, Christine Little ’18 and Cody Hecht ’18, received ASBMB research awards. The $1,000 awards will support their research over the summer.

Faculty, Students, Alumnus Co-Author Paper in Biochemistry Journal

Wesleyan co-authors published a paper titled “The Stories Tryptophans Tell: Exploring Protein Dynamics of Heptosyltransferase I from Escherichia coli” in the January 2017 issue of Biochemistry.

The co-authors include chemistry graduate student Joy Cote; alumni Zarek Siegel ’16 and Daniel Czyzyk, PhD ’15; and faculty Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry; Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Their paper investigates the intrinsic properties of Tryptophan amino acids found within the protein, Heptosyltransferase I, to understand the ways this protein moves during catalysis. Understanding the movement of this protein is an important step in developing its inhibitors.

When this protein is inactive, either because it was genetically altered or inhibited, hydrophobic antibiotics become more effective, so inhibitors could be useful in reactivating antibiotics that are current not effective against these bacteria.

While it is popularly believed that inhibiting a protein requires a compound to compete with the substrate, their paper argues that instead one can design a inhibitor to disrupt protein dynamics, preventing activity. The co-authors compare the function of this “protein dynamics disruptor” to a wedge holding open a door–once inserted, the inhibitor prevents the protein from performing its function.

Their research on Tryptophan residues also found that distant regions of the protein communicate whether or not they are binding their substrate to other regions.

“It would be like if your right hand knew that your left hand was holding a pencil just by the changes in the position of your left hand. We are currently pursuing computational studies to look for these motions via molecular dynamics experiments,” Taylor said.

Fry to Be Honored at Electrochemical Symposium in May

Albert J. Fry will be honored at a symposium for the Electrochemical Society.

Albert Fry will be honored at a symposium for the Electrochemical Society.

Albert Fry, the E.B. Nye Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, will be honored at the Electrochemical Society National Meeting in New Orleans in May.

The symposium, aptly titled, “The 80th Birthday Trifecta in Organic Electrochemistry,” celebrates Fry, and his two colleagues, Professor Jean Lessard of Sherbrooke University and Professor Denis Peters of Indiana University, who will all be celebrating their 80th birthdays.

“Besides having carried on research in organic electrochemistry for many years, each of us has served as chair of the organic and biological electrochemistry division of the Society, and Peters and I received the Baizer Award in organic electrochemistry,” explained Fry. “Although I retired in January, I’m still carrying computational research in electrochemistry and will present a lecture on recent results of this computational work at the New Orleans meeting.”

Chemistry, Physics Students Attend Biomedical Research Conference

Contributed photo

From Nov. 9-12, two faculty members and five students from the physics and chemistry departments, attended the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Tampa, Fla.

Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics, and Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, were joined by McNair Scholars Luz Mendez ’17, Tatianna Pryce ’17, Stacy Uchendu ’17 and Hanna Morales ’17; and Wesleyan Mathematics and Science (WesMaSS) Scholar Helen Karimi ’19.

Students observed other research being performed around the nation by students who are members of underrepresented groups in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). In addition, the Wesleyan students presented their own research and Morales and Karimi were awarded Outstanding Poster Presentation Awards.

“Through the PIE Initiative, Wesleyan has a deliberate strategy to support underrepresented students and faculty in STEM fields by providing resources that increasing post-Wesleyan mentorship and exposure to research excellence, all of which were fulfilled through this conference,” said Antonio Farias, vice president for equity and inclusion/Title IX officer. “It cannot go without saying that without Professor Taylor’s and Professor Etson’s holistic mentorship approach, these type of opportunities for our young scholars would not be possible.”

Taylor Co-Authors Study on Knotted Protein Configurations

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, is a co-author of a paper titled, “Methyl transfer by substrate signaling from a knotted protein fold,” published in the August 2016 issue of the Nature Structural & Molecular Biology newsletter.

The paper describes the protein TrmD, an enzyme that catalyzes tRNA modification, but unlike most proteins, TrmD has an “interesting knotted configuration, which is not common,” Taylor said.

The paper demonstrates that even in proteins with knotted configurations, the internal protein movements and dynamics are important for binding, signaling and catalysis.

“This is exciting because one might expect knotted proteins to be more static in their structure due to the knot, where the amino acids wrap in on themselves, but the evidence suggests that protein dynamics are just as important in these types (knotted configurations) of proteins,” she said.

 

RNA Splicing, Student Research Discussed at Biophysics, Biological Chemistry Retreat

The Molecular Biophysics Program, the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry hosted the 17th Annual Molecular Biophysics and Biological Chemistry Retreat on Sept. 29 at Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown.

The event included several talks by Wesleyan faculty and two student research poster presentations.

Professor Anna Pyle delivered the keynote address titled “Structural and Mechanistic Insights into RNA Splicing.” Pyle is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the William Edward Gilbert Professor in the Departments of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and Chemistry at Yale University. Pyle studies the structure and function of large RNA molecules and RNA remodeling enzymes. A Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator since 1997 and the author of more than 150 publications, she uses a diverse set of biochemical and biophysical techniques, including crystallography and chemical probing, to understand the structural complexity of RNA architecture.

Photos of the retreat are below: (Photos by Will Barr ’19 and Gabi Hurlock ’20)

Biophysics Retreat at Wadsworth Mansion Sept 29, 2016. (Photo by Gabi Hurlock)

Personick Wins LaMer Award from American Chemical Society

Michelle Personick

Michelle Personick

Michelle Personick, assistant professor of chemistry, received the Victor K. LaMer Award from the American Chemical Society Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry. The honor, which comes with a $3,000 monetary award, was presented at the ACS Colloid and Surface Science Symposium June 5-8 at Harvard University, where she presented a plenary talk.

The Victor K. LaMer Award is presented to the author of an outstanding PhD thesis in colloid or surface chemistry. LaMer was the editor of the Journal of Colloid Science (now the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science) from its founding in 1946 to 1965. In addition to his seminal work on colloids, LaMer’s fundamental contributions to physical chemistry have found their way into every textbook and university course on that subject.

Personick received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Middlebury College in 2009 and a PhD in chemistry from Northwestern University in 2013. Her doctoral thesis was titled “Controlling the Shape and Crystallinity of Gold and Silver Nanoparticles.”

A key advance of her dissertation work was the development of a comprehensive set of design guidelines for controlling the shape of gold nanoparticles via reaction kinetics and surface passivation effects. Her graduate research contributed to 15 articles published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Nano Letters, Science and others.

From 2013 to 2015, Personick was a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard. As a member of the Integrated Mesoscale Architectures for Sustainable Catalysis (IMASC) Energy Frontier Research Center, she studied selective oxidative transformations of alcohols on nanoporous gold alloy catalysts. In July 2015, she joined the faculty at Wesleyan where her research focuses on the synthesis of noble metal alloy nanoparticles with well-defined shapes and catalytically active high-energy surfaces.

The Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry is one of the most active Divisions in the ACS with approximately 2,500 members throughout the world.

7 Faculty Promoted, 4 Awarded Tenure

In its recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure on four faculty members. They are Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, Professor of African American Studies Kali Gross, Associate Professor of English and American Studies Amy Tang, and Associate Professor of Chemistry Erika Taylor. They join eight other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

One faculty member, Louise Neary, was promoted to adjunct associate professor of Spanish.

In addition, six faculty members are being promoted to full professor:

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, professor of American Studies and anthropology
Matthew Kurtz, professor of psychology
Cecilia Miller, professor of history
Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, professor of theater
Andrea Patalano, professor of psychology
Michael Singer, professor of biology

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:

Associate Professor Fowler specializes in political communication and directs the Wesleyan Media project, which tracks and analyzes all political ads aired on broadcast television in real-time during elections. Her work on local coverage of politics and policy has been published in political science, communication, law/policy, and medical journals. Most recently, she co-authored Political Advertising in the United States (Westview Press, 2016). Professor Fowler teaches courses on American Government and Politics; Media and Politics; Campaigns and Elections; and Polls, Politics and Public Opinion.

Professor Gross is a scholar of African American history whose research concentrates on black women’s experiences in the United States criminal justice system between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her book, Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores a crime and trial in 1887 against broader evidence of biased police treatment of black suspects as well as violence within the black community. Professor Gross will offer courses on race, gender and justice and Black Women’s Studies.

Professor Kauanui’s research lies in the fields of comparative colonialisms, indigenous politics, critical racial studies, and anarchist studies. Her book, The Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty (Duke University Press, due in 2017), explores the cultural and legal politics of the contemporary Hawaiian nationalist movement in relation to land, gender, and sexuality. Professor Kauanui teaches courses on Colonialism and Its Consequences; Race and Citizenship; United States in the Pacific Islands; Hawai’i: Myths and Realities; Decolonizing Indigenous Middletown; and Anarchy in America: From Haymarket to Occupy Wall Street.

Professor Kurtz’s research seeks to clarify the cognitive and social impairments associated with schizophrenia, to develop and assess behavioral treatments for these impairments, and to critically evaluate the history and current status of ideas regarding treatment of the severely mentally ill. He has received significant grant support from the NIH, and has received a Fulbright-Nehru U.S. Scholar Award for Academic and Professional Excellence. He offers courses on Schizophrenia and Its Treatment, Clinical Neuropsychology, Statistics, and Behavioral Neurobiology.

Professor Miller is a European intellectual historian with a focus on the long eighteenth century. Her recent book, Enlightenment and Political Fiction: The Everyday Intellectual (Routledge, 2016), examines five works of fiction to argue that the accessibility of political fiction in the eighteenth century made it possible for any reader to enter into the intellectual debates of the time and that ideas attributed to philosophers and political and economic theorists of the Enlightenment actually appeared first in works of fiction. She offers courses on European Intellectual History, Political Fiction, Theories of Society, and Contemporary Europe.

Professor Tatinge Nascimento is a theater artist and scholar with a special interest in experimental performance and Brazilian contemporary theater. She has performed and published internationally, and most recently is the author of a book manuscript, The Contemporary Performances of Brazil’s Post-Dictatorship Generation, under review with Palgrave Macmillan for the series Contemporary Performance InterActions. At Wesleyan she directs main stage productions and teaches courses on acting, theory, and performance studies.

Adjunct Associate Professor Neary teaches beginning and intermediate Spanish. She is currently collaborating with a colleague on an online Spanish course for the general public, titled Wespañol, and with McGraw Hill on a test bank project for an elementary Spanish language textbook. She has served as head of Spanish, has chaired the Romance Languages and Literatures Honors Committee, and has served on the Language Resources Center Faculty Committee.

Professor Patalano is a cognitive scientist whose research focuses on mental and neural processes involved in human reasoning, judgment, and decision making. Her lines of research address indecisiveness and decision deferral, clinical and neural correlates of discounting, numeracy and choice behavior, and the role of categories in thought. She teaches courses on Cognitive Psychology, Psychological Statistics, Decision Making, and Concepts and Categories.

Professor Singer is an evolutionary ecologist whose research focuses on the plant-feeding habits of caterpillars in the context of threats from predators and parasites of caterpillars. He uses this research focus to inform issues of broad biological interest, such as animal medication, dietary specialization, dynamics of ecological networks, and evolutionary diversification. He teaches courses on Ecology, Conservation Biology, Evolutionary Biology, and Plant-Animal Interactions.

Professor Tang’s research focuses on the relationship between aesthetic form and politics in Asian American literature and theory. Her first book, Repetition and Race: Asian American Literature After Multiculturalism (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores how Asian American writers use structures of repetition to register, and creatively inhabit, the impasses generated by multiculturalism’s politics of identity and recognition. She teaches courses on Asian American Literature, Afro-Asian Intersections, and Literary and Cultural Theory.

Associate Professor Taylor’s multidisciplinary research investigates problems at the intersection of biology and chemistry. Her work strives to advance medicine and environmental sustainability with two long-term goals – developing bacterial enzyme inhibitors and other small molecules with medicinal applications, and engineering microorganisms to improve the efficiency of biomass to biofuel conversion. Professor Taylor has received significant grant support from both the NIH and the Department of Energy, enabling numerous impactful publications in her field. She offers courses in Organic Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Biological Chemistry, and Biomedicinal Chemistry.

PhD Candidate Frayne Speaks on Designing Dendritic Polymers

During the Graduate Student Speaker Series talk on April 20, Stephen Frayne, a PhD candidate in chemistry, spoke on "Designing Dendritic Polymers: From Theory to Experiment." Study and application of polymeric materials spans the physical, life, and applied sciences and has revolutionized nearly every facet of modern day society: medicine, transportation, construction, agriculture, and electronics, to name a few.

During the Graduate Student Speaker Series talk on April 20, Stephen Frayne, a PhD candidate in chemistry, spoke on “Designing Dendritic Polymers: From Theory to Experiment.” Study and application of polymeric materials spans the physical, life, and applied sciences and has revolutionized nearly every facet of modern day society: medicine, transportation, construction, agriculture, and electronics, to name a few.

Faculty, Students Win Research Support from NASA’s CT Space Grant Consortium

The Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

The Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

Two faculty members and three students have been awarded grants in the latest call for proposals from NASA’s Connecticut Space Grant Consortium.

Jim Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, professor of integrative sciences, were awarded $8,000 for a Faculty Collaboration Grant titled “Chondrule Formation Experiments.” This is to run high-temperature experiments on material that makes up meteorites in order to test a hypothesis that they put forward in a recent paper in Icarus this year.

Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy, associate professor of integrative sciences, was awarded $1,500 for a STEM Education Programming Grant

PhD Candidate Obenchain Recipient of Humboldt Research Fellowship

Dan Obenchain,a PhD candidate in chemistry, has been awarded the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship to study microwave spectroscopy in Germany. He's pictured here with his Wesleyan advisor, Stew Novick, professor of chemistry.

Dan Obenchain, a PhD candidate in chemistry, has been awarded the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship to study microwave spectroscopy in Germany. He’s pictured here with his Wesleyan advisor, Stew Novick, professor of chemistry.

A PhD candidate in chemistry will spend two years in Germany working on microwave spectroscopy research.

As a recipient of the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship, Dan Obenchain will continue his studies at the University of Hanover. He will start his fellowship in August 2016 after taking two months of intensive German language classes.

On March 4, Dan Obenchain met with Jens Grabow, a professor from the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry at the University of Hanover. Grabow was visiting Wesleyan to speak at the Department of Chemistry's Colloquium. Obenchain will work with Grawbow for the next two years in Germany.

On March 4, Dan Obenchain met with Jens Grabow, a professor from the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry at the University of Hanover. Grabow was visiting Wesleyan to speak at the Department of Chemistry’s Colloquium. Obenchain will work with Grabow for the next two years in Germany.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation brings young and senior scientists from around the world to Germany to conduct research in many different fields of science.

“Thankfully, working at Wesleyan has given me many great opportunities to publish my work. The faculty of both the chemistry and physics departments have been very supportive throughout my time at Wesleyan,” Obenchain said.

At the University of Hanover, Obenchain will work alongside Jens-Uwe Grabow, a professor from the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry. Both Obenchain and Grabow are microwave spectroscopists who study the properties of molecules by observing how they rotate. In 2015, Obenchain wrote a research proposal that looks at the interaction of two metals found in bimetallic nano-particles. Nano-particle research is a growing field of materials science, and is helping to make advances in many fields, including fuel cell efficiency and in polymer synthesis.

“Thinking about what we do is similar to thinking about a figure skater spinning in place. The skater will go faster if they bring their arms into their body, and slower if they extend them out. We use the same ideas when molecules rotate to determine their shapes and the type of chemistry they can do,” Obenchain explained.

In addition to having similar research interests, Obenchain and Grabow also design and maintain their own research instruments. Wesleyan’s Machine Shop constructed Obenchain’s microwave spectrometer, which mimics Grabow’s design in Germany.

After graduating from Wesleyan with a PhD in chemistry this May, Dan Obenchain will conduct research in Germany

After graduating from Wesleyan with a PhD in chemistry this May, Dan Obenchain will conduct research in Germany.

“Jens is not only a great scientist, he’s the best at designing and building microwave spectrometers,” Obenchain said. “I am more of a MacGyver when it comes to the instruments, while Jens is more of a Michelangelo. Hopefully, I can gain some of his expertise as one day I’d like to start my own academic research lab.”

Obenchain, who is completing his fifth year at Wesleyan, plans to defend his thesis at the end of the month and graduate in May. In addition to his research in Hanover, Obenchain looks forward to exploring Germany “and experiencing its culture, and hopefully seeing a Bundesliga soccer match at some point.”

After completing his fellowship, Obenchain will join more than 27,000 Humboldt Foundation alumni worldwide – the Humboldtians.