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Seven graduate students receive doctoral dissertation fellowships

2012-2013 Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship award recipients are, front row from left, Audrey Meyer, Bess Vlaisavljevich and Brynna Jones; second row from left, Dawen Niu, Nicholas Petkovich, Yuanyan Gu, and Benjamin Manning.

Seven Department of Chemistry's top doctorate students have received 2012-13 Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (DDF) program awards. Recipients include Yuanyan Gu who is advised by Professor Timothy Lodge;  Brynna Jones who is advised by Professor Aaron Massari; Benjamin Manning who is advised by Professor Christy Haynes; Audrey Meyer who is advised by Professor Christy Haynes; Dawen Niu who is advised by Professor Thomas Hoye; Nicholas Petkovich who is advised by Professor Andreas Stein; and Bess Vlaisavljevich who is advised by Professor Laura Gagliardi. Peng Pai, a materials science graduate student doing research under the tutelage of Professor Ilja Siepmann, also received a fellowship

The Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship program is a university-wide competition that supports top doctorate students in their final year of study. This year, 137 awards were made. Awardees receive an academic year stipend of $22,500, participate in a monthly seminar series, present their research at an annual poster session, and receive travel grants to present their work at a national or international conference.

Please: We will be adding information about these graduate student researchers as it becomes available as well as a group photo.

Yuanyan Gu

Yuanyan Gu is going to be a 5th year chemistry graduate student, conducting research under the tutelege of Professor Timothy Lodge. During his graduate school, Yuanyan's research focuses on the application of block copolymer ion gels as CO2 separation materials. Due to the increasing demand to limit green-house gas emission and improve natural gas processing efficiency, it is desirable to develop high performance gas separation membranes. The Lodge research group recently developed block copolymer ion gels by blending ionic liquids with ABA-tiblock copolymers. This class of novel functional materials have shown excellent performance in gas separation for CO2/N2 and CO2/CH4 gas pairs. Moreover, CO2-separation performances of these ion gels can be further tuned by changing the polymer structures and ionic liquids, showing great flexibility in material design and performance optimization. His current research involves understanding the relationship between ion gel structures and gas separation performances and extending the application for other gas pairs. The long-term goal involves enhancing the mechanical properties of ion gels, which may allow application of these materials into practical industrial use.

Brynna Jones

Brynna Jones is beginning her 5th year of study under Professor Aaron Massari. Her research uses ultrafast spectroscopic techniques to uncover the vibrational dynamics of chemical systems. She primarily uses two methods: infrared pump-probe spectroscopy, which gives insight into the relaxation of vibrational energy in the system, and two-dimensional infrared spectroscopy, which gives information about the time scales and strengths of specific motions in the environment surrounding the molecule of interest. One system currently under study is the iridium-based catalyst known as Vaska's complex, a molecule that binds oxygen reversibly at widely different rates depending on the solvation environment. This project aims to gain a clearer picture of the effect of solvent on catalytic mechanisms by altering solvent compositions and relating the motions around both product and reactant to the reaction rate. Other systems of interest include Shvo's catalyst, a ruthenium-containing hydrogenation catalyst that also exhibits intriguing solvent sensitivity, and films of the conducting polymer poly(aniline), a material where the motions can affect electrical conductivity.

Benjamin Manning

Benjamin Manning is entering his 5th year as a graduate student in Professor Christy Haynes’ lab. His research focuses on using microelectrochemistry to study mast cell function at the single cell level in order to understand the cellular mechanisms that underwrite the inflammatory response associated with different diseases. Mast cells reside in most connective tissues throughout the body where they serve as effector cells of the immune system. Their capacity to influence the immune response is highlighted by their central role in the initiation of allergic reactions. However, in addition to allergen-mediated activity, mast cells perform a diverse set of functions, and characterizing their participation in the inflammatory response is a critical step toward the development of novel interventions that may improve treatment options for many diseases. Ben’s work in the Haynes lab includes collaborative work with Kalpna Gupta from the Department of Medicine studying the effect of the chronic inflammation associated with sickle cell disease, and the contributions of chronic morphine treatment, on mast cell function. Additionally, his research has explored the role of mast cells, and the relationship between mast cells and airway smooth muscle, in the development and propagation of asthma. 

Audrey Meyer

Audrey Meyer is advised by Professor Christy Haynes and entering her 5th year of graduate studies, where she examines the cell-to-cell communication mechanisms in asthma. Audrey’s research focuses primarily on the secretory behavior of mast cells and platelets, two cell types with critical functions in immune response and asthma. She is particularly interested in the secretion of bioactive lipids, which are important cell-to-cell communication signaling molecules, from mast cells and platelets in response to asthma-relevant chemokines. To examine secreted lipids, Audrey is developing ultra-performance liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry methods and using these methods to quantify mast cell and platelet lipid secretion. This work aims to gain insight into the pathophysiology of asthma by probing the roles of secreted lipids from mast cells and platelets in this complex disease. Audrey is also examining the phospholipid membrane composition of platelets to better understand fundamentals of platelet secretory behavior.

Dawen Niu

Dawen Niu is going to be a 5th year graduate student, doing research under the guidance of Professor Thomas Hoye. His research interests span from natural product total synthesis to new synthetic methodology development. One of Dawen's current projects is the investigation of a concise total synthesis of (+)-okilactomycin, a naturally occuring product that exhibits potent antitumor activities. Inspired by Mother Nature's strategy, he has developed and optimized a robust synthetic route to (-)-okilactomycin D, a product that they hypothesize to be the intermediate of (+)-okilactomycin. This synthesis also provided ample amount of key intermediates for Hoye's collaborating group to study some key factors in the biosynthesis of okilactomycins. Another project that he is involved is methodology development for the syntheses of arenes, compounds that find their use in virtually every aspect of human life. The method he and his collaborators are working on, which is mild, atom-economical and reagent-free, are fundamentally different from existent approaches. Because of these attractive features, Dawen expects this method would exert profound impact in both academia and industry.

Nicholas Petkovich

Nicholas Petkovich will be entering his 5th year of graduate school in the fall and is advised by Professor Andreas Stein. The main focus of his research is on the study of porous materials for energy applications. There are many routes to synthesize porous materials, and Nick uses templates (arrays of nanoscale polymer spheres, surfactants, biomass) to help control and tune the architecture of the resulting porous material. Through the use of polymer sphere templates, Nick and others in the Stein group have synthesized cerium oxide and doped cerium oxide with interconnected, sub-micrometer pores. These materials can be used for the solar-powered thermochemical production of H2 fuel or syngas (a mixture of H2 and CO) from abundant small molecule feedstocks. With the invaluable help of the Solar Energy Laboratory in the mechanical engineering department, Nick is working on testing the porous cerium oxide materials in a specially designed infrared furnace set-up. This furnace simulates the conditions that would be encountered in a fuel production reactor powered by concentrated solar energy. By characterizing cerium oxide materials both before and after testing, they are examining how certain chemical and morphological features can lead to substantial improvements in the amount of fuel produced and the rate of fuel production.

Bess Vlaisavljevich

Bess Vlaisavljevich is entering her 5th year of graduate school, conducting research under the tutelage of Professor Laura Gagliardi. Her research interests center around the electronic structure and reactivity of the actinides and lanthanides using a variety of theoretical tools including CASSCF/CASPT2 and density functional theory. One of Bess' current projects investigates the growth of uranyl peroxide nanocapsules in aqueous media. The final topology of the nanocluster depends upon the initial reaction conditions. The nature of the alkalai counterion as well as the pH of the solution are some of the factors involved in controlling cluster growth. In Gagliardi's research group, they are studying the growth mechanism of small clusters as well as the properties of the final clusters observed experimentally. The ultimate goal is to work in collaboration with experimentalists to further their understanding of these clusters in solution. Other topics that Bess is interested in include actinide and lanthanide borohydrides, theoretical studies to identify reaction products generated in matrix isolation spectroscopy, aqueous neptunium chemistry, and organoactinide complexes.