Faculty Notes

mackay-photo-1The results of recent wastewater testing in the Thames River by Dr. Allison MacKay, associate professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering and Ph.D. candidate Laleen Bodhipaksha were detailed in The Day on October 6, 2013. Among the 11 contaminants Dr. MacKay sought to measure is triclosan, a powerful anti-bacterial chemical used commonly in cleaning products, liquid hand soaps, and even some cosmetics.  Like many pharmaceutical drugs, along with ingredients in household and personal care products, triclosan is carried through our sewage systems into municipal treatment plants.  Studies by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group suggest triclosan is an endocrine disrupter in humans and other animals, attacking the thyroid system. Another concern is the potential for triclosan to kill off beneficial bacteria used in wastewater treatment. Dr. MacKay’s water studies revealed measurable levels of triclosan in Groton City, Norwich and New London water supplies. View a video of Dr. MacKay’s work here.

gao2Dr. Robert Gao, the Pratt & Whitney Chair Professor in Mechanical Engineering, was interviewed by a journal that also highlighted research excerpts of his work, in International Innovation, owned by a UK-based media company that compiles and disseminates science, research and technological innovations globally. The research excerpts focused on the development of sensing methods to quantify multiple parameters for quality control, and the importance of collaboration in polymer processing. They appeared on pp. 27- 29 of the September 2013 North America issue, entitled Era of Discovery.

Strange things happen at small scales, one of which was observed and explained by the team of Electrical & Computer Engineering associate professors, Drs. Ali Gokirmak and Helenafaculty electron Silva, post-doc and alumnus Dr. Gokhan Bakan (Ph.D. ’12), and alumnus and former Nanoelectronics Laboratory member Niaz Khan (M.S. ’11) in, “High-temperature Thermoelectric Transport at Small Scales: Thermal Generation, Transport and Recombination of Minority Carriers,” in  Scientific Reports, the open access journal of Nature (published online September 23, 2013). The manuscript, which Dr. Gokirmak notes is the culmination of seven years’ research, explains why a current carrying uniform micro-wire melts on one-end but not the other.

Dr. Syam Nukavarapu, who holds joint appointments with Materials Science & Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, is chairing a three-day symposium, “Advanced Composites and Structures for Tissue Engineering,” in conjunction with the Materials Research Society (MRS) annual fall meeting. The symposium is scheduled for December 2-3, 2013 in Boston, MA.  The symposium will focus on recent developments in the field of composite biomaterials, advanced structures for engineering musculoskeletal tissues, and grand challenges to be met in order to develop the next generation biomaterials for tissue engineering. Dr. Nukavarapu’s primary appointment is with Orthopedic Surgery at the UConn Health Center, and he is also a member of the Institute for Regenerative Engineering (IRE) and the Institute for Materials Science (IMS).

faculty machineDr. Rampi Ramprasad, post-doc Dr. Ghanshyam Pilania and doctoral candidate Chenchen Wang of Materials Science & Engineering; joined by Dr. Sanguthevar Rajasekaran (Computer Science & Engineering), and Dr. Xun Jiang (Ph.D. Statistics ’13), collaborated on a research paper published online September 30, 2013 in Scientific Reports, the open access journal of Nature.  The paper, entitled “Accelerating Materials Property Predictions using Machine Learning,” describes their findings. The authors show that data-driven methods may be used for the rapid prediction of a diverse set of material properties by employing machine (or statistical) learning methods—an emerging brand of informatics tools—trained on past or historic data. While the initial materials dataset that the authors used were generated using quantum mechanics based modeling, the authors note that the adopted paradigm may be used in conjunction with experimental, empirical or other computational data to enable accelerated materials discovery. In this work, Sn-containing polymers are identified as particularly promising for electronic and energy storage applications.


Dr. Wendell Davis of Hampton, CT, who taught at UConn (1947-74) as a professor of Mechanical Engineering and served as Academic Dean of Engineering, died on September 8th at the age of 92. Dr. Davis was an exceptionally accomplished Renaissance man who, after leaving UConn, became a craftsman of fine reproduction furniture, volunteered for the CT Audubon Society and cared for the famed Edwin Way Teale home, TrailWood. He also served as First Selectman, justice of the peace, and prosecutor for the Town Court of Hampton, volunteered his time generously and served on numerous Boards. Avid naturalists, Dr. and Mrs. (Alison Brown) Davis’ 100-acre property is now owned and maintained by the Wolf Den Trust as a wildlife sanctuary. He is survived by Alison, his wife of 71 years, his children and grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Please view his obituary here. Remembrances may be sent to Edwin Way Teale Audubon Sanctuary or Wolf Den Trust Blue Flag Meadow.

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