University of Vermont

College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Chemistry

UVM Chemistry News 2008
Martin Kuehne
photo by Sally McCay

Summer Undergraduate Fellowship Named for Emeritus Prof. Martin Kuehne

Story from the UVM Quarterly Fall 2008 – Alumni Connection


Professor Emeritus Martin Kuehne and alumna Louise Foley '65 have kept in touch over the years. Louise had had the opportunity to undertake summer research in Dr. Kuehne's chemistry lab during her sophomore, junior, and senior years – an experience she says had a tremendous impact on her career.

So it came as no surprise to Professor Kuehne when he heard from Dr. Foley this spring suggesting that they share lunch when she planned to be on campus in June. What did come as a surprise, he says, was the news she shared upon that occasion. "I knew nothing about this in advance," he says. "So I was quite surprised when she explained to me 'here's what I've done.'"

What Dr. Foley had done was to establish the Martin E. Kuehne Organic Chemistry Fund to honor her former professor's many contributions to the educational experience at UVM and to the field of organic chemistry. The endowed fund will provide annual support providing a summer stipend for an undergraduate chemistry major engaged in a summer research project in synthetic organic chemistry.

"At a time when women were given few opportunities, Professor Kuehne selected me to do summer research in his group and thus made it possible for me to discover my love of doing research in organic chemistry," she wrote in her description of the fund. "During my undergraduate research experience in Professor Kuehne's lab I learned from him how to read the literature, search the literature, and was shown the laboratory techniques that I used throughout my career as a synthetic organic chemist. In future years may other UVM alumni be able to acknowledge a similar impact on their lives because of the Martin E. Kuehne Summer Undergraduate Research in Organic Chemistry Award."

After graduating from UVM, Louise Foley went on to earn her Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and pursued a distinguished career in pharmaceutical research with Hoffmann-LaRoche, taking time in mid-career to teach chemistry at the University of New Hampshire and Fordham University.

Professor Kuehne still does research in chemistry, where over the years he has focused on anti-cancer and anti-addiction compounds. "We were funded by the National Institutes of Health for forty-two years continuously on one big project," he recalls. "In fact, it was one of the ten most long-lived research grants that they have ever given, they told me once."

Funding for summer research for undergraduate students has become more difficult to come by through the National Science Foundation in recent years, Dr. Kuehne says, "so the Department will make good use of this award." The research experience benefits students in a number of ways, he points out, including giving them a competitive advantage when the time comes to apply to graduate schools. "Louise told me the other day that until her last day working for Hoffmann-LaRoche she still used what she learned here."

Stephanie Chan in Waterman lab

ACS Project SEED at UVM

Two recent news stories have appeared about Prof. Rory Waterman and his establishment of the American Chemical Society (ACS) Project SEED at UVM in Chemistry

Photo from the Burlington Free Press 9-2-08 by Tim Johnson. Shown in photo is Stephanie Chan working in the laboratory of Prof. Rory Waterman.

BFP logo

Burlington Free Press article published in print and on-line on 09-02-08 by Tim Johnson, Free Press staff writer

Students Bond With Chemistry

While her teenage friends were working in such jobs as a cashier or camp counselor, Stephanie Chan was spending her summer in a chemistry lab at the University of Vermont.

She wasn't washing beakers or shadowing a professor, either. She was doing her own research — which centered on, among other things, the formation of bonds between phosphorus and carbon mediated by the metal zirconium.

Sounds abstruse, but not so in the pharmaceutical industry, where metal-phosphine complexes are used to synthesize new drugs. Chan's mentor this summer, UVM assistant professor of chemistry Rory Waterman, knows a lot about that.

Chan is content to let others worry about the applications. Her focus has been on creating new compounds and mastering the necessary lab techniques.

Not bad for a recent graduate of South Burlington High School with just one chemistry course to her credit. There she was at UVM this summer immersing herself in organo-metalics — Waterman's field, which is sort of a crossover between inorganic and organic. She hasn't even studied organic chemistry.

She's something of a lab veteran now, though. This is her second summer doing this sort of work under Project SEED, a program of the American Chemical Society that aims to draw more high school students into the science. Another SEED fellow this summer was one of her schoolmates, Amsal Karic, who's beginning his senior year at South Burlington High School and whose work involved developing contrast agents that could be used in MRI exams. He was co-mentored by UVM professor Christopher Landry.

"The experience was definitely worth it," Karic, 17, said in an e-mail. "I plan to focus my college studies on physics and chemistry in aerospace engineering and biomedical engineering."

In her junior year, when she took chemistry and found herself enjoying the lab work, Chan e-mailed Waterman hoping for a summer internship. When she arrived as a SEED fellow that summer, she said, "I thought I had a strong knowledge base" – but she soon discovered that textbook learning didn't always carry over to the lab. Now, she said, she has learned "so many chemical procedures," such as working in a "glove box" and using sophisticated equipment that can't be found in a high school lab.

Chan received a stipend of $3,000 (for a second-year student) and Karic, $2,500, funded in part by the American Chemical Society, the society's local branch, and a grant Waterman obtained from the National Science Foundation. To be eligible for SEED, a student must have completed at least one high-school chemistry course and be from an economically disadvantaged family.

Waterman joined the program, he said, because he was concerned about the limited diversity of professional chemists in the pool of UVM's hiring prospects. He saw SEED as a way to feed more members of underrepresented groups into the pipeline that could lead to a degree in chemistry. According to the American Chemical Society, just one-third of all Ph.D.s are held by females.

Chan finished her stint last week in the UVM lab. Soon she'll head off to Dartmouth College. "I'm starting out as a chemistry major," she said. She's uncertain about a specialty — there are so many fields in the discipline.

The UVM View logo

UVM Communications News Release, 09-03-2008 by Joshua E. Brown

Seeding a New Generation of Chemists

For most high school students, a summer job does not involve mastering Schlenk tubes, Erlenmeyer flasks, sublimators, valve-bottom flasks, or several kinds of distillation apparatus. Nor does it involve managing an original research project, nor co-authoring a scientific paper for publication.

But for two students in Project SEED – a new effort at UVM run by assistant professor of chemistry Rory Waterman – it did. And with a good paycheck to boot.

A program of the American Chemical Society, "SEED works to encourage economically disadvantaged high school students to pursue chemistry by providing genuine summer research opportunities," Waterman says. "This is not glass washing."

The two students he mentored, Stephanie Chan and Amsal Karic, are both from South Burlington High School. This is the second year of SEED for Chan, who received a $3,000 stipend and was the inaugural member of the project at UVM in 2007.

She worked for eight weeks in Waterman's lab, developing experiments to help his overall research goal of finding new ways to create bonds in phosphorous. This work advances an important area of basic chemistry that could have value in fields ranging from drug delivery to LED lights.

Her efforts focused on zirconium-phosphorus bonds, part of Waterman's search to discover new metal-catalyzed bond-forming reactions. As a result, Chan is a co-author on a paper about zirconium complexes that Waterman will be submitting for publication shortly.

And Karic, in his first year of the program, received a $2,500 stipend. He's beginning his senior year at South Burlington. He worked in Waterman's lab and also was mentored by Waterman's colleague, Chris Landry.

"Science is not diverse enough," says Waterman, who was concerned about limited diversity in candidates coming to interview for positions in his department. "We need to be doing something about this wherever we can - and as early as we can. By the time students are in college, it's really too late."

The National Science Foundation agrees. They awarded Waterman a $623,000, five-year CAREER grant in April to help develop his research on phosphorous-containing molecules. An important piece of the grant is that "underrepresented minority high school students will be encouraged to participate in summer research."

Which means a lot of work for Waterman. "These are people with one high school chemistry course," he says, "there's a steep learning curve".

But the investment seems to be paying off. "Before I started this, I was just mildly interested in chemistry," Chan says, now a first-year chemistry major at Dartmouth College. "But this has been really fun. I'd been thinking of a medical career, but now I'm not sure. Maybe research."

Landry podcast
Watch the podcast
where Prof. Chris Landry discusses the role of nanotechnology in improving cancer-fighting drugs or read the transcript.

Prof. Landry featured in Public Television Podcasts

Vermont Public Television's newest series, "Emerging Science," features the work of nearly 20 University of Vermont researchers and entrepreneurs. Six of those professors are also featured in a series of podcasts related to the show, posted on VPT's website.

University Communications releases 5-1-2008 by Amanda Kenyon Waite and 4-24-2008

Four weekly programs began on 4-30-2008 at 7:30 p.m. on Vermont Public Television. The programs focus on nanotechnology, weather and climate change, water and the landscape, and remote wireless sensing.

The potential audience for the programs goes far beyond VPT's viewing area, to anyone with access to a computer that can display Web-based video. During the premiere broadcast of each "Emerging Science" episode, VPT will feature a live webcast and online chat at The chats will be hosted by experts featured in the programs. Additionally, the programs will be available to view as video-on-demand files on the VPT website, and related podcasts are online now. This multi-platform project will also include educational materials for Vermont high school teachers, available this fall.

Funding for "Emerging Science" comes from Vermont EPSCoR, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. Located at UVM, Vermont EPSCoR supports Vermont scientists and business leaders – including many of those who appear in the series – through funding, outreach and technology development.

Producer Vic Guadagno said, "What has been the most exciting thing about this project for me is seeing the holistic approach to science and engineering here in Vermont. Within the academic community and the private sector, diverse groups really come together to work on critical issues with global impact. Our TV series will introduce you to some of these inspiring, passionate people."

The first program that aired April 30, looked at nanotechnology, the ability to engineer specific attributes of materials and machines by controlling their features at an amazingly small scale – one billionth of a meter. Prof. Landry gave a glimpse of how nanotechnology may increase the efficacy of cancer drugs, and UVM professor of engineering Darren Hitt described work on tiny satellites using nanomaterials in their fuel supply systems. Other featured professors in the "Emerging Science" podcasts include: Beverly Wemple, associate professor of geography; Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux, Vermont state climatologist and associate professor of geography; Mary Watzin, director of the Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory and professor of natural resources; Christian Skalka, assistant professor of computer science; and Walter Varhue, professor of electrical engineering.

Watch the "Emerging Science" podcasts, and subscribe on VPT's website.

Matthias Brewer

Prof. Matthias Brewer is Awarded an NSF CAREER Grant

UVM Communications News Release, 02-28-2008 by Joshua E. Brown

Matthias Brewer in Chemistry works on assembling complex molecules from simple starting materials, with an eye toward one day improving the way medicines are made. Frederic Sansoz in Mechanical Engineering studies the strength and properties of extremely small wires, an important piece of the revolution in "nanomaterials." Both are young scientists whose research promises to push forward on basic questions in science—and, in time, contribute a clear public benefit.

That's why the National Science Foundation granted Brewer, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and Sansoz, Assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Early Career Development Awards (CAREER), funding portions of their research for the next five years.

This is only the second time the University of Vermont has won two of the highly competitive CAREER grants in one year. Brewer's $500,000 grant, "Synthetic Methodology for the Preparation of Polycyclic Nitrogen or Oxygen Containing Heterocycles," will begin March 1, 2008. Sansoz's $400,000 grant, "Microstructure and Size Effects on Metal Plasticity at Limited Length Scale," will begin in April.

Brewer's project will develop new methods for creating organic compounds containing nitrogen or oxygen—under mild and environmentally benign conditions. This research will "provide biomedical researchers with new tools to prepare biologically active compounds that are often difficult to synthesize by current methods," he wrote.

NSF CAREER awards support untenured faculty's career development not just in research but also in education. "Being a faculty member at UVM, it is no surprise that I am interested in green chemistry," said Brewer, who completed his undergraduate degree at UVM in 1996, studying with Paul Krapcho, before returning join the chemistry department three years ago. In addition to his research agenda, Brewer plans to incorporate green "concepts and experiments into the undergraduate organic curriculum to strengthen our students' education," he said. "This will lay the groundwork for the next generation of chemists to develop more efficient and environmentally friendly processes throughout their careers."

"These CAREER awards are very prestigious and highly competitive," said UVM professor of biology, Judith Van Houten; she directs the Vermont EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) program that will administer and support the new grants. "The challenge is to integrate teaching and research seamlessly. Our UVM faculty are particularly dedicated to teaching, in addition to being excellent scientists and engineers, and this contributes to their success with CAREER awards."

Other recent CAREER grant winners at UVM include: Paul Bierman in 1997, Chris Landry in Chemistry in 1999, Naomi Chesler in 2000, Adel Sadek in 2002, and Britt Holmen in 2006. Randall Headrick and David Bucci both won CAREER grants in 2004, according the Vermont EPSCoR office.

Last modified September 12 2010 12:31 PM

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