- Two Chemistry Faculty Members Receive 2016 Faculty Scholar Medals
- Peter Craig Breen Memorial Award Given for First Time
- Collaboration Leads to Great Achievement: Amie Boal and Squire Booker
- 50 Years at Penn State: Steve and Pat Benkovic and Harry and Noreen Allcock
- Whitmore Renovation Photos
- Chemistry Wins Departmental Safety Competition at 2016 Safety Olympics
- Tae-Hee Lee's August ACS Presentation covered by C&EN Magazine
- Kyra Murrell selected for 2016 SciFinder Future Leaders Program
- Spring 2016 Chemistry Undergraduate Commencement Reception Scholarship Award Recipients
- Steve Aro places 2nd at the PPG Pitch Competition
- Paul Cremer receives 2016 ANACHEM award
- Erica Frankel awarded the NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Graduate Fellowship
- Ben Lear promoted to Associate Professor
- Alex Radosevich promoted to Associate Professor
- Badding Group Publishes in the journal Advanced Materials
- Booker & Boal paper continues to garner press coverage
- Booker & Boal published in the current issue of Science
- NSF Graduate Fellowship Program Results for 2016
- Phil Bevilacqua is getting students to 'flip' over Chemistry
- Bratoljub Milosavljevic receives Priestley Prize
Two of the four recipients of the University’s 2016 Faculty Scholar Medals for Outstanding Achievement are faculty in the Department of Chemistry.
The awards are given each year to one faculty member in recognition of scholarly or creative excellence represented by a single contribution or a series of contributions around a coherent theme.
Squire Booker (Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) won in the area of life and health sciences, and Mauricio Terrones (Professor of Physics, Chemistry, and Materials Science and Engineering) in the area of physical sciences.
Booker’s lab has developed innovative techniques to work with iron-sulfur radical S-adenosylmethionine enzymes within an oxygen-free atmostphere. They have solved a series of structures capturing intermediates in the reaction pathway, characterizing them spectroscopically and solving their co-crystal structures. These findings have broad reaching consequences for understanding antibiotic resistance and the biosynthesis of organic compounds.
Other notable work from the Booker lab has included potential applications in renewable energy, through research on cyclopropyl fatty acid synthase. Booker’s publications have appeared in Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Journal of American Chemistry, to name just a few.
Booker was also recently named an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), a science philanthropy whose mission is to advance biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity.
Terrones’ nominations cited his ability to meld disciplines of condensed matter physics, materials science, chemistry, and biology and his leadership in creating Penn State’s Center for 2-Dimensional and Layered Materials. According to researchers at Harvard, MIT, Columbia, and Cambridge, the center has made Penn State a forefront player in the field.
Terrones has contributed broadly to the field of low-dimensional materials. He is well-known for his recent work on the synthesis of monolayers of transition metal dichalcogenides and the discovery of photoluminescence in these systems, which is a consequence of the direct band gap of the monolayers.
He has published 142 papers in the past five years.
Past winners of the Faculty Scholar Medal from the Department of Chemistry include John Badding (2015), Ray Schaak (2012), Phil Bevilacqua (2010), Marty Bollinger (2009), Ayusman Sen (2003), Xumu Zhang (2001), Wolfgang Ernst (1998), Andrew Ewing (1994), James Anderson (1992), Barbara Garrison (1990), and Nicholas Winograd (1985).
The Peter Craig Breen Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Chemistry Research was established in 2015 by Kevin J. Breen and Renee Romberger Breen in memory of their son, Peter. The purpose of this award is to recognize undergraduate students enrolled in the Eberly College of Science at The Pennsylvania State University who are majoring in or planning to major in Chemistry and who have demonstrated excellence in academics and research focused in chemistry.
The inaugural recipient of the award was Ailiena Maggiolo, a rising senior working in the laboratory of Amie Boal, an Assistant Professor in Chemistry/BMB. Ailiena has worked in the Boal group for the past two years on several different projects involving x-ray structure determination of biological catalysts that use transition metal ions as part of their catalytic cycle. Her efforts to date have helped us understand more about enzymatic halogenation reactions, a chemically challenging transformation of interest for its potential to make certain synthetic chemistry applications more environmentally-friendly. She has also worked on a DNA biosynthesis enzyme that is an important antibiotic drug target, helping to discover novel chemistry associated with versions of the catalyst found exclusively in certain types of bacteria that cause infections in humans and animals. Ailiena’s work has already appeared in prominent scientific journals with more to come prior to completion of her B.S. degree in Spring 2017. In her nomination letter, Professor Boal stated, “Ailiena’s persistence in setting up a research opportunity in my lab is notable – when I took too long to respond to an initial inquiry via email, she waited outside my office. I’m very grateful that she went to such lengths. Ailiena has proved to be a remarkably ambitious and productive trainee and she has helped initiate several new research directions in my lab.” Ailiena intends to pursue a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry after graduation.
The award was given for the first time at the chemistry graduation reception on May 7th, in honor and memory of Peter Craig Breen, who was a chemistry major at Penn State from 2010 through 2014. Peter was a gifted student who excelled in high school and was selected as a National Merit finalist. Peter chose during his senior year to attend Penn State. He saw many opportunities to continue to learn and grow at the university and was following a family legacy of Penn Staters, which includes both of his parents, Renee and Kevin, as well as an uncle, aunts, and his brother, Scott.
Peter enrolled at Penn State in 2010 as a Braddock Scholar and a Schreyer’s Scholar in The Eberly College of Science with a major in chemistry. He immediately pursued a computational chemistry research position involving the study of RNA in Phil Bevilacqua’s lab. Working in the Bevilacqua lab quickly became an important and enjoyable part of his studies, while the lab and the group became an extended campus home and family for Peter.
Not only was he heavily involved in research during his studies, but Peter was also dedicated to assisting his fellow students and peers. He found fulfillment in helping others, and sought out opportunities to do so throughout his undergraduate career. Peter worked under the direction of Joe Keiser as both a tutor in the chemistry resource room and a teaching assistant in chemistry courses. Other interests of Peter’s included travel and pursuing exposure to chemistry beyond the academic setting, fulfilled during his time as an intern in industry at the University in Freiburg, Germany for a summer.
Peter had planned to continue pursuing his passion for research in bioinformatics, and was accepted into three Ph.D. programs before his passing in 2014. Penn State conferred a B.S. degree in Chemistry with honors posthumously to his family in May 2014.
Peter’s friends and family felt that it would be fitting to establish a research award in his name so that his passion for scientific discovery would continue on after him. The award is intended to honor undergraduate students who are dedicated to excellence in research and who are driven by a spirit similar to Peter’s.
Amie Boal presented Ailiena Maggiolo with the Peter Craig Breen Memorial Award.
Amie Boal, Ailiena Maggiolo, Scott Breen (Peter's brother), Renee Breen (peter's mother) and Kevin Breen (Peter's father)
Understanding the sequence of chemical events that an enzyme employs to convert one molecule to another can provide crucial insight for drug design and the development of new synthetic strategies for clinically important natural products. However, teasing out the intricate details of these complex reaction pathways can be difficult. Protein X-ray crystallography is a powerful tool for providing detailed insight into these chemical reactions, especially if pictures can be obtained of proteins in the act of catalyzing their reactions. A fruitful collaboration between the labs of Professors Squire J. Booker and Amie Boal demonstrates the complementarity of mechanistic biochemical investigation and X-ray crystallography to provide unprecedented details of the mechanisms of some of Nature’s most compelling enzymatic reactions.
The collaboration began in 2010 while Amie was a post-doc in Amy Rosenzweig’s lab at Northwestern University. Data from biochemical studies in the Booker Lab suggested a novel mechanism for RlmN and Cfr, radical S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) methylases responsible for the methylation of RNA. Bacteria that contain Cfr are resistant to many clinically relevant antibiotics, making it an intriguing target for the development of new therapeutic compounds. The evidence for a unique chemical mechanism was substantial, but according to Booker Lab alum Tyler Grove (Ph.D., 2013), they wanted additional confirmation of the mechanism they were about to propose. “Dr. Booker and myself were sitting in his office and commiserating over my failed attempt to solve the RlmN+SAM structure. We were in the process of writing the first RlmN/Cfr paper and really wanted/needed to know if we were right or wrong about what we believed was happening, which, at the time, was a pretty wild idea about how RlmN and Cfr were functioning. So, Dr. Booker called Amy Rosenzweig (a crystallographer at Northwestern) and asked if she had someone who could help us out. Amy said ‘No problem, I have an excellent post-doc in my lab who does not mind difficult problems. Her name is Amie Boal.’ Grove explained.” Within a few months, Amie had solved the first structure of RlmN using protein purified in the Booker Lab. The structure confirmed the presence of a unique methylcysteine residue, an essential component of the proposed mechanism. The initial mechanistic characterization and the RlmN structure were published as two separate papers in Science in 2011, solidifying a place at the forefront of research on radical SAM enzymes.
When Amie came to Penn State to start her independent career in 2012, the collaboration continued, with the added benefit of adjacent lab space. The initial structure provided helpful insight into the starting steps of the mechanism, but it lacked the RNA substrate, crucial to a complete understanding of these enzymes. Protein-RNA complexes are notoriously difficult to crystallize due to their large size, heterogeneity, and highly charged nature. Using a protein variant that the Booker Lab showed was able to catalyze the first few steps but not the entire reaction, the Booker/Boal team was able to crystallize and solve two structures of RlmN cross-linked to a tRNA substrate. The first structure determined was a cross-link pulled directly from E. coli cells used to overexpress the protein, a long-shot experiment that paid off and revealed the surprising presence of the tRNA substrate. The cross-link was recapitulated using purified protein and tRNA in order to improve the resolution and clarify the finer details. Having all members of the team in the same building made it simple to share ideas, resources, and information on a day-to-day basis. In April of this year, these elaborate and elegant structures were published in Science, adding even more information to the RlmN story.
This work is only possible through the careful cooperation and hard work of these Penn State researchers. “Personally speaking, I don’t know if I have ever met a more dedicated and tireless scientist,” Grove said of Boal. The work is elevated to a whole new level, and students benefit from learning different techniques from two talented scientists. The highly collaborative environment of Penn State enables the sharing of resources and knowledge between the Booker and Boal labs to understand these complex enzymes and the strategies nature employs to catalyze essential biochemical transformations.
50 Years at Penn State: Steve and Pat Benkovic and Harry and Noreen Allcock
There is a certain level of drive and dedication that one needs to be a successful professor at a research university like Penn State. To do so for over fifty years is a remarkable accomplishment. Two of our faculty members have recently hit this 50-year mark. Steve Benkovic and Harry Allcock have both made enormous contributions to chemistry, as well as other fields, during their time at Penn State. They have not only led their scientific fields for five decades, but they have also trained an army of students and postdocs who have gone on to contribute in their own ways to science and technology.
Benkovic obtained his B.S. degree in Chemistry and his B.A. degree in English Literature from Lehigh University and went on to receive his Ph.D. degree from Cornell University in Organic Chemistry. After serving as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he joined the Chemistry Department at Penn State University in 1965 and is now Evan Pugh Professor and Eberly Chair of Chemistry. He has since been the recipient of many awards, including the Pfizer Enzyme Award, The Gowland Hopkins Award, the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award, the Nakanishi Prize, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science, the National Medal of Honor, the National Academy of Science Award in Chemical Sciences, and the National Medal of Science, among others. Additionally, he has been elected to be a member of the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. He is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Allcock received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of London and went on to serve as a postdoctoralfellow at Purdue University and the National Research Council of Canada. He then was a senior scientist at American Cyanamid Co. in Stamford, CT, before beginning his position at Penn State University, where he now also serves as Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry. He is also affiliated with the departments of Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering. In addition to being elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2014, Allcock has received many awards throughout his academic career, including the American Chemical Society National Award in Polymer Chemistry, the American Institute of Chemists Chemical Pioneer Award, the American Chemical Society National Award in Materials Chemistry, and the American Chemical Society National Award in Applied Polymer Science, as well as others such as three ACS Polymer Division awards. More than 640 research publications have been published by the Allcock group, and he is the author or co-author of six books on polymers and materials.
In the time they have spent at Penn State University, Benkovic and Allcock have both made immensely impactful scientific contributions. Benkovic’s main research focus is the understanding of how enzymes catalyze chemical reactions on a molecular level. To address this general theme, his lab is currently pursuing three main projects. One of these projects involves structure-function studies on dihydrofolate reductases coupled with theoretical insight, which has led to a better understanding of how these enzymes achieve transition state stabilization through the combined effects of many residues dispersed throughout the enzyme. Also of interest to Benkovic is the assembly and collective effort of the eight proteins that make up the holoenzyme and primosome in the T4 replisome DNA replication system. Utilizing techniques such as fluorescence energy transfer, chemical crosslinking, and single molecule and ensemble kinetics coupled with structural techniques such as crystallography and electron microscopy, Benkovic’s work has helped establish the workings of the T4 replisome multi-protein assembly to reveal that the assembly is highly dynamic and that while some proteins help to make up the assembly core, others are specifically geared towards catalysis for construction of the DNA. In a more in vivo effort to study protein assembly, Benkovic is also studying the multi-enzyme effort towards synthesis of a purine from a sugar pyrophosphate. Techniques such as confocal fluorescence microscopy are allowing for the observation of how the involved proteins function together within cells.
Allcock’s research endeavors are based around the development of novel functionalized polymers with the goal of providing materials for use in biomedical, aerospace, energy, photonic, and solar applications. Allcock discovered a new method of synthesizing polymers by macromolecular substitution. This led to a new class of polymers known as polyphosphazenes, which possess a backbone of alternating phosphorous and nitrogen atoms with two organic, inorganic, or organometallic side groups attached to the phosphorous atoms. The research in Allcock’s lab is aimed at the development of novel methods for the synthesis of these and other polymers that contain both organic and inorganic units, as well as understanding the reasons for the new property combinations that are generated. Depending on their chemical composition, phosphazene high polymers can be tailored to have various chemical and physical properties that make them useful for the applications mentioned above. New polymers are studied by NMR, IR, gel permeation chromatography, X-ray diffraction, surface and mechanical techniques, thermal analysis, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and biocompatibility assays, and attempts are then made to understand how changes in polymer structure result in different property combinations. This approach provides an experiment-based method for predicting the properties and prospective uses of polymers not yet synthesized.
When asked about the motivation that has led to the successes of his career at Penn State, Benkovic, who considers every day a new adventure, states that “it’s very easy if you love what you’re doing.” If “you’re doing it enthusiastically, it’s not really a job. It’s the joy of discovering things, and I think that’s infectious.” Allcock adds that playing into the success of his research at Penn State is the continuous line of questions that arise. “Every discovery we make leads to a number of different questions. Following up [with] those questions leads to [the discovery of] more polymers with different and often unexpected combinations of properties and so on.” While Benkovic and Allcock’s research endeavors have both been very impactful, the success of their careers are also exemplified in the students that they have trained and prepared for their own successful futures. “The real legacy that we leave is the students and post-docs who have been trained,” notes Benkovic. Benkovic has graduated many students who have gone on to hold prominent positions, which include 70 university positions worldwide and a number of vice president positions and research group leader positions in pharmaceutical companies. In Allcock’s time at Penn State University, more than 100 Ph.D. graduates, 30 postoctoral fellows, 15 M.S graduates, and 30 undergraduate students have passed through his lab with over 70 holding industrial research and management positions, 26 holding academic positions, and 6 holding legal, medical, and government positions in a variety of countries. He states that “a large part of what [his lab] has accomplished is due to their efforts.”
Both Benkovic and Allcock also dedicate a large part of their successes to the support of their wives. Benkovic calls his wife, Pat, “indispensable.” Not only does she continue to advise and teach students who pass through the lab, but she also handles the finances. According to Benkovic, the lab is extremely well-organized “because of her touch.” Similarly, Noreen Allcock has performed “an enormous amount of work handling research proposals, budgets, [and] doing the accounting that’s necessary in a large research group…. A large part of the success of our group has been due to her participation,” states her husband.
When asked what advice he would provide to the younger scientific generation, Allcock advises to “try to get as broad an experience as possible because [he believes] that, after a certain point in one’s career, breadth of perspective is at least as important as specialized knowledge.” Benkovic notes that currently, research funding is difficult to obtain. He states, however, that “if you love what you’re doing, it will work out…. Don’t worry about the present situation: it will change. Basic research will always be important.” The successful stories of both Benkovic and Allcock serve as an example and an inspiration to other faculty and younger scientists, demonstrating how curiosity and determination can lead to a truly wonderful career with lasting impact in science and the broader community.
|(Steve and Pat Benkovic)||(Harry and Noreen Allcock)|
Congratulations to the Chemistry Safety Olympics teams from the Badding, Cremer, Keating, and Sen groups who together led Chemistry to win the Departmental Safety Award at the 2nd annual Safety Olympics held at the Millennium Science Complex on September 8th, 2016. Our teams out-competed other groups of three teams from Materials Science and Engineering, Physics, and Electrical Engineering at the Olympics, winning the overall competition by excelling in five events:
Scavenger Hunt - finding safety errors in a laboratory during a lab inspection
Speed sorting - sorting chemicals into their hazard classifications for safe storage (acids, bases, flammables, oxidizers)
Safety Taboo - like the game Taboo but about safety topics
Safety Trivia - answering serious questions about safety that are contained in EH&S training videos
Speed Gowning - putting on the suits used in the cleanroom as fast a possible
In recognition of the safety expertise of our four teams, the Department received a handsome trophy that was made possible with funds from PPG. This trophy is on display in 101 Chemistry so we can fully exercise our bragging rights. We can keep it only for one year unless of course we win again next year!
It takes a lot of packaging to squeeze DNA into the nucleus of a cell. The DNA in our chromosomes is packaged into nucleosomes, which consist of about 150 DNA base pairs wrapped around eight-protein spools called histones.
Kyra Murrell has been selected to participate in the 2016 SciFinder Future Leaders Program this August. Kyra is one of 26 Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers from the U.S. and around the world who will attend the program. It includes a week of professional development and networking opportunities in Columbus, Ohio, followed by attendance of the 252nd ACS National Meeting & Exposition. Kyra is giving an oral presentation on her current research at the ACS meeting.
After receiving his doctorate from Harvard, Peter Gold joined the faculty at Penn State in 1965. Over the next 35 years, he taught hundreds of students physical chemistry. Sadly, Dr. Gold passed away in 2002. Former students, friends and family established a scholarship in his memory. Because he acted as liaison to chemistry faculty at other Penn State campuses for many years, this scholarship is presented annually to an outstanding chemistry student from these campuses.
Ailiena Maggiolo received the Peter Craig Breen Scholarship Award presented by Dr. Amie Boal
Peter Breen enrolled at Penn State in 2010 as a Braddock Scholar and Schreyer’s Scholar in the Eberly College of Science, majoring in chemistry. During his first semester, he took honors chemistry and decided that he wanted to do research in a chemistry laboratory. What began as a freshman research project led to computational chemistry research in RNA and bioinformatics that continued in the Bevilacqua Lab throughout Peter’s time as an undergraduate student.
Planning to continue his research in bioinformatics, Peter was accepted into three Ph.D. programs before he died in March 2014. Penn State conferred a B.S. degree in Chemistry with honors (posthumously) to Peter in May 2014.
To honor the life of Peter Craig Breen, this memorial award was established in 2015 by family and friends with the hope that his smile and kind, gentle spirit will live on as part of the Penn State family.
Steve Aro, a chemistry graduate student and member of the Badding lab, placed 2nd out of more than 40 competitors in the PPG Pitch Competition held at the Millennium Café last month. The annual competition challenges graduate students for all science disciplines to sell their research in under two minutes.
The ANACHEM Award was established in 1953 and is presented annually to an outstanding analytical chemist based on activities in teaching, research, administration or other activity which has advanced the art and science of the field. The Award was presented as a part of the Anachem Conference through 1972. After 1972, the ANACHEM Award has been presented at the national meeting presented by FACSS as a part of a special symposium comprising a group of invited speakers. The Annual ANACHEM Award is currently presented at the annual SciX Meeting.
Cremer was also interviewed by Spectroscopyonline.com regarding his research:
Erica Frankel (co-advised by Philip Bevilacqua and Chris Keating) was awarded the NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Graduate Fellowship for the 2016-17 academic year. Her research is centered on investigating the physical means that could have aided in the emergence of life on the early Earth using the localization of progenitor molecules for the improvement of RNA catalysis.
Ben Lear has been promoted to the rank of associate professor. Promotion to this rank at Penn State "takes place only after a rigorous review of a faculty member's scholarship of teaching and learning; research and creative accomplishments; and service to the University, society, and the profession."
Ben joined the Penn State Chemistry faculty in 2010. He earned his Ph.D. in 2007 from the University of California, San Diego.
Alex Radosevich has been promoted to the rank of associate professor. Promotion to this rank at Penn State "takes place only after a rigorous review of a faculty member's scholarship of teaching and learning; research and creative accomplishments; and service to the University, society, and the profession."
Alex joined the Penn State Chemistry faculty in 2010. He earned his Ph.D. in 2007 from the University of California, Berkeley.
Under Pressure: New technique could make large, flexible solar panels more feasible
A new, high-pressure technique may allow the production of huge sheets of thin-film silicon semiconductors at low temperatures in simple reactors at a fraction of the size and cost of current technology. A paper describing the research by scientists at Penn State University appears May 13, 2016 in the journal Advanced Materials. http://science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2016-news/Badding5-2016
The structure of a bacterial RNA-binding protein has been determined in the act of modifying a molecule of RNA -- an achievement that provides researchers with a unique view of the protein's function in action and could lead to clues that would help in the fight against the development of antibiotic-resistant infections.
Sample news clippings resulting from the press release:
“Caught in the act: 3D structure on an RNA-modifying protein determined in action”
April 21, 2016 - May 4, 2016
Scicasts - April 22, 2016
Latest Technology - April 23, 2016
MountainsDreams - April 24, 2016
Phys.org - April 21, 2016
News Medical - April 22, 2016
ScienceDaily - April 21, 2016
MNT - April 22, 2016
tryhealthtips.com - April 23, 2016
The structure of a bacterial RNA-binding protein has been determined in the act of modifying a molecule of RNA -- an achievement that provides researchers with a unique view of the protein's function in action and could lead to clues that would help in the fight against the development of antibiotic-resistant infections. Complete paper published in the current issue of the journal Science.
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program recognized and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research based Master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions.
Phil Bevilacqua is combining IT with flipped classroom techniques to better engage students in general chemistry. To read the full article please go to "Getting students to 'flip' over chemistry."
Bratoljub Milosavljevic has been selected to receive the 2015 Priestley Prize for Outstanding Teaching in Chemistry.
The prize will be formally given at the Chemistry Department commencement reception in May.
The Priestley Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching in Chemistry is awarded annually to a faculty member in the Chemistry Department for excellence in undergraduate chemistry instruction as measured by the increase in learning and enthusiasm for the subject.
The Priestley Prize was established in 2002 to recognize the best undergraduate teachers in the Chemistry Department as measured by the increase in learning and enthusiasm for the subject by the students in chemistry courses.