Graduate Students Receive Astrid and Bruce McWilliams Fellowships-Dept of Physics - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Graduate Students Receive Astrid and Bruce McWilliams Fellowships

From left to right: Mingjiang Zhong, Bruce McWilliams and Udom Sae-Ueng
From left to right: Mingjiang Zhong, Bruce McWilliams and Udom Sae-Ueng

Graduate students Udom Sae-Ueng and Mingjiang Zhong have been awarded the Astrid and Bruce McWilliams Fellowships in the Mellon College of Science in recognition of their outstanding creativity, dedication and commitment to carrying out leading-edge research. The fellowship provides tuition, stipend and fees for up to one year of graduate study, as well as $1,000 for conference travel or other research expenses.

Udom Sae-Ueng, a third year Ph.D. student in the Department of Physics, investigates the physical properties of viruses and mechanisms of viral infection. By studying the physics of viruses, Sae-Ueng has found several interesting physical phenomena that play a fundamental biological role in viral infectivity. Using a technique called isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC), he measured the internal energy stored in a virus, which it uses to shoot its DNA into the cell during infection. According to Sae-Ueng’s research advisor Alex Evilevitch, this pioneering work, done in partnership with graduate students Ting Liu and Meerim Jeembaeva, marks the first time that any group has used ITC to measure pressure and energy in viruses. Sae-Ueng also studies viral shells, called capsids, using Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to determine the mechanical forces that allow the caspid to hold up under the intense pressure being exerted from within by the viral DNA. He presented his AFM results at the 9th annual Seeing at the Nanoscale Conference in Santa Barbara, CA, and is preparing two manuscripts to submit for publication on his ITC and AFM research. With a background in high-energy and accelerator physics, Sae-Ueng’s success in the burgeoning field of physical virology is especially noteworthy.

“Although his training was entirely in physics and computer science, Udom quickly mastered all of the biochemistry required to grow and purify viruses, including viral receptors,” said Evilevitch, associate professor of physics. “He is a scientifically talented and motivated researcher, and he contributes in all possible ways to the success of the entire laboratory.”

Mingjiang Zhong, a fourth year graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, develops efficient ways to synthesize nanoporous carbon materials containing nitrogen. With a background in theoretical and computational chemistry, Zhong joined both the Kowalewski and Matyjaszewski research groups to explore more hands-on approaches for creating nanomaterials. Zhong has been working with controlled/living radical polymerization (CRP), a method scientists use to form polymers, to develop a new pathway for preparing and characterizing nitrogen-rich nanoporous carbons from block copolymers. His method allows him to control the nanocarbon surface area, pore size and distribution, and functionality. Wielding this level of control over the synthesis of nitrogen-rich nanoporous carbons is key to using the material in applications ranging from electrical energy storage to electrocatalysis in fuel cells. Zhong is currently collaborating with researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory to explore using these nitrogen-rich nanocarbons for carbon dioxide capture. Zhong has published several papers on CRP and nanostructured carbons, as well as five American Chemical Society (ACS) preprints. He received a best poster prize at the International Symposium on CRP at the 242nd ACS National Meeting.

“With his strong interest in fundamental aspects of materials chemistry, excellent technical background and creativity, it is not difficult to envision that Mingjiang will emerge as an important independent player in the area of advanced nanomaterials,” wrote Professor Tomasz Kowalewski and University Professor Kris Matyjaszewski in a letter nominating Zhong for the fellowship.

The Astrid and Bruce McWilliams Fellowship in the Mellon College of Science was established in 2007 by alumnus Bruce McWilliams, president and CEO of SuVolta and a Carnegie Mellon University trustee; and his wife, Astrid McWilliams, to support graduate students conducting leading-edge research in emerging fields such as nanotechnology, biophysics and cosmology.