Letter from the Chair

IMG_0014As we approach the holiday season, I am inspired to reflect on the bounty of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, and share with you some of the many things that make me very grateful.

I am grateful to our students and alumni, who are the best ambassadors of our programs and whose successes give us a tremendous sense of accomplishment.  Did you know there are 3260 undergraduate and 1480 graduate alumni of the Department?   Our alumni reside in all 50 states, 6 U.S. territories and 22 countries, helping to spread the word about the Maryland experience.  I would like to give a shout out to Dr. Bryan Dickinson (Biochemistry B.S., 2005), who recently visited and gave a departmental seminar, for his recent appointment to the chemistry faculty at the University of Chicago. Another shout out goes to  Dr. Willie May (Chemistry PhD, 1977), acting Director of the National Institute of Standards & Technology and Undersecretary of the Department of Commerce, for serving on the Board of Visitors of our College and, most remarkably, for taking the time to mentor our students and junior faculty. I would also like to recognize Phil Schneider, M. D. (Biochemistry BS, 1979), winner of our College Alumni Award.  Read down to Dr. Schneider’s profile to learn about how he is impacting University of Maryland students.

I am so proud of our current students, who are balancing very demanding majors with professional development and the fun of the new Big Ten experience. At the Spring 2014 commencement, we conferred exactly 100 ACS-certified undergraduate degrees – 49 in Chemistry and 51 in Biochemistry. Remarkably, 19 of these students double-majored, with Biological Sciences leading the 2nd-major pack (10 double-majors), followed by Computer Science, Math, and Art (2 double-majors each). Our students additionally earned second majors in Secondary Education, Physics, and Economics.  We are also extremely proud of the 30 new Chemistry and Biochemistry PhD’s and MS’s minted last year, and very grateful for the scholarship and fellowship support our students have attracted.  Read down to learn more about 4th year Chemistry Graduate Student Benjamin Roembke.

The accomplishments of our Faculty also deserve special recognition.   I am particularly happy to announce the tenured promotions of Dr. Nicole LaRonde and Dr. YuHuang Wang to Associate Professor.  Dr. LaRonde is a protein crystallographer researching ribosome biogenesis and protein pathogenesis related to the Ebola virus. Dr YuHuang Wang is a materials chemist who creates carbon-based materials for energy and sensing applications. Dr. Garyk Papoian, a theoretical chemist who performs multi-scale simulations of subcellular processes, was recently promoted to full Professor.  Dr. Chris Jarczynski was selected as a Distinguished University Professor, the highest honor the University bestows, in recognition for ground-breaking work on nonequilibrium statistical mechanics.   His discovery of the Jarczynski Inequality, a generalization of the 2nd Law of Thermodyamics, is widely regarded as the most important discovery in thermodynamics in the past 50 years.  Our faculty has attracted more than $11,600,000 in external funding over the past year.  Read down to learn about a new National Science Foundation grant in nanolithography awarded to Drs. Fourkas, Mullin, and Falvey.

The dedication of our faculty and staff to our core education mission is transforming the education and training experiences of our students. This year Dr. Earl Stone redesigned CHEM177 – our general chemistry laboratory for freshman majors – to provide students with hands-on access to state-of-the-art laboratory instrumentation and researcher-level safety training.   Dr. Lee Friedman has “flipped” his organic chemistry lecture courses, while Dr. Montague-Smith has received a grant from the University of Maryland System to introduce new technology tools in the organic chemistry “discussion” sections to promote active learning. Dr. William Walters, our ACS award winning nuclear chemist, enthralls honors students in a seminar course entitled “The Manhattan Project: A Century of Radioactivity, Nuclear Weapons, and Nuclear Power”, while Assistant Professor Zhihong Nie has developed a new course on “Interfaces: From Fundamentals to Nanoscience” that brings together graduate students from life science, physical science and engineering programs.

Chemistry and Biochemistry are the science of change – and the Department itself is undergoing important transformations.  Dr.  Michael P. Doyle, who served for 10 years as a highly dedicated Chair, will depart in January for a Chaired Professorship at the University of Texas at San Antonio.  We are very sorry to see Mike go, but happy that he has the opportunity to pursue new research directions and relocate to be closer to his family.  On another front, I am delighted to announce that Dr. Lai-Xi Wang, an ACS award winning chemical biologist with expertise in carbohydrate chemistry and glycoscience, will join the faculty as a Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry beginning in January.   Wang, currently a professor in the School of Medicine, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, (UMB), will strengthen and lead efforts to develop new research programs centered on chemical biology.  This field applies chemical tools and ideas to biological and medical problems, including creating and discovering new molecules with biological specificity for drug and vaccine development. A Symposium on Carbohydrate Chemistry is being planned to celebrate the addition of Dr. Wang to the faculty.

Below I share with you three stories that highlight recent achievements by our alumni, students and faculty.   For pictures and additional stories, please go to http://portal.chem.umd.edu/newsletters/  And finally, I want to thank the generous alumni and parents who have donated gifts to our department. Your contributions go directly to our education and research programs, and impact students, faculty and staff in very meaningful ways.

With best regards,
Janice Reutt-Robey