New Green Technology from UMass Amherst Generates Electricity ‘Out of Thin Air’

The laboratories of electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley have developed a device that uses a natural protein to create electricity from moisture in the air, a new technology they say could have significant implications for the future of renewable energy, climate change and in the future of medicine. The device, called “Air-gen”, uses electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter. The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere.

“We are literally making electricity out of thin air,” says Yao. “The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7.” Lovely, who has advanced sustainable biology-based electronic materials over three decades, adds, “It’s the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet.”

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Bringing Visions to Light

The Jensen Lab is behind a single unmarked door in the basement of Morrill Science Center III.

In this lab, there are more than 6,000 of one of science’s most valuable models for studying human genetics and disease—the zebrafish. The tiny, striped members of the minnow family dart about in 200 small tanks on racks that are four rows deep.

In one particular tank, all of the zebrafish have lost their zebra; their typical five uniform, pigmented, horizontal stripes are gone. Called “crystals,” these creatures are a translucent pink, and you can see outlines of their backbones and the shadows of their tiny internal organs.

Light is actually a toxic insult upon life at the cellular level, especially on cells called photoreceptors that process light in the eye. “Their eyeballs are completely clear,” she explains. She hopes the light will degenerate, or damage, the cells. “It seems weird that we are trying to get the cells to die,” says Jensen. “But we need a model to get the cells to die so that we can understand why they die and then how to keep them alive.” Learning why the cells degenerate will improve our understanding of an eye disease that affects about one out of every 8–10 thousand young Americans: Stargardt disease.

Named for Karl Stargardt—the German ophthalmologist who first described the inherited eye disorder in 1909—Stargardt disease is a disorder of the retina that causes vision loss (though generally not complete blindness) during childhood or adolescence, though in some cases it doesn’t occur until adulthood. Vision loss progresses slowly over time in most people with the disease, from normal vision to legally blind. Currently, there is no treatment to delay or cure the disease.

Thanks to a grant from the Manning Innovation Program —a recent $40,000 gift to UMass for the support of translational research projects and the transfer of breakthroughs to the marketplace—Jensen hopes she is all the closer to finding a key that will unlock some of the secrets of Stargardt disease.

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Bac-Be-Gone Wins at Pitch Event

Three of Peg Riley's student's won big!

Congratulations to:

Hailey Charest (2021, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Microbiology Double Major)

Hadley Beauregard (2022, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and German & Scandinavian Studies double major)

Bryanna Frietas (2020, Chemistry & Psychology double major)

These three students won 1st place and $600 in the Amherst Works Pitch Event. Their company, Bac Be Gone, produces an antimicrobial cleanser that kills MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) on contact!


Blanchard Lab Receives NSF LTER Funding

Jeffrey Blanchard's lab just got a new project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network.

The Ecological Metagenome-derived Reference Genomes and Traits (EMERGENT) synthesis project connects genomic information about the soil microbiome with the broader ecological context.

The illustration seen here was made by 2 UMass undergraduates Andrea Dame (Microbiology) and Eva Tipps (Biology).

For more information, you can lick on THIS LINK.

Tobias Baskin Runs a 1-Day Workshop in Japan

Tobias Baskin just gave a one-day Science Writing workshop in Japan.

The workshop advertised as follows: "Dr. Baskin, whose main focus of research is on Regulation of Plant Morphogenesis during Growth & Development, has been on the editorial board of several renowned journals. He is also teaching writing skills at the post graduate level all over the world."

This workshop was sponsored by the United Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences .

There were 2 sessions available to attendees:
Morning Session: Writing for the reader: A framework for understanding how to write; Six guidelines for clear writing
Afternoon Session: How to write a scientific paper: Publishing practice; Ethics, reviewing, rebutting

The United Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences is based at Iwate University in Morioka Japan. The workshop was held on the Iwate University campus and had a great turnout.

There were about 40 attendees, mainly masters and PhD students but also some young faculty.