UF Chemistry Professor Receives Award for Futuristic Polymer

Many people have experienced unpleasant side effects from medications – or just don’t like needles. One step to improving drug delivery for patients is to build “smart” proteins that can be released into the body as slowly and specifically as needed. Prof. Brent Sumerlin is doing just that, and has received the prestigious Hanwha-Total IUPAC Young Scientist Award for his work.

Polymer chemistry is the study and synthesis of macromolecules, which can be composed of thousands of atoms; the most commonly known examples are protein (an organic polymer) and plastic (an inorganic polymer). Sumerlin focuses on improving protein compounds that are used for vaccines and drugs, so that they can respond to the body’s feedback or be delivered without injection. He is also building self-healing polymers, such as plastic or cement that can retain their integrity despite damage.

An acclaimed teacher, Sumerlin runs the Sumerlin Research Group at UF, which is composed of 26 graduate, undergraduate, and postdoc researchers. Prof. Sumerlin has also received a Career Award from the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, the Innovation Prize from the Journal of Polymer Science, and the Biomacromolecules / Macromolecules Young Inventor Award.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) is a comprehensive research and press federation that supports chemistry and related studies around the world. The Young Scientist Award is granted every two years at the IUPAC World Polymer Congress in Instanbul, Turkey.

UF English Professor Receives Guggenheim Fellowship

“She had to save face.” “He got under my skin.” These expressions may seem common now, but before the 19th century, people had a very different view of how humans lived in their bodies. UF English professor Pamela K. Gilbert is exploring the Victorian-era notions of skin as a reflection of people’s fundamental changes in worldview in this period of social upheaval. She has been awarded a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship to finish her book, Victorian Skin: Surface, Subjectivity, Affect.

Although skin is a focus of many contemporary issues, from race relations to self-image, skin wasn’t always the marker of one’s identity that it is today. Gilbert notes that it was in the Victorian era that people began to perceive the self as a surface phenomenon: anyone could scrutinize another’s appearance and know their identity and emotions, and yet their skin, a permeable membrane, might be insufficient to protect them or hold them together. In literature, this is shown through the realist mode: for example, a third-person novel that describes the characters’ appearances in great detail and focuses on the lives of “normal” people.

By studying works from writers such as Dickens, Carlyle, and Wilde, among many other authors who wrote about the French revolution, the Franklin expedition, and other tales of human morality and mortality, Gilbert has found that the Victorian era produced an emphasis on the surface of human bodies: the skin. This period of history also expanded scientific knowledge of human anatomy and DNA; surgery advanced in this period, as did psychology and dermatology. In portraying often-traumatic historical changes, Victorian literature often uses “narratives of flaying,” says Gilbert. An ancient form of execution that was rumored to have reemerged during the French Revolution, flaying also appeared in retellings of myths and, more literally, in the popularity of books bound in human flesh during this period.

portrait of Pamela Gilbert Pamela Gilbert

Gilbert has found that the Victorian era produced an emphasis on the surface of human bodies: the skin.

A self-described “archive rat,” Gilbert is the Albert Brick Professor in the Department of English. Her research interests include the Victorian novel, Victorian-era cultural and medical history, gender and the body, and medical humanities. She teaches courses in Victorian literature, types of feminism, gender and sexuality, and cultural studies. She notes that the dawn of mass literacy and affordable printing in the 19th century made the Victorian corpus of literature so large that no one can read all of it in their lifetime — a fascinating situation to Gilbert.

Gilbert’s work also examines the ideological changes in the Victorian era and the widening divide between science and philosophy. After the French revolution, science became associated with anarchy and individualism. A “safe science” had to be peddled to the thinkers and political leaders of Europe. Gilbert notes that the contemporary United States and Europe still have this problem. “All of those questions that we’re still trying to figure out are all bubbling up in this period,” she says.

The Guggenheim Fellowship program provides a six- to twelve-month grant for artists, scholars in the humanities and social sciences, and scientific researchers to have creative freedom. Awarded on the basis of exceptional contributions to their field, the 178 successful fellows were chosen from a group of nearly 3,000 applicants in the Guggenheim Foundation’s 92nd competition.

UF Professor of Chemistry Honored for Life’s Work

If you thought electronics couldn’t get any smaller or more powerful, you might be surprised to learn that physics research at UF is contributing to yet more advancements in nanotechnology. UF chemistry professor George Christou has received acclaim for his discovery of single-molecule magnets and metal-oxo clusters—microscopic, long-lasting substances with applications to medical, computing, and industrial technologies. The United Kingdom’s Royal Society of Chemistry awarded Christou the 2016 Nyholm Prize for Inorganic Chemistry for his pioneering work.

man holding molecular model sitting in front of bookshelf
George Christou in his office with a model of a single-molecule magnetRachel Wayne

Christou has also been appointed to the Academy of Distinguished Teaching Scholars, an honorary organization of exceptional professors and the advisory board to the Provost’s Office. The Academy offers policy guidance to encourage academic excellence through the confluence of teaching and research. Indeed, Christou was also UF’s Teacher-Scholar of the Year for 2015–2016.

Cyprus-born Christou is well versed in these complementary practices, having published over 560 articles and taught at several esteemed institutions in both the U.S. and the U.K. He is the Drago Chair of Chemistry at UF, and has won other awards from the Royal Society of Chemistry. Given his trans-Atlantic impact, knack for charismatic teaching, and his tremendous experience in the technology of metal, one might call him the Iron Man of UF.

book cover for Encyclopedia of the Yoruba

Encyclopedia of the Yoruba

Edited by Toyin Falola and Akintunde Akinyemi

The Yoruba people today number more than 30 million strong, with significant numbers in the United States, Nigeria, Europe, and Brazil. This landmark reference work emphasizes Yoruba history, geography and demography, language and linguistics, literature, philosophy, religion, and art. The 285 entries include biographies of prominent Yoruba figures, artists, and authors; the histories of political institutions; and the impact of technology and media, urban living, and contemporary culture on Yoruba people worldwide. Written by Yoruba experts on all continents, this encyclopedia provides comprehensive background to the global Yoruba and their distinctive and vibrant history and culture.

Indiana University Press