UTSA receives $1.5 million gift from Welch Foundation for endowed chemistry chair

Chemistry Beakers

The UTSA College of Sciences has received a $1.5 million gift from The Welch Foundation to establish the Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry. With this support, the university will recruit a distinguished chemist who will contribute to research efforts in chemistry and support the university as it strives to attain Tier One research status.

The Welch Foundation gift will be matched by funding available from a university endowment to create a $3 million endowment to attract and recruit a strong leader to teach and conduct research at UTSA. Texas has three Tier One universities, each of which has at least three Welch chairs.

"Having a Welch chair has become a symbol of achieving a high level of excellence in scholarly chemistry research, and I am very pleased that The Welch Foundation’s directors recognize UTSA’s progress and promise through the funding of this chair," said George Perry, dean of the UTSA College of Sciences.

Recruiting top faculty to provide instruction and conduct research that serves society is one aspect of UTSA’s efforts to become a Tier One university. Such universities provide opportunities that lead to economic growth, generate discoveries and innovations in science and engineering, and increase exposure to world-class cultural and artistic programs.

"The Welch Foundation endowment is a great opportunity for us.It will impact the research environment in the Department of Chemistry," said Waldemar Gorski, UTSA Department of Chemistry chair. “The Welch chair will both amplify our ability to conduct high-quality research and catalyze our scientific collaborations.”

UTSA’s relationship with The Welch Foundation began in 1993. Over that time period, foundation funding has grown to more than $4.2 million to support both the chemistry department and individual chemistry researchers.

The Department of Chemistry has research specialty programs including the major sub-disciplines of organic chemistry, biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry and physical chemistry as well as other interdisciplinary collaborations including medicinal chemistry and materials chemistry.

The department offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and currently has 350 students enrolled in its programs.

Based in Houston, The Welch Foundation is one of the nation’s largest and oldest private funding sources for chemistry research. It primarily supports researchers at Texas institutions of higher education.

UTSA College of Sciences hosted research conference Friday

Medicinal chemist Doug Frantz delivered keynote address

By Amanda Beck
Senior Communications Specialist

To celebrate interdisciplinary scientific research conducted at UTSA and within the region, the College of Sciences hosted its third annual research conference on Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, in the University Center on the Main Campus.

Conference chair Bernard Arulanandam, associate dean of research for scientific innovation and College of Sciences Dean George Perry opened the daylong event. In his remarks, Perry referenced the prior week’s State of the University Address, which acknowledged the college’s achievements in support of the university’s goal to become a Tier One research university.

Following the welcome, participants broke out into seven moderated thematic sessions in computational neurobiology; energy and environmental science; high performance computing and cyber security; infectious diseases; medicinal chemistry and biochemistry; nanotechnology and physics; and stem cells and development.

Participants included UTSA faculty and students as well as those from UT Health Sciences Center, Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Southwest Research Institute, St. Mary’s University, Trinity University, San Antonio College, University of the Incarnate Word

Duke University, UT Brownsville, UT Austin, University of Houston, Texas State University at San Marcos, Texas A&M Kingsville, Texas A&M, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, UT PanAm, and Houston Community College.

Additionally, this year 30 students from John Jay High School also participated in the conference, learning about various scientific topics and mingling with potential mentors. The students participated in the conference through an outreach component of a $4.6 million Department of Defense grant establishing a Center of Excellence in Infection Genomics in the College of Sciences.

In the afternoon, more than 200 students and faculty presented their research abstracts at one of two consecutive 90-minute poster sessions. Student posters were judged by faculty experts in each thematic category and seven winners were selected to receive a plaque and an iPad. The winners were:

  • Jossina Gonzalez, a Ph.D. student in neurobiology won the Computational Neuroscience category
  • Amir Rajaee, a master’s student in electrical engineering won the Energy and Environmental Sciences category
  • Pengjun Pan, a Ph.D. student in computer science won the High Performance Computing and Cyber Security category
  • Sarah Hardison, a Ph.D. student in cellular and molecular biology won the Infectious Diseases category
  • Jon Caranto, a Ph.D. student in chemistry won the Medicinal Chemistry and Biochemistry category
  • Jorge Palas Chavez, an undergraduate physics major, won the Nanotechnology and Physics category
  • Amber Baer, a Ph.D. student in cellular and molecular biology, won the Stem Cell & Development category

UTSA Assistant Professor Doug Frantz, delivered the conference’s keynote address, “Drug Discovery in Academia: Should We Jump In?”  Frantz discussed medicinal chemistry and the role universities play in the pharmaceutical industry. He also touched on the contributions of his research team, and how San Antonio is uniquely positioned to excel in drug discovery. The conference concluded with remarks by John Frederick, UTSA provost.

The 2011 College of Sciences Research Conference was sponsored by a number of organizations including Agilent Technologies, Fischer Scientific, Gilson, KCI, Liberty Mutual, Olympus, Oppenheimer Blend Harrison and Tate, Sigma-Aldrich, Sarstedt, Syzygy Biotech and USDA.

In addition to the College of Sciences, several UTSA offices contributed to the conference including: Office of the Vice President for Research, Center for Research and Training in the Sciences, Institute for Cyber Security, RCMI, Seminars in Translational Research, South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute and the UTSA Neurosciences Institute.

San Antonio Infectious Disease Research Symposium—highlighting infectious disease research in and around San Antonio, featuring invited talks and poster session.
Registration is free, students are especially encouraged to attend.

San Antonio Infectious Disease Research Symposium—highlighting infectious disease research in and around San Antonio, featuring invited talks and poster session.

Registration is free, students are especially encouraged to attend.

(Sept. 26, 2011) — The University of Texas at San Antonio will celebrate the launch of the UTSA Retired Faculty Association with a reception from 4 to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 28 in the Business Building University Room (2.06.04) on the Main Campus. Current and retired UTSA faculty members are invited to attend.

The association was officially established this month…

Tags: faculty

Environmental Science Social

Environmental Science Social

Lorenzo Brancaleon collaborates with European Union-funded researchers to use lasers for early cancer detection.

By Sherrie Voss Matthews, International Media & Marketing Coordinator

Physics isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think about detecting cancer. But physicists are using lasers as a significant means of early cancer detection…

Federal grant boosts chemistry student’s research

Doctoral student Hector Aguilar receives funding for his dissertation

Aguilar presents his research at the 2010 Research Conference

By Amanda Beck
Senior Communications Specialist

This summer, UTSA doctoral student, Hector Aguilar, has killed two proverbial birds with one very big stone. Funding he received from the National Institutes of Health, more than $34,000 over the next two years, will both allow him to finish his dissertation and begin his career as a chemist with a successful track record of funding.

The award, formally called the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellowships (F31) to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research, will cover the cost of tuition and research expenses for the last year and a half of Aguilar’s studies.

The recognition of Hector’s achievements through this NRSA award from NIH is a testimony to the impact he has already made in field of regenerative medicine and medicinal chemistry.  There is little doubt that he has a very, very bright future ahead of him,” said Doug Frantz, assistant professor of chemistry and Aguilar’s faculty advisor.

Aguilar was previously funded by the university’s Minority Biomedical Research Support - Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement. In fact, it was participation in that research training program that led him to apply for the grant. In order to get real-world experience in seeking funding for their research, MBRS students are required to submit grants, but they are not required to receive awards. In the past five years, there have been three UTSA students to receive funding from the Kirschstein Award.

The MBRS-RISE program recognizes the importance of experience in grant writing at the doctoral level and assists our students in developing and writing proposals,” said Gail Taylor, assistant program director of MBRS RISE. “We are very proud of Hector for his great accomplishment.

Aguilar’s chemistry project, Isoxazole Small Molecules That Induce Stem Cell Differentiation, has potential applications in the biomedical industry. His research could lead to better ways to repair heart muscle after a heart attack.

Aguilar creates probes by tagging small molecules with fluorescent dye. He then injects the probes into stem cells derived from adult cardiac tissue to see what will happen. The hope is that the probes will cause the cells to regenerate into normal heart muscle tissue, repairing any damage caused by the heart attack.

With the funding from the NIH, Hector plans to finish his Ph.D. by fall 2012. He’s already thinking beyond that date, though. He wants to continue his research and pursue teaching in academia. As a participant in the MBRS RISE program, Aguilar was not required to work as a teaching assistant. But he asked mentor Doug Frantz for the opportunity, and was able to help teach his organic chemistry class. He loved the experience, and now plans to go into teaching himself.

“I’m excited to receive this funding,” said Aguilar. “It is a huge boost of confidence that will help propel me through completing and defending my dissertation, and prepare me for a career in academic chemistry.”