The University of Texas at Arlington College of Science December 2013  
Welcome to the December 2013 edition of Maverick Science E-News. This monthly e-newsletter provides information about College of Science events involving students, alumni, faculty and staff. To contribute items for inclusion, please send an email to If possible, please include a high-resolution headshot photo of those mentioned in your items.
College mourns passing of Roy Rubins, 78, pioneering member of physics department  

For Alumni

UT Arlington Alumni
You can help the next generation of Mavericks

Andrew Baum

Did the University of Texas at Arlington change your life? Do you want to help a future Maverick? Call Dr. Ignacio Nuñez, the chair of the College of Science Advisory Council. He'd love to help get you involved on campus again. The Advisory Council is issuing a challenge to each alumnus and to each member of our North Texas community who believes in our mission. The challenge: Give one day a year and $1,000 annually (that's just $83.33 a month) to benefit the students of UT Arlington. Dr. Nuñez was a first-generation college student, and UT Arlington made it possible for him to attend medical school and create a life vastly different than that of his parents. Did UT Arlington change your life too? Let's work together to help the next generation. You can contact Nuñez at or leave a message for him at 817-272-1497.

Memorial fund created to honor Truman Black

Andrew Baum
A special fund has been created to honor the memory of Dr. Truman Black, professor of physics and beloved member of the UT Arlington family, who died on Sept. 12, 2012.
Donations to the fund may be mailed to:
Truman D. Black Scholarship Fund at The University of Texas at Arlington
Office of Development
P.O. Box 19198
Arlington, TX 76019-0198

Calendar of events

Monday, January 13
First day of classes for Spring 2014 semester
March 10-14
Spring Break
Friday, March 28
Last day to drop classes for Spring 2014 semester
Friday, May 2
Last day of classes for Spring 2014 semester
May 3, 5-9
Final exams for Spring 2014 semester

Sunday, May 11
7 p.m. COS Spring 2014 Commencement
College Park Center

The College of Science and School of Architecture will have a joint graduation ceremony. Details coming soon.

The Planetarium at
UT Arlington

Have you been to a show at the planetarium lately? The facility, one of the finest in the nation, offers a variety of exciting shows and programs year-round and is equipped with Digistar 5, the latest in planetarium software. Special holiday schedules are in effect now through January 5. Find the holiday schedules here.
Maverick Science
Keep up with the COS with Maverick Science
Read the 2012-13 edition of Maverick Science Magazine for the latest faculty, student and alumni news. Copies are available in the Dean’s Office (Life Sciences Room 206) and in LS 112. The next edition of Maverick Science is coming soon! Read the online version here.
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Facebook LogoKeep up with the College of Science on the popular social media sites Facebook and Twitter, and stay informed Twitter Logoabout what's going on and upcoming events in the College of Science.
Maverick Science
E-Newsletter Archives
The College of Science lost a dear friend and colleague on November 19 with the passing of Roy Rubins, professor emeritus in physics, at the age of 78.
Dr. Rubins came to UT Arlington in 1969 and was a vital member of the Department of Physics until his retirement in 2011. He was a frequent collaborator and great friend of the late Truman Black, another physics department pioneer. Dr. Black died in 2012.
Dr. Rubins was internationally known for his experimental and theoretical contributions in electron magnetic resonance (EMR) of organic and inorganic crystals and compounds. In addition to his research, Dr. Rubins was known for his dedication to teaching. He was named the 1998 College of Science Teacher of the Year and that same year was elected to UT Arlington’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers, where he served through 2003. He served at different times both as graduate and undergraduate advisor, and was a longtime chair of the department’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee.
A graveside service was held November 21 at Moore Memorial Gardens in Arlington.
Dr. Rubins was born in Manchester, England, on Nov. 11, 1935. He earned a Ph.D. in physics from Oxford University in 1961. He was a member of Congregation Beth Shalom, had a passion for folk dancing and was an amateur filmmaker. He was a skilled athlete, having played soccer and rugby from an early age. He and his wife, Patricia, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on September 8.
Survivors include his wife, Patricia; son, Daniel and wife, Rita; grandchildren, Rachel and Amy Rubins of Lansdale, Pa.
An on-campus memorial service is being planned. Details will be announced soon.
Longtime biology professor Tom Hellier dies at age 84; spent 46 years at UT Arlington
The College of Science and UT Arlington lost a longtime friend and colleague on December 1 with the passing of Thomas (Tom) Robert Hellier Jr., age 84, a professor of biology from 1960-2006.
Dr. Hellier was an expert in ichthyology (the study of fish). He received his B.A. (1955) and M.S. (1957) degrees from the University of Florida and his Ph.D. from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas in 1961. He came to UT Arlington in 1960, when it was known as Arlington State College. He was very active at UT Arlington, developing various courses, publishing research, serving on committees and sponsoring numerous student organizations. He will be remembered by his students for the extraordinary field trips he led to study the biology of North Texas lakes and the Texas Gulf Coast. He also used his environmental expertise to assist the city of Arlington, the construction of Seven Seas, the North Texas Council of Governments, U.S. Corps of Engineers and the Longhorn Boy Scout Council.
He was born in Ft. Pierce, Fla., on Dec. 24, 1928, to Tommy and Sybil Hellier and grew up in Jensen Beach, Fla. He served in the Air Force from 1948-52. While stationed at the newly opened air base in Wichita, Kan., he met and married Evelyn Farris; they celebrated their 61st anniversary on June 8.
A funeral service was held December 3 and interment was in Parkdale Cemetery in Arlington.
Survivors include his wife, Evelyn; children and their spouses, Clark and Beth Hellier of Arlington, Lisa and Richard Lee of Brock; and Jana and Tom Dolbear of Austin; grandchildren, Kyle Hellier and wife, Elise; Miranda Lee; Colin Hellier and Cara Dolbear; and three nieces.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks those who are interested to make memorial contributions to the Dr. Thomas R. Jr. and Mrs. Evelyn F. Hellier Biology Scholarship Fund at UT Arlington, Box 19047, Arlington, Texas 76019.
College of Science celebrates with newest
graduates at Fall 2013 Commencement
Dr. John Bennett, left, and Dr. Pat Peters following the commencement ceremony Sunday night.
The College of Science congratulates its newest graduates! The Fall 2013 Commencement ceremony, held Sunday, December 15 in College Park Center, was an evening of celebration as College of Science and School of Architecture graduates received their diplomas to the cheers and applause of family members and friends. The ceremony honored August and December graduates as they marked the culmination of years of hard work.
The College of Science also conferred bachelor’s degrees to two outstanding former students who were recruited away to medical school before completing their bachelor degrees. Dr. Pat Peters, M.D., received a B.S. in Biology and Dr. John Bennett, M.D., received a B.A. in Biology.
Peters was born and raised in Fort Worth and graduated from Haltom High School in 1976. He attended UT Arlington from 1976-79, where he majored in biology and minored in chemistry, had a 3.97 GPA and was on the Dean’s Honor Roll all three years. Prior to his senior year, he enrolled in medical school at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. He obtained his M.D. in 1983 and went on to do his internship at UTHSC San Antonio and his residency at Bexar County Hospital District Medical Center Hospital in San Antonio. He founded North Texas Orthopedics in 1989; the practice has offices in Grapevine and Keller. He is board certified in orthopedic surgery.
Bennett graduated from Jacksonville High School in East Texas in 1958. He attended Arlington State College (later renamed UT Arlington) from 1958-60, then enrolled in medical school at UT Southwestern in Dallas, where he received his M.D. in 1964. He did his internship at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and his residency at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. After military service, he was in private practice in Irving, San Angelo and Arlington from 1969-91, then moved into teaching as an assistant professor of anesthesiology and pain, first at UT Medical Branch in Galveston and then at UT Southwestern. He retired in 1999.
Watch a video of the ceremony here.
Liu honored as fellow by American Physical Society for work in fabrication of magnets
Ping Liu
J. Ping Liu, a UT Arlington physics professor who is working to develop stronger magnets for sustainable energy applications, has been named a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2013.
Liu joined the UT Arlington Department of Physics in 2002 and researches the development of advanced nanocomposite magnets that have high performance while containing fewer expensive rare-earth materials. The advanced magnets can be used in nearly every industry and consumer device from computers to cars to medical imaging systems and cell phones.
In his more than a decade long tenure as a faculty member, Liu and his Nanostructured Magnetic Materials Group have worked as a leader in the research area and have carried out world-class work that has led to recognition from the American Physical Society.
A citation accompanying the honor noted Liu’s “pioneering work in research on advanced permanent-magnet materials, including innovative work on bottom-up approaches to fabrication of nanocomposite magnets with reduced rare-earth content via novel techniques.”
Read more on this story here.
UT Arlington leads genome study of Burmese python showing extreme adaptation abilities
The Burmese python’s ability to ramp up its metabolism and enlarge its organs to swallow and digest prey whole can be traced to unusually rapid evolution and specialized adaptations of its genes and the way they work, an international team of biologists says in a new paper.
Lead author Todd Castoe, a UT Arlington assistant professor of biology, and 38 co-authors from four countries sequenced and analyzed the genome of the Burmese python, or Python molurus bivittatus. Their work was published December 2 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences along with a companion paper on the sequencing and analysis of the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah). The papers represent the first complete and annotated snake genomes. Read the PNAS paper here.
Because snakes contain many of the same genes as other vertebrates, studying how these genes have evolved to produce such extreme and unique characteristics in snakes can eventually help explain how these genes function, including how they enable extreme feats of organ remodeling. Such knowledge may eventually be used to treat human diseases.
Read more on this story here.
Magazine ranks Armstrong in top 20 of most influential analytical scientists in the world
Daniel Armstrong, professor of chemistry & biochemistry and an innovative leader in the fields of separations and mass spectrometry, is No. 16 on a recent list of the most influential people in analytical sciences published by The Analytical Scientist magazine.
The new Power List 2013 includes 100 noted scientists. The United Kingdom-based publication, which has an editorial board made up of scientists from the world’s leading institutions, ranked just the top 20. An announcement from the magazine said the Power List aims “to shine a light on some of the scientists, engineers, software developers and business leaders who are shaping the most used and innovative techniques today.”
“Dr. Armstrong is without question one of the most influential analytical scientists in the world, so this is a very fitting honor for him,” Dean of Science Pamela Jansma said. “He has been doing groundbreaking and innovative work in separations and chromatography for decades. His name certainly belongs with the other illustrious names from around the world on this list. This is a wonderful honor for Dr. Armstrong and the University, as UT Arlington is the only Texas university represented in this year’s top 20.”
Read more on this story here.
Dias to use $450K grant from NSF to reveal inner workings of chemical reactions
Rasika Dias, distinguished professor and chairman of the UT Arlington Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, will use a new $450,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop new chemical processes and technologies based on a better understanding of the way that metals such as gold, silver, mercury and zinc bind with organic compounds for chemical reactions.
The three-year project involves reactions used widely in industry and research laboratories. Dias is the principal investigator.
Dias’ work will explore the interaction between six metals found in the right section of the Periodic Table of Elements’ d-block and what are called pi-acid ligands, which include familiar organic compounds like carbon monoxide, ethylene, acetylene and the related olefins and alkynes. These carbon based molecules bind to metal through interaction of their electrons, becoming what is known scientifically as ligands.
In many cases, the combination of a specific d-block element and pi-acid ligands creates a situation favorable for chemical reactions with molecules like oxygen, hydrogen chloride, and even water. The metals essentially act as a catalyst in the creation of new products.
Read more on this story here.
MacDonnell, Zhang selected to receive NSF grants for studies to improve sustainability
MacDonnell Zhang
Two UT Arlington scientists working on innovative energy supply solutions are included in the first round of grants for a new National Science Foundation program aimed at promoting environmental sustainability.
Fred MacDonnell, a chemistry professor, and Qiming Zhang, a physics professor, were among the 101 scientists and engineers sharing in $49 million in inaugural grant awards for the Sustainable Chemistry, Engineering and Materials, or SusChEM, program. The NSF started SusChEM in 2012 to “support the discovery of new science and engineering that will provide humanity with a safe, stable and sustainable supply of chemicals and materials sufficient to meet future global demand,” according to the agency.
MacDonnell, along with recently retired UT Arlington research associate professor Norma Tacconi, was awarded a three year, $430,346 grant to study a new method for converting carbon dioxide to methanol. Zhang was awarded a three-year, $188,548 grant to study the use of sulfurized hematite to build more efficient solar cell technologies.
“We’re proud to have Drs. MacDonnell, Tacconi and Zhang recognized as part of this distinguished group of scientists who are using their work to address challenges that affect society as a whole,” said Pamela Jansma, dean of the College of Science. “Their projects also include important components of outreach that will expose future science, technology and engineering students to research and scientific exploration.”
Read more on this story here.
Mohanty receives $384K grant from NIH to study gene therapy to combat eye disease
UT Arlington researchers are exploring a better method for initiating certain gene therapies that could better fight the sight-deteriorating disease retinitis pigmentosa.
The National Institutes of Health is funding the research.
Samarendra Mohanty, assistant professor of physics, expects to receive a total of $384,269 over the next two years from the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. His work involves using near-infrared ultrafast laser beam to deliver genes that allow expression of light-sensitive proteins, called opsins, in specific cells. That proteins’ expression allows researchers to influence neural activity through optical or light stimulation - a technique known as optogenetics.
In the past, the genes have been delivered to cells by virus. That method can have drawbacks, such as immune responses, in addition to the benefits. In Mohanty’s method, a laser beam creates a transient sub-micrometer size hole, which allows for the gene encoding the proteins to permeate through the cell membrane. It can limit the risk of immune response, as well as delivering larger genes than viral methods, he said.
Read more on this story here.
Doctoral student Machuca earns award for research at SACNAS national conference
Alicia Machuca, a doctoral student in mathematics, received a Student Presentation Award at the 2013 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans (SACNAS) National Conference in early October in San Antonio.
Her presentation was titled “An Exact Solution Formula for the Kadomtsev-Petvishvili Equation”. Machuca, in her fifth year of doctoral studies, conducts research in partial differential equations. Her advisor Tuncay Aktosun, professor of mathematics.
“We are certainly proud of Alicia’s accomplishments and grateful to SACNAS for recognizing Alicia and her research presentation,” Aktosun said. “Alicia will be receiving her Ph.D. in May 2014 and I have no doubt that she will make great contributions to her field and also play a key role in mentoring future generations, as she has been doing for some time now as a graduate student in our department.”
“I am grateful to have received this award that includes a travel grant to a workshop at the Mathematical Biosciences Institute at Ohio State University,” Machuca said. “The SACNAS conference was a great experience. While there, I was able to attend talks that were intended for graduate students and helped with issues like planning your dissertation and submitting job applications. My experience with SACNAS has been incredible, and I would encourage all STEM students to become involved with this organization of dedicated and inspiring people.”
Read more about SACNAS here.
Biology major Fordjour earns poster award at ASM branch conference in New Orleans
Emmanuel Fordjour, a junior in the Honors Biology program with a minor in Chemistry, earned the Joan Abramowitz Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement for his poster presentation at the Joint American Society of Microbiology Branch conference in early November in New Orleans.
Fordjour was selected as the winner over nearly 200 student presenters from institutions across Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. He is involved in molecular microbiology and bacterial infectious disease research in the lab of Julian Hurdle, assistant professor of biology. Fordjour’s project was titled “Analysis of Anti-Clostridium difficile Activity of Paired Antibiotic Combinations”. Clostridium difficile is an intestinal bacterium that causes severe to fatal diarrhea, killing over 15,000 people annually in the United States.
“I am humbled by this recognition from the American Society of Microbiology because I had not even taken the required microbiology class when I began research this past spring,” Fordjour said. “I am very grateful to Dr. Hurdle and all the lab members for their instruction and continued support.”
Said Hurdle, “Emmanuel is thoroughly deserving of the ASM branch award, as he has worked tirelessly in his project to identify drug combinations to treat persistent Clostridium difficile infections. Certainly, with his enthusiasm and dedication, he continues to set new standards for undergraduate research in my lab.”
Read more about the ASM here.
Research assistant Cote receives SPIE travel
scholarship to attend future symposia
Chris Cote, a research assistant in the lab of Samarendra Mohanty, assistant professor of physics, has been awarded a 2013 travel scholarship by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, for his potential contributions to the field of optics, photonics, or related fields.
SPIE travel scholarships are for students who are planning to attend courses and conferences at SPIE’s symposia.
Cote earned a B.S. in Biology from UT Arlington in 2011 and is applying to graduate school. In Mohanty’s lab, he is researching single molecule dynamics and kinetics of Kinesin-1 motor molecules. He plans to earn a master’s and then pursue a Ph.D. in Biophysics.
“My passion to bring a cross-disciplinary approach to our optical biophysics lab has proven worthwhile time and time again,” Cote said. “I began my optical career as a biochemist and have had the privilege to learn and use a multitude of fluorescence microscopy techniques that allow me to combine my passion for both fields of biochemistry and optics. I am honored and thrilled to accept the 2013 SPIE travel scholarship; it will be of great assistance in pursuing my career in biophysics and presenting my work to many other professionals in the field. I would like to thank all of my colleagues whom I work with as well as UT Arlington for giving me the opportunity take part in such an innovative field, one with endless possibilities of discovery.”
Learn more about SPIE here.
SAVANT Center leaders highlight potential for collaboration, funding opportunities
Brandt Chen
The UT Arlington Center for Security Advances via Applied Nanotechnology (SAVANT Center) held a kickoff meeting and reception on October 3 in the Planetarium.
Carolyn Cason, vice president for research, opened the event with comments about the importance of having a center in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that focuses on security and safety research. She said that leveraging university resources across colleges will better position UT Arlington to partner with organizations both locally and nationally.
Wei Chen, professor of physics and SAVANT director, discussed the center’s mission, vision and objectives. He described the center as a platform for transdisciplinary collaboration, and said that although it is dedicated to sensor research for security, it also has a student training and education component, and is envisaged to be a platform for technology transfer.
Andrew Brandt, professor of physics and SAVANT deputy director, described the benefits of joining and working with the center. He explained various incentives, including seed grant funding opportunities, proposal writing support, collaborative possibilities (including personnel and equipment) and the potential return of indirect cost on certain grants.
Erick Jones, an associate professor of engineering and SAVANT deputy director, described the timeline of the center’s creation. He announced the winners of the center’s first seed grant competition, engineering professors Yi Hong (PI) and Kytai Nguyen (co-PI), for their project on breast cancer therapy, which is a good fit for the center’s nano-medicine focus area.
Chen, Brandt and Jones mentioned plans for growing the center through federal peer-reviewed grants and by developing key contacts at facilities such as DFW Airport. They invited faculty interested in research related to the center and who are not yet members to join one of the center’s working groups.
The center also hosted the first of its new Collaborative Colloquium series with a talk by Dan Popa, associate professor of engineering on November 25.
Learn more about the SAVANT Center here.
Sigma Pi Sigma honors society chapter adds 8 new members to its ranks for Fall 2013
Pictured from left are: Robert Bruntz, SPS student representative; inductees Jeremiah D. Browne, Aaron Benjamin Baca, Nilakshi Veerabathina, and Timothy Blake Watson; and Chris Jackson, SPS advisor. Not pictured are inductees Matthew Chrysler, Ricky Hensley, Codie Mishler and Ying Wun Yvonne Ng.
The UT Arlington chapter of Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society, inducted eight new members in a ceremony November 19 in the Chemistry & Physics Building.
Sigma Pi Sigma is a national organization open to students and faculty, or to anyone who makes a significant contribution to the field of physics. UT Arlington’s chapter was created in 1966 and was active through 1987. Inductions were made in 1997 and 2007 before the chapter was revived and annual inductions resumed in 2010.
The UT Arlington chapter selects new members based on a vote by active members from the eligible pool of candidates, including undergraduate students who are in the top third of their class, chapter student representative Robert Bruntz said.
Fall 2013 inductees include: (undergraduates) Aaron Benjamin Baca, Jeremiah D. Browne, Matthew Chrysler, Ricky Hensley, Codie Mishler, Ying Wun Yvonne Ng, Timothy Blake Watson; (faculty) Nilakshi Veerabathina, senior lecturer in physics.
Learn more about Sigma Pi Sigma here.