2016 Beckman Institute Postdoctoral Fellows Announced

The 2016 Beckman Postdoctoral Fellows have diverse research interests that span the Beckman research themes: from bioengineering, chemistry, and materials science to language processing and neuroscience. The 2016 Beckman Institute Postdoctoral Fellows are James Checco, Junlong Geng, Kenneth Hernandez-Burgos, Si On Yoon, and Yue Zhuo.

James Checco received a Ph.D. in chemistry with a focus in chemical biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2015. He has been working as a postdoctoral associate for Jonathan Sweedler in the NeuroTech Group. Checco's research seeks to characterize neuropeptides that contain rare but functionally important post-translational modifications. He is currently developing analytical tools to study neuropeptides that contain D-amino acid residues. As long-term objectives, Checco aims to understand the functional roles and biochemical signaling pathways for D-amino acid-containing peptides in several animals, which may ultimately reveal new therapeutic targets in humans to treat disease. He plans to work with Sweedler, Martha Gillette, Rhanor Gillette, and Justin Rhodes, all of the NeuroTech Group, as well as Phillip Newmark, professor of cell and developmental biology.

Junlong Geng received his Ph.D. in 2014 in chemical and biomolecular engineering at the National University of Singapore. He has been working as a research scientist at the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering in Singapore. Geng’s research spans chemistry, materials science, biology, and imaging. His focus is on the synthesis of fluorescent noparticles and multifunctional nanocomposites for bioimaging, biosensing, therapeutic, and drug screening applications. At Beckman institute, he plans to synthesize biocompatible and biodegradable nanoparticle probes for ratiometric detection and monitor cancer-related biological targets at various levels from molecules to cells and tissue. He plans to work with Stephen Boppart from the Bioimaging Science and Technology Group, Paul Braun from the 3D Micro- and Nanosystems Group, Jeffrey Moore from the Autonomous Materials Systems Group, and Jefferson Chan from the Department of Chemistry.

Kenneth Hernandez-Burgos received his Ph.D in analytical chemistry from Cornell University in 2015. His research interests are centered on the search for new materials for electrical energy storage and generation devices, such as secondary batteries, supercapacitors and fuel cells. His goal is to use highly-soluble and size-defined polyvinyl amine (PA) redox active polymers (RAP), and their derivatives, to reversibly solvate electrons created at an electrode surface and charge/discharge them from the polymer. Solvated electrons offer a competitive advantage over other possible storage motifs due to their redox potential and low molecular weight. Nonetheless, they have not been studied for redox flow batteries because they are typically generated in amino-containing solvents, which are difficult to handle. Therefore, He is interested in understanding how their confinement in a PA-RAP can overcome these challenges, and how advanced chemical design informed through computational studies can improve their redox properties. He plans to work with Joaquín Rodríguez-López in UIUC Chemistry department in collaboration with Jeffrey Moore from the Autonomous Materials Systems Group, and Catherine Murphy from the Nanoelectronics and Nanomaterials Group.

Si On Yoon will receive her doctorate in psychology from the University of Illinois in May. Her research interests include complex language processes, such as how people use social-pragmatic information in conversation. To thoroughly understand the mechanisms underlying social-pragmatic language use while communicating, she plans three interdisciplinary projects: 1) tracking how children develop the ability to incorporate social-pragmatic cues in conversation; 2) examining when and why this ability declines and what factors support efficient language use in older adults; and 3) uncovering brain mechanisms important for pragmatic language by using electrophysiological measures (EEG & ERPs) during task-based communication. The findings will have broad implications, including understanding language use in distinct populations (e.g., in autism and Alzheimer's), and building machines that we can naturally converse with, in which social-pragmatic reasoning plays a crucial role. She plans to work with Kara Federmeier and Daniel Hyde from the Cognitive Neuroscience Group, Cynthia Fisher from the Cognitive Science Group, and Elizabeth Stine- Morrow from the Human Perception and Performance Group.

Yue Zhuo received her Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Illinois in 2015. She is interested in developing and optimizing a dynamic and quantitative label-free imaging platform for monitoring live cell adhesion. This includes designing and optimizing nanophotonic-based biosensors, developing advanced biosensor imaging approaches and associated image analysis tools, and modeling cell-substrate interactions during adhesion, migration, differentiation, and apoptosis for cancer cells and stem cells. She plans to work with  Professor Brian T. Cunningham from the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory and Beckman's Nanoelectronics and Nanotechnology Group, and Professor Paul Scott Carney and Professor Zhi-Pei Liang from the Bioimaging Science and Technology Group.