College of Arts & Sciences Labs Named ‘Lab of the Year’ for Excellent Safety and Compliance Records

Dean Bachas’ Lab is Recognized for Second Year in a Row, Associate Professor Captain Honored for First Time

For the second year in a row, the chemistry lab of College of Arts & Sciences Dean Leonidas Bachas was named Lab of the Year by the University of Miami Office of Environmental Health and Safety.

Associate Professor of Chemistry Burjor Captain was also recognized for his lab’s record of excellence in safety and compliance.

The Bachas Group receives its Lab of the Year Award. Left to right:
junior William Ranson, Ph.D. student Megan Gillespie, Research
Assistant Professor Elsayed Zahran, junior Jacob Levy, junior Hind
Naami, Dean Leonidas Bachas, Jeramy Baum, Ed Miller.

Jairo Betancourt, biosafety manager for the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, said this is the first time a lab has been honored two years in a row, adding, “When you have a lab this consistent, this is what you are looking for.”

More than 1,500 labs on the three UM campuses were evaluated, with separate winners announced at the Miller School of Medicine.

“The real premise is two-fold,” Betancourt said, “Number 1 is the safety of the laboratorians, and number 2 is compliance with federal, local and state regulations.”

He added that the award is intended to “stimulate all people in the University to improve.”

Speaking to the Bachas Lab team – which includes Dean Bachas; Research Assistant Professor Elsayed Zahran; Ph.D. students Jeramy Baum, Megan Gillespie and Ed Miller; and undergraduates Jacob Levy, Hind Naami and William Ranson – Betancourt called Bachas “not only a Dean, but an exemplary scientist.”

Dean Bachas holds a Ph.D. in bioanalytical chemistry and an M.S. in engineering, both from the University of Michigan. He came to UM from the University of Kentucky, where he served as the Frank J. Derbyshire Professor of Chemistry and the chair of the Department of Chemistry.

The Captain Group receives its Lab of the Year Award. Left to right: Lizzeth
Meza, Office of Environmental Health and Safety; Ph.D. student Nathaniel
Westfall; Associate Professor Burjor Captain; post-doctoral student
Anjanejulu Koppaka; Melanie Peapell, Office of Environmental Health and
Safety.

Betancourt further explained that when he began inspecting UM’s labs several years ago, the principal investigators were reluctant to adopt the safety standards he proposed. However, recent years have brought “big changes,” he said, with widespread recognition of the importance of safety in the lab.

Zahran, who manages day-to-day operations in the Bachas Lab, said, “We teach our students everything about the regulations, how to avoid accidents, how to deal with chemical waste and hazardous waste, and keeping everything organized and in its place.”

The Bachas Group is working to develop new nanoparticles to break down environmental pollutants. They build the tiny catalysts, and then place them in contaminated water. When the nanoparticles are exposed to solar energy, they drive reactions that breakdown contaminants, such as PCBs.

Junior Jacob Levy, a chemistry major from the Philadelphia area on the pre-health track, creates the nanoparticles in solution, a key piece of the lab’s work.

“This research further broadens my experience in science,” he said.

The Captain Group works with transition metal complexes, which are used to activate hydrogen and small molecules. He and his students create the complexes using several different methods.

Professor Captain earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of South Carolina, where he also pursued post-doctoral work.

Betancourt said, “Captain’s lab is very complicated, and they are nose to nose with Bachas.”

March 11, 2015