Prof. Hwang Jong-kook and Team Develop Original Technology for Controlling Shapes of Porous Nanomaterials
A team of researchers including Ajou’s own Prof. Hwang Jon-kook (Department of Chemical Engineering) has developed a new original technology for controlling the shapes of porous nanomaterials. The team’s discovery is expected to help solve current roadblocks to innovation in various fields, including secondary cells and energy storage systems, as well as energy, catalysts, environmental engineering, and medicine. The article, listing Prof. Hwang as the principal author, was published in the August 12 online issue of Science Advances (IF = 13.116, JCR 4.93%), a sister publication of Science. Dr. Kim Seong-seop and Prof. Lee Jin-woo of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) were also on the team. The title of the article reads: “Polymer blend directed anisotropic self-assembly toward mesoporous inorganic bowls and nanosheets.” The team has developed a new mechanism which can easily control the shapes of molecules and nanostructures by simply combining and heating an organic polymer blend and an inorganic metal oxide precursor. Furthermore, the team demonstrated that the dish-shaped niobium oxide created by applying their method offers the highest-possible levels of performance and safety when used as an anode for a potassium ion battery, which garners attention as a potential material for next-generation secondary batteries. Researchers worldwide have so far sought to control the shapes of porous materials through complex and often expensive methods. These methods, however, failed to ensure precise and efficient control of porous nanostructures and particles. Accordingly, there has been growing demand for a new technique that is simpler, less expensive, and more capable of controlling all relevant factors, including size, structure and shape of pores. Prof. Hwang’s team found a solution in the self-assembly effect of multicomponent polymer blends. Multicomponent polymer blends can assemble themselves into complex and sophisticated nanostructures when certain conditions are met. Although this mechanism has long been known in polymer physics, few actual applications have been made out of it. Prof. Hwang’s team established a design guideline that brings together the self-assembly mechanism of multicomponent polymer blends with inorganic material chemistry, and the result—the anisotropically self-assembled particle (ASAP)—was thus born, promising simple and easy ways to control nanostructure, chemical composition and shape of porous materials. Prof. Hwang explains: “Our work is significant in that it demonstrates, for the first time, that self-assembling polymer blends can be used to solve the problem with synthesizing porous inorganic materials.” He adds, “This means that we can now pioneer new fields of interdisciplinary research that connect polymer physics and inorganic material chemistry.” As a nanoenergy and material specialist, Prof. Hwang has long been researching ways to control the structures and shapes of porous nanomaterials. His future research plans include finding simple methods for synthesizing inorganic porous materials and producing customized designs for electrodes of next-generation secondary batteries. *Pictured: A diagram of ASAP, a porous inorganic material using the self-assembly of a multicomponent polymer blend.
Prof. Park Dae-chan’s Team Identifies Epigenetic Mechanism of Placental Development
A team of researchers with the participation of Ajou Professor Park Dae-chan (Department of Biological Sciences) has found a new clue to preventing disruptions to the placenta, vital to fetal growth and nutrition. The team’s discovery of a new factor critical to placental development is expected to catalyze development of new solutions to ensure early fetal health. The team’s article, published in the July 31 online issue of Nucleic Acids Research (Impact factor: 11.501, IF% = 4.882), was entitled, “The chromatin-binding protein PHF6 functions as an E3 ubiquitin ligase of H2BK120 via H2BK12Ac recognition for activation of tophectoderman genes.” The team also included Prof. Baek Sung-hee of Seoul National University and Prof. Lee Ji-min of Kangwon National University. The team discovered the importance of an epigenetic factor known as PHF6 in the trophectoderm of the blastocyst in placental formation. Blastocysts are sphere-shaped bundles of cells that contain embryonic stem cells, surrounded by trophectoderms. Trophectoderms form the embryo and the placenta, and how epigenetic factors regulate trophectodermal differentiation has not been understood until now. Based on an mRNA-sequencing genomic analysis, an emerging method for analyzing nucleic sequences, Prof. Park’s team discovered that embryonic stem cells from which PHF6 was removed led to disruptions in the formation of blastocysts and the placenta. PHF6 is an epigenetic factor protein that recognizes histone modifications. The team found that PHF6, by recognizing the chemical modifications (acetyl group) to histone proteins surrounding DNA, additionally binds ubiquitin to the histone. In other words, the researchers confirmed that histone modifications by PHF6 is what regulates the expression of trophectodermal genes in blastocysts. The team explained: “We have demonstrated that it is possible to modify the placental developmental process epigenetically using histone proteins that are dissolved and resynthesized in just days, instead of modifying the DNA nucleic sequences transmitted down the generations.” The research was made possible with the help of the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF)’s Leading Research Support, Individual Basic Science and Engineering Research, and New Researcher Support Programs.
New Undergraduate Department of AI Convergence for Future AI Specialists
Ajou University continues to diversify its learning programs to help educate and train leaders for the future of artificial intelligence (AI). Having added the departments of AI and AI education to the General and Education Graduate Schools, the University has also opened the Department of AI Convergence for undergraduates, and will start recruiting compound majors and minors in the fall semester. The new Department of AI Convergence will offer an interdisciplinary curriculum designed to respond to the growing demand from industry for AI and big data specialists. Students who join the new department for their compound major or minor requirements will learn the basics of AI and data and develop problem-solving skills using software and AI. The new education will equip them with the skills they need to find satisfying careers in IT and software, and a host of other fields where AI is playing an increasingly important role, such as medicine, finance, social services, education, robotics, and disaster management. Every semester, starting this fall, the new department will accept 50 students already enrolled in the University. Applications will be received from August 5 to 12. With governments, companies, and schools worldwide engaged in a fierce race to develop competent AI workforces and technologies, Ajou has been among the earliest in Korea to seize on AI as an important subject of education, adding new AI-centered programs to the Education and General Graduate Schools. The Department of AI at the General Graduate School provides integrated postgraduate degree programs on core topics of AI, including deep learning and machine learning, and will also begin accepting students in the fall semester. The AI Education major at the Graduate School of Education with support from the Ministry of Education’s AI Convergence Education Capability Enhancement Program for Teachers. Working teachers who participate in this program will obtain master’s degrees and go on to teach all AI-utilizing subjects at actual schools. This department, too, will begin recruiting and accepting students in the fall semester. The AI education program will consist of two tracks: AI education and AI convergence education. The former will provide in-depth courses on AI theory, mathematics- and software-based AI education, and other such subjects teachers need to teach their students. The latter will focus on specialized AI-based pedagogics.