Principal Investigator

Rachel A. Letteri

Assistant Professor

Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Virginia

rl2qm [at]

308 Wilsdorf Hall

Faculty website Google scholar @rachel_letteri

  • B.S. Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Notre Dame, 2010, Research advisor: Paul Bohn

  • M.S. Polymer Science & Engineering, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2012

  • Ph.D. Polymer Science & Engineering, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2016, Thesis advisors: Todd Emrick and Ryan Hayward

  • Postdoctoral research: Department of Chemistry, Texas A&M University, Research Advisor: Karen Wooley


Rachel A. Letteri is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Virginia. She obtained a B.S. in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 2010 and a Ph.D. in Polymer Science & Engineering from the University of Massachusetts Amherst under the direction of Professors Todd Emrick and Ryan Hayward, prior to postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Professor Karen Wooley in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University. Her research interests include polymer- and peptide-based materials with applications in medicine and engineering, and she is thrilled to be building a new lab with an outstanding group of researchers. Rachel thoroughly enjoys introducing second year undergraduates to chemical engineering through her Material & Energy Balances course. She also teaches Biochemical Engineering and a graduate course on Chemistry for Engineering Functional Soft Materials. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, running, and Notre Dame football.

Graduate Students

Mark S. Bannon

msb6ph [at]

  • B.S. Chemical Engineering, New Jersey Institute of Technology, 2017

  • M.S. Chemical Engineering, New Jersey Institute of Technology, 2018

    • M.S. Advisor: Kathleen McEnnis

    • Thesis: Interactions between Polymer Nanoparticles and Blood Plasma Applied to Drug Delivery Systems

  • UVA SEAS Dean's Scholar

  • 2021 Dupont Safety Awardee

Mark's research focuses on developing drug delivery strategies for therapeutic peptides to increase their in vivo stability. Specifically, Mark uses exosomes, polyelectrolyte complexes and polymer-metal organic framework hydrogels to encapsulate therapeutic peptide cargo. Outside of lab, Mark enjoys playing guitar and coaching boys lacrosse for Albemarle High School.

Kelly M. Bukovic

kmb5pu [at]

  • B.S. Chemical Engineering, University of Florida, 2020

  • UVA SEAS Dean's Scholar

  • Jointly advised by Steven Caliari

Kelly is interested in developing novel cell culture systems for the advancement of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Specifically, she studies cellular responses to thermoresponsive polymeric culture substrates for biomanufacturing engineered skeletal muscle tissue. When not in lab, Kelly enjoys gardening, visiting wineries and art museums, crocheting, and barre.

Zixian Cui

zc6pa [at]

  • B.E. Chemical Engineering, East China University of Science and Technology, 2016

  • M.S. Chemical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University 2017

  • 2020 Gaden Awardee

Zixian is working on antimicrobial peptide-polymer conjugates to improve the proteolytic stability and reduce cytotoxicity while maintaining antibacterial activity of the peptides. She is interested in engineering the molecular structures (e.g., linear, star-shaped, comb-like, and hyperbranched) of the conjugates to study the architectural effects on activity, stability, and toxicity. Zixian is working with Chris to study the kinetics of polymerization to prepare comb-like conjugates. Outside of lab, she loves movies, music, and literature.

Israt Jahan Duti

id8nu [at]

  • B.S. Chemical Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, 2016

  • M.S. Chemical Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, 2018

  • Ph.D. Candidate

Israt is developing hydrogels with controllable thermomechanical properties and proteolytic degradability. In particular, she works on designing peptide stereocomplexes as dynamic cross-linkers in polymeric hydrogels. In her free time, she enjoys movies, painting, and crafting.

Vincent P. Gray

vg9cm [at]

  • B.E. Chemical Engineering, Youngstown State University, 2018

  • UVA SEAS Dean's Scholar

  • UVA Distinguished Fellow

  • NIH Biotechnology Training Program Fellow

  • Ph.D. Candidate

Vince is designing biomaterials to target and sequester toxic peptides implicated in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis using stereochemistry-driven and electrostatic interactions. Specifically, he uses characterization techniques to explore the interactions between peptides and optimize the design of biomaterials. Outside of lab, Vince enjoys playing disc golf and ultimate frisbee, hiking, listening to music, and reading.

Mara K. Kuenen

mkk6ur [at]

  • B.S. Chemical Engineering, Bucknell University, 2018

  • UVA SEAS Dean's Scholar

  • 2020 Dupont Safety Awardee

  • 2021 Department TA Awardee

  • Ph.D. Candidate

Towards designing materials with controlled lifetimes and addressing issues related to plastic waste pollution, Mara studies hydrolytically degradable poly(amino ester)s. Specifically, she is interested in using a variety of characterization techniques to understand the interplay of solution pH, solubility, and degradation and introducing new functionalities to expand the application space of these polymers. Outside of lab, Mara enjoys hiking, baking, home brewing, and trying new coffee shops.

Undergraduate Students

Taylor G. Bloom

tgb4ef [at]

  • UVA Chemical Engineering Class of 2022

Taylor works on developing encapsulation of therapeutic peptides in polymers for improved delivery. Outside of the lab, Taylor is the president of the UVA AIChE chapter and enjoys supporting our basketball team.

Clare Cocker

cec5fc [at]

  • UVA Chemical Engineering Class of 2024

  • Jointly advised by Kyle Lampe

Clare conducts molecular dynamic simulations to understand stereochemically-driven assembly of peptides. Around SEAS she also is a mentor in SURE (Starting and Undergraduate Research Experience) and a member of Theta Tau. For fun she enjoys trying new crafts and hiking.

Jack Dunleavy

jcd2evu [at]

  • UVA Chemical Engineering Class of 2024

Jack's research focuses on the analysis of various methods for encapsulation and controlled release of therapeutic peptide cargo. Outside of the lab, Jack enjoys skateboarding, yoga, and art.

Justin Harrington

jzh3hbz [at]

  • UVA Chemical Engineering Class of 2022

Justin is developing peptide-polymer conjugates for the dispersion of toxic dipeptide repeat aggregates which are thought to contribute to the motor neuron cell death characteristic of ALS. Outside of lab, Justin is a member of the executive board for UVA's AIChE chapter and was recently a delegate to the United Nations Glascow Climate Change Conference as a student representative of the American Chemical Society.

Liza Harold

ljh5xb [at]

  • UVA Biomedical Engineering Class of 2023

  • Jointly advised by Kyle Lampe

Liza works on atomistic simulations of peptides to understand the effect of stereochemistry on assembly. Outside of lab, Liza works as a tutor, is a member of Theta Tau, and enjoys running long distances and singing with her a cappella group.

Chris Hawkins

kch5br [at]

  • UVA Chemical Engineering Class of 2022

Chris is studying the kinetics of RAFT polymerization to prepare comb-like polymer-peptide conjugates for antimicrobial applications. Outside of lab, Chris enjoys listening to music and hiking.

Jonathan Paul

jdp6ttx [at]

  • UVA Chemical Engineering Class of 2023

Jonathan conducts experiments to better understand the complexation of enantiomeric peptides with the goal of further developing self-assembling, peptide-based hydrogels. Outside of lab, Jonathan enjoys hobbies such as rock climbing, skydiving, and hiking.

Mara Pettit

alp9cnw [at]

  • UVA Chemical Engineering Class of 2024

Mara works on the metal organic framework-polymer composites in collaboration with the Giri lab at UVa. She is assessing the efficacy of these materials as a drug delivery system for therapeutic peptides. Outside of lab, Mara enjoys working out, the outdoors, cooking, and is a member of Pi Beta Phi.



  • Dr. Qinmo Luo, 2020-2021, currently at Merck


  • Alexa Cuomo, Summer 2021

  • James Mullin, 2018-2021, currently a Ph.D. student in chemical engineering at the University of Delaware in Millie Sullivan's lab

  • Emma Laudermilch, 2018-2021, currently a process development engineer at Illumina in San Diego, CA

  • Justin Fernandes, 2019-2020

  • Jessie Eoff, 2018-2020

  • Madeline Clore, 2018-2020, currently teaching math at The Calverton School in Huntingtown, MD

  • Becca Richardson, 2018-2020, currently a patent examiner at the US Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, VA and attending George Washington Law School

  • Elyse He'Bert, Summer 2019