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Susan C. Roberts

Sue is an associate professor in the Chemical Engineering Department at The University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also holds a position as the director of the UMass Amherst Institute for Cellular Engineering (ICE). She obtained her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1992 and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University in 1998.

Contact Information:
Email: sroberts@ecs.umass.edu
Sue's Current CV


Current Graduate Students


Sarah Wilson completed her B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Rowan University in the spring of 2009. She decided to attend graduate school at UMass to conduct research in cellular engineering and joined the Roberts group in the fall of 2009. Sarah's focus is on characterizing novel genes involved in paclitaxel production with an overall goal to enhance the accumulation and production of paclitaxel in Taxus cell cultures through agrobacterium-mediated transformation. She is completing this work in collaboration with Joyce Van Eck at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in Ithaca, New York.


Email: swilson@ecs.umass.edu


Elizabeth Cummings completed her B.S.E in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering with a concentration in Pharmaceutics and Biotechnology at the University of Pennsylvania in 2013. She chose to attend graduate school at UMass to pursue her interests in biotechnology through work with plant cell culture in the Roberts Lab, and joined the lab in fall 2013. In collaboration with Weyerhaeuser, Elizabeth focuses on searching for an early marker for somatic embryogenesis in loblolly pine suspension cultures and applying the knowledge to engineer the cultures for optimal embryo yield.


Email: ecummings@engin.umass.edu


Greg Andrews joined the Roberts lab in the fall of 2014 as a Ph.D. student in the department of chemical engineering. After receiving his B.A. in chemistry and mathematics from Boston University in 2012, Greg held various positions in the biotech industry before attending UMass. Greg is currently developing a high-throughput screening platform for biological activity within the plant cell culture library (PCCL).


Michelle McKee earned her BS in Biology from Indiana University. Michelle joined the Roberts lab in the fall of 2014 and is working towards her PhD in Plant Biology. Her focus is optimizing Taxus plant cell culture using genetic approaches to increase paclitaxel production.


Email: mcmckee@umass.edu



Research Fellows


  • Vanessa Bartolo completed her B.S. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry at Elms College in 2014. Shortly after, she joined the Roberts lab as a technician working with the extensive live plant tissue culture collection donated by Monsanto. Here, she maintains the cultures and is currently working on cold storage experiments with the goal of transitioning the cells to lower temperatures where metabolic processes slow in order to reduce labor and cost for the long-term maintenance of the large collection. She plans on starting her PhD in Microbiology in the fall of 2016.

  • James Fargnoli is from Providence, RI and performed undergraduate research with the Roberts Lab prior to his earning of an undergraduate degree from UMass Amherst in 2014. He now works as a research fellow, optimizing the maintenance of the Plant Cell Collection.



Email: jfargnol@umass.edu



Current Collaborators



Current Undergraduate Researchers


Bronwyn Finney joined the Roberts Lab in the fall of 2013 to begin work on her Capstone honors thesis in biochemisry. Bronwyn is working on the metabolic engineering of Taxus suspension cultures.


Steven Ayotte joined the Roberts lab in Summer 2014 as a rising junior chemical engineering honors student to work on cryopreservation of the Plant Cell Culture Collection. Steve will be working to complete his Capstone honors thesis.


John Vetrano joined the Roberts lab in Fall 2014 as a junior chemical engineering honors student. John is working on metabolic engineering of Taxus suspension cultures and will complete a Capstone honors thesis.


Julie Boshar joined the Roberts Lab in the spring of 2015 as a sophomore honors chemical engineering student pursuing a concentration in biochemical engineering. Julie will be studying somatic embryogenesis in loblolly pine and working towards her Honors Senior Thesis.


Elizabeth Humble joined the Roberts lab in the spring of 2015 as an honors sophomore in chemical engineering to begin working on her Capstone honors thesis. Elizabeth will be studying somatic embryogenesis in the loblolly pine.


Owen O'Connor joined the Roberts lab in the spring of 2015 as an honors sophomore in chemical engineering. Owen is working with the Plant Cell Culture Collection and pursuing his Capstone honors thesis.

Former Postdoctoral Researchers


  • Ling Tao (2004-2005) “Optimizing fuel metabolism and delivery for diabetes treatment.” (co-advisor S. Bhatia) Current position: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO
  • Nadia Boutaoui (2003-2006), “Differential mRNA expression analysis in Taxus cells in response to methyl jasmonate elicitation.” (co-advisor E. Walker) Current position: Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA

Former Graduate Students


  • Lisa Leone
    (ChE, MS), 2014, "Metabolic modeling of secondary metabolism in plant systems." Lisa works at Bristol-Myers Squibb.
  • Whitney Stoppel
    (ChE, PhD), 2013, "Mechanical and Transport Properties of 3-Dimensional Alginate Hydrogels for Cell Encapsulation." Whitney is a postdoctoral scholar at Tufts University.
  • Rohan Patil
    (ChE, PhD), 2012, "Molecular and population level approaches to understand Taxus metabolism in cell suspension cultures."Rohan is currently employed at Genzyme.
  • Martin E. Kolewe
    (ChE, PhD), 2011, “Plant cell heterogeneity, aggregation and population dynamics.” Marty is currently a post-doc under Dr. Lisa Freed and Dr. Robert Langer at Draper Laboratory.

Email: mkolewe@mit.edu

  • Vishal Gaurav (ChE, PhD), 2011, “Flow cytometry of cultured plant cells for characterization of culture heterogeneity and cell sorting applications.” Current position: BioGenex, MA.
  • Kham Vongpaseuth (Plant Biology, PhD), 2011, “Taxus transformation and functional characterization of putative regulatory genes.” Current position: United States Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – Biotechnology Regulatory Services (USDA-APHIS-BRS), Riverdale, MD
  • KyuongSik Chin (ChE, PhD), 2009, “Optimizing cell encapsulation devices through enhanced oxygen supply.” Current position: Samsung, Korea
  • Sarwat Khattak (ChE, PhD), 2006, “In vitro applications in drug metabolism and cell encapsulation.” Current position: Bristol-Myers Squibb, Syracuse, NY
  • Michael Naill (ChE, PhD), 2005, “The use of flow cytometry to study variability of paclitaxel accumulation in Taxus cell suspension cultures” Current position: Abbott Laboratories, Worcester, MA
  • Camille Dubois (ChE, MS), 2005, “Profiling taxanes in plant cell suspension cultures.” Current Position: DianaPlantSciences, Inc, Portland, OR
  • Jeanne Michon (ChE, MS), 2001, “Understanding taxane metabolism through the development of a cell-free system and studies on taxane degradation.”
  • Julian Esclassan (ChE, MS), 2001, “Paclitaxel stability in plant cell suspension cultures.”

Former Undergraduates with Honors Theses


  • Jordan Atlas
  • David Babson
  • Nick Cadirov, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Meenal Datta
  • Nikola Finneran
  • William Tyler Frantz, University of Massachusetts Medical School
  • Katie Geldhart, University of Minnesota
  • Alec Gramann, University of Massachusetts Medical School
  • Daniel Hines
  • Sarena Horava, University of Texas Austin
  • Michael Lovett
  • Kelsey Mantoni
  • Julie Matthew
  • Gretchen McAuliffe
  • Jonathan Moreno
  • Nicole Raia, Tufts University
  • Eva Shah
  • Amit Shavit
  • Michelle Spatara
  • Melissa St. Amand
  • Michael Vilkhovoy, Cornell University

Former REU Students

Summer 2014

  • Michaela Jacobs, Institute for Cellular Engineering REU Student

Summer 2013

  • Angela Chen, Institute for Cellular Engineering REU Student

Summer 2012

  • Emily Hartzell, Institute for Cellular Engineering REU Student
  • Julia Petrullo, Institute for Cellular Engineering REU Student

Summer 2011

  • Nathan Bade, Institute for Cellular Engineering REU Student
  • Kristen Garcia, Institute for Cellular Engineering REU Student

Summer 2010

  • Meghan Combs, Institute for Cellular Engineering REU Student
  • Vanessa Mukania, UMass College of Engineering REU Student

Summer 2009

Summer 2008

  • Kori Dunn, Institute for Cellular Engineering REU Student

Before 2008

  • Whitney Stoppel
  • Sally Wang
  • Gaby Mas
  • Robert Harmon

The Roberts lab is always willing to take REU students funded through programs on the UMass campus. Please see the Institute for Cellular Engineering REU program and the UMass College of Engineering REU program for opportunities.


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