ENG Grad Students Win Awards at Premiere Materials Research Conference


By Mark Dwortzan

Second-place poster author Steven Scherr (ME, PhD'16) (second from left) with 2014 MRS Fall Meeting Chairs
Second-place poster author Steven Scherr (ME, PhD’16) (second from left) with 2014 MRS Fall Meeting Chairs

Vying with nearly 3,000 entries in the Poster Session competition at the 2014 Materials Research Society (MRS) Fall Meeting and Exhibit on December 3, a Boston University College of Engineering entry won second place honors. In addition, another ENG poster received the award for the MRS University Chapters Program’s “Sustainability @ My School” competition highlighting leading-edge sustainability research.

Shizhao Su and Yihong Jiang (both MSE, PhD'15) with their first place award in the "Sustainability @ My School" poster contest
Shizhao Su and Yihong Jiang (both MSE, PhD’15) with their first place award in the “Sustainability @ My School” poster contest

Attended by up to 6,000 materials researchers from around the world, the MRS Fall Meeting is the preeminent annual event for those in the field.

Former LEAP student Steven Scherr’s (ME, PhD’16) second-place-winning poster, “Real-Time Digital Virus Detection for Diagnosis of Ebola Virus Disease,” describes an optical detection system he developed for real-time, highly sensitive, label-free virus detection. The system, which combines an optical interference reflectance imaging biosensor (SP-IRIS) with a microfluidics cartridge, could be used for early detection of the Ebola virus at the point of care.

Working with a sample of bovine blood serum, Scherr recently used the system to digitally detect individual 100 nanometer-diameter vesicular stomatitis viruses—safe-for-human models of Ebola—as they adhered to an antibody microarray. Completed within 10 minutes, this lab test demonstrates the potential of SP-IRIS as the core technology for field-ready, point-of-care viral diagnostic tests that’s fast, sensitive, cheap and easy to implement, and requires minimal sample preparation.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the research was a collaboration between Scherr, who designed the microfluidics components, and ECE postdoc George Daaboul (BME, PhD’13), Professor Bennett Goldberg (Physics, ECE, BME, MSE), Professor John H. Connor (MED) and Professor Selim Ünlü (ECE, BME, MSE, Physics), who developed SP-IRIS.

“I think we have the potential to make a big impact in the world of diagnostics and controlling future outbreaks like the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa,” said Scherr, who is continuing to develop the microfluidic cartridge.

Shizhao Su and Yihong Jiang’s (both MSE, PhD’15) winning entry in the MRS university chapter’s “Sustainability @ My School” contest, “Carbon-free Solid Oxide Membrane (SOM) Based Electrolysis for Metals Production and Sustainable Energy Applications,” showcases SOM electrolysis, an environmentally friendly, low-cost metals production technology.  Developed by Professor Uday Pal (ME, MSE) over the past 15 years, it requires far less energy than existing methods to extract pure magnesium, silicon, aluminum and other metals from their oxides. Poster co-author Abhishek Patnaik, who is also an MSE doctoral candidate, is exploring adapting SOM electrolysis for waste-to-energy conversion.

Conducted with guidance from Pal, Professor Soumendra Basu (ME, MSE) and Assistant Professor Jillian Goldfarb (ME, MSE), the research was funded by the National Science Foundation and US Department of Energy.

“I was delighted when Boston University was announced as the first place winner,” said Su. “It was an honor to present our work in front of peers in the MRS community, including some of the world’s leading experts in sustainable research and development. I was glad to see our lab’s many years of hard work recognized and appreciated by the community.”

The Materials Research Society comprises more than 16,000 researchers from academia, industry and government in more than 80 countries, and is a recognized leader in the advancement of interdisciplinary materials research.