Second Annual MSE Innovation Grant Winners Announced
The MSE Innovation Grant Program aims to encourage innovation in as-yet-unproven technologies. The one-time grants of $10,000 each can be used for equipment, salary for a student or postdoc, travel or any other legitimate research expense.
This year eleven proposals were submitted by faculty from the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences. The MSE Innovation Grant selection committee, chaired by Associate Professor Linda Doerrer, selected the following winners:
Ramesh Jasti and Xi Lin *
“Theory-Guided Synthetic Design of Novel n-Type Carbon Nanohoops for Organic Photovoltaics”
Professor Ramesh Jasti (Chemistry, MSE) and Professor Xi Lin (ME, MSE), who have developed the first gram-scale synthesis of carbon nanohoops and the first accurate electronic structure model that can handle mesoscopic crystalline and amorphous π-conjugated stacking arrays, will design and synthesize new conductive polymers with carbon nanohoop functionality. Envisioned as the smallest unit cycle of an armchair carbon nanotube, carbon nanohoops have tremendous electron accepting potential, stack with very good π-π overlap in the solid state, and will act as electron-hopping bridges between polymer chains to enhance charge mobility. These soluble, graphitic n-type bundles are expected to perform better than C60 fullerene with the added advantages of synthetic tuneability and processability.
*This proposal was also selected as most suitable for an additional $10K from the Center for Computational Science (CCS) to promote experimental-theoretical collaborations.
“Mechanisms of Surface Driven Nucleic Acid Isolation from Biological Solutions”
We will study the interactions between DNA and silica surfaces. Silica surfaces are commonly used in diagnostics to grab, wash and release nucleic acids before enzymatic amplification reactions for the detection of disease. Although many theories have been proposed, the mechanism by which deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) specifically adsorbs onto SiO2 has not been experimentally confirmed. We will use the grant funds to perform solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (ssNMR) experiments to validate our proposed mechanisms.
Roberto Paiella and Ted Moustakas
“Dislocation- and Polarization-Free III-Nitride Quantum Cascade Structures for THz Light Emission”
Terahertz technologies have great potential for many sensing, spectroscopy, and imaging applications in areas of high relevance and timeliness, such as security screening, medical diagnostics, and manufacturing quality control. However, the widespread emergence of these technologies has so far been severely limited by to the lack of practicalTHz radiation sources. In particular, existing semiconductor devices, based on GaAs quantum wells are fundamentally limited to incomplete coverage of the THz spectrum and to operation at cryogenic temperatures.
III-nitride semiconductors are particularly promising for the purpose of overcoming these limitations, by virtue of several intrinsic material properties such as large optical-phonon energies well above the THz spectral range. At the same time, however, the development of these devices has so far been hindered by the limited crystalline quality and complex band structure of existing III-nitride QWs, due to strain-induced defects and strong built-in electric fields along the polar crystallographic c axis. To address these issues, we propose to synthesize quantum cascade structures for Terahertz light emission based on novel bandgap engineering of III-nitride heterostructures.
Cisplatin is a platinum-based anticancer agent that has found broad clinical use in the treatment of a variety of cancers, including breast and ovarian. While potent, the dose of cisplatin administered to patients is severely limited due to its toxic effects, which includes nephrotoxicity and severe renal dysfunction. In the proposed project, cisplatin will be loaded into lipid-polymer hybrid nanoparticles designed to release their payload specifically in the cytoplasm of cancer cells, thus sparing healthy cells and tissues. Conjugating cisplatin to the polymer core of the nanoparticle via a cleaveable linker allows for sustained drug release. Coating the cisplatin-loaded nanoparticles with a mixture of folic acid-terminated lipids and fusogenic lipids will increase the specificity with which the particles are internalized and facilitate endosomal escape, respectively. As the novel hybrid nanoparticle is designed to prolong the exposure of cancer cells to cisplatin, it may be possible to overcome the resistance of cancer cells to cisplatin therapy using the delivery vehicle. This would be a major achievement, as attempts to overcome cisplatin resistance have largely been unsuccessful. The proposed lipid-polymer nanoparticle has the potential to provide a more favorable biodistribution and pharmacological profile for cisplatin, thus enhancing its potency while minimizing systemic toxicities.
Professor Joe Tien (BME, MSE), who will investigate the development of active
biomaterials for applications in tissue engineering. Most current
biomaterials are chemically or optically active, but mechanically passive.
For many applications (e.g., in the treatment of lymphatic disease), it is
desirable to have an autonomous material that can move and perform useful
work by harvesting local energy sources. Tien aims to create
valve-containing, self-oscillating hydrogels that can continuously pump in
the presence of external stress or glucose.
Many thanks to Linda Doerrer and the MSE Innovation Grant selection committee.