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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2018-07-02 11:00:43
    • Article ID: 696913

    High-School Students Studying Carbon-Based Nanomaterials for Cancer Drug Delivery Visit Brookhaven Lab's Nanocenter

    The 11th graders from Islip High School brought the graphene oxide microspheres they made at Stony Brook University to the Center for Functional Nanomaterials for imaging

    • Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

      Stony Brook University graduate student Shruti Sharma uses a scanning electron microscope at Brookhaven Lab's Center for Functional Nanomaterials to image samples of graphene oxide microspheres synthesized by 11th-grade female students, who interact with her via video from a conference room nearby.

    • Credit: Shruti Sharma

      Shruti Sharma (third from left) and the students she is mentoring in front of their research poster describing how they synthesized and analyzed the microspheres. They presented this poster at the annual WISE Capstone Event.

    • Credit: Shruti Sharma

      A scanning electron microscope image of a graphene oxide microsphere prepared by the students.

    • Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

      Fernando Camino, a physicist in the Electron Microscopy Group at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, explains to the students how an instrument that combines an electron beam and a focused-ion beam can be used to image and manipulate nanomaterial samples.

    • Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

      Shruti Sharma in a scanning electron microscopy (SEM) lab at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials. On the computer screen is an SEM image of a graphene oxide nanosphere (or nano-"rose," as she calls it) that Sharma synthesized.

    Opportunities to experience what scientists do were few and far between for Shruti Sharma while growing up in India. This lack of early exposure to hands-on science activities contributed to Sharma—now a fifth-year PhD candidate graduating this summer from the Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering at Stony Brook University and a guest researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory—becoming involved in educational outreach. Since her undergraduate years, she has been mentoring K–12 and undergraduate students through various science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs.

    “When I was younger, I did not have many chances to see science in action,” said Sharma. “I want to change that for today’s youth, especially young women. By serving as a role model, I want to show them the exciting and fun work of a scientist through interactive experiences that expose them to science and its impact on our daily lives. As their mentor, I make sure to talk with them about challenges I have faced and share stories demonstrating that scientists are people just like them.”

    One of Sharma’s recent outreach efforts was mentoring five 11th-grade female students from Islip High School who are participating in Stony Brook’s High School Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program. This three-year after-school program aims to encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM disciplines through educational lessons, hands-on research, field trips to nearby research institutions, and presentations from career speakers.

    Exposing young women to nanoscience  

    Sharma has been teaching the Islip High School students about novel carbon-based micro- and nanoscale materials for drug delivery applications. In particular, the students are researching tiny hollow spheres of graphene oxide. Injected into the bloodstream, such microspheres can carry drugs to cancer cells, like those the students observed under a microscope in the lab of Stony Brook assistant professor Yizhi Meng. Sharma’s colleagues and fellow doctoral candidates Lyufei Chen and Weiyi Li took them to Meng’s lab during one of their sessions to explore how nanotechnology and materials science are used to deliver medicine.

    The research is a simpler version of Sharma’s thesis project to synthesize and investigate different carbon-based nanocomposites for cancer-related applications. Graphene oxide embedded with iron oxide nanoparticles is an example of such nanomaterials that can be used as enhanced contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of cancer. Though MRI is widely used in cancer diagnosis, it has limited sensitivity. The iron oxide nanoparticles are viable candidates for increasing this sensitivity, providing better image contrast to differentiate between normal and cancerous cells. These carbon-based nanocomposites are also being considered as drug delivery vehicles for cancer treatment.

    After learning some basic nanoscience concepts and experimental techniques, the students synthesized graphene oxide microspheres in the lab of Rina Tannenbaum, a professor in materials science and chemical engineering at Stony Brook University.

    “Creating hollow spheres from sheets of graphene oxide through water-in-oil emulsion is a relatively simple experiment that demonstrates the more sophisticated research that I do,” said Sharma. “Learning about science concepts through reading a textbook or listening to a lesson is one thing but doing science and seeing those concepts come to life is another. Visualization is really important in bridging the connection between science and its real-world applications.”

    The students then determined the structure and chemical composition of their microspheres through optical microscopy and Fourier transform–infrared spectroscopy. However, the resolution of the optical microscopes is limited to a few hundred nanometers—10 to 100 times larger than the surface feature size of their microspheres. So, the students took a field trip to Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN)—a DOE Office of Science User Facility—which has powerful electron microscopes that can resolve molecules and even individual atoms.

    Because special training is required to use the electron microscopy facilities at the CFN, Sharma—who regularly uses these facilities for her doctoral work—imaged the students’ samples while they followed along via videoconference from a nearby room. During their field trip, the students also viewed other CFN labs and met with CFN Director Charles Black. Brookhaven Lab’s Office of Educational Programs (OEP) coordinated their visit, which took place in April.

    “At the CFN, we came up with a solution—a portable videoconferencing system—that allows students to virtually enter any lab and interact with scientists who are conducting experiments,” said CFN physicist Fernando Camino, who co-developed the solution. “In this way, students can feel the excitement of doing research involving state-of-the-art instrumentation. The positive effect of the interaction is maximized when it is part of a project conducted by the students in their schools or through science programs like WISE.”

    According to Sharma, the visit to the CFN was transformative for the students.

    “They could not stop talking about their experience,” said Sharma. “Coming to the CFN opened their eyes to the wide range of applications in nanoscience. Many of the young women already told me they want to return to the CFN to perform research.”

    “The CFN was astonishing!” said 11th grader Victoria Arthus. “Watching Ms. Sharma utilize the microscope, I felt the urge to be in her place. Likewise, walking through the CFN halls, I felt at home. The different labs and posters intrigued me, reinforcing my desire to enter the STEM fields.”

    “It is great to see young women engaged in science and being introduced to the tools at the CFN,” said microbiologist Aleida Perez, who oversees OEP’s teacher and pre-college-student research opportunities. “Remote access has the potential to bring the science from the CFN and other Brookhaven research facilities to a broader audience of students, particularly those in underserved school districts. Such collaborations between OEP, Brookhaven’s user facilities, and school districts are helping to develop the next generation of researchers by exposing students to STEM in a way that can significantly impact their interest in those fields.”

    One of the students previously came to Brookhaven Lab through OEP’s Girls Inc. Summer Science Explorations program and will be conducting research in Brookhaven’s Physics Department this summer through OEP’s High School Research Program.

    For Sharma, someone who is highly passionate about STEM outreach, hearing such positive responses from the students makes all of her mentoring efforts worthwhile.

    “Watching the students become excited about science is truly rewarding,” said Sharma. “Hands-on learning and encouraging role models can go a long way when it comes to unearthing and retaining an interest in STEM fields.”

    In addition to serving as a WISE mentor, Sharma is a member and former treasurer of Brookhaven Women in Science (BWIS). In 2016, she served as the symposium coordinator and communications committee chair for Brookhaven’s Early Career Researcher Symposium, organized by the Association of Students and Postdocs. She is also a co-founder of an India-wide STEM outreach effort (VIGYANshaala), and a mentor for various New York Academy of Sciences initiatives and the Student Alumni Relations Cell at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (her undergraduate alma mater). In May, Sharma was named the co-recipient of the 2018 Renate W. Chasman Scholarship, given annually by BWIS to women graduate students performing research at Brookhaven Lab.

    “Science is a collective effort,” said Sharma. “One person cannot solve all the problems—we need all hands on deck. To ensure that highly motivated and skilled scientists enter our workforce, we need to invest in mentoring and training these future scientists. For me, mentoring is a two-way street. Spending time with these young scholars rejuvenates my motivation for STEM research. Teaching and interacting with my mentees has strengthened my own scientific understanding and polished my communication, project management, and teamwork skills.”

    Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

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    Researchers switch material from one state to another with a single flash of light

    Scientists from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have demonstrated a surprisingly simple way of flipping a material from one state into another, and then back again, with single flashes of laser light.

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    Surprise finding: Discovering a previously unknown role for a source of magnetic fields

    Feature describes unexpected discovery of a role the process that seeds magnetic fields plays in mediating a phenomenon that occurs throughout the universe and can disrupt cell phone service and knock out power grids on Earth.

    Genetic behavior reveals cause of death in poplars essential to ecosystems, industry

    Scientists studying a valuable, but vulnerable, species of poplar have identified the genetic mechanism responsible for the species' inability to resist a pervasive and deadly disease. Their finding could lead to more successful hybrid poplar varieties for increased biofuels and forestry production and protect native trees against infection.

    Pushing the (Extra Cold) Frontiers of Superconducting Science

    Ames Laboratory has developed a method to measure magnetic properties of superconducting and magnetic materials that exhibit unusual quantum behavior at very low temperatures in high magnetic fields.

    Scientists Find Unusual Behavior in Topological Material

    Argonne scientists have identified a new class of topological materials made by inserting transition metal atoms into the atomic lattice of a well-known two-dimensional material.

    Wind Farms and Reducing Hurricane Precipitation

    New research reveals an unexpected benefit of large-scale offshore wind farms: the ability to lessen precipitation from hurricanes.

    New simulations confirm efficiency of waste-removal process in plasma device

    PPPL scientists have found evidence suggesting that a process could remove the unwanted ash produced during fusion reactions and make the fusion processes more efficient within a type of fusion facility known as a field-reversed configuration device.

    How Animals Use Their Tails to Swish and Swat Away Insects

    A new study shows how animals use their tails to keep mosquitoes at bay by combining a swish that blows away most of the biting bugs and a swat that kills the ones that get through.

    Missing gamma-ray blobs shed new light on dark matter, cosmic magnetism

    Scientists, including researchers from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, have compiled the most detailed catalog of such blobs using eight years of data collected with the Large Area Telescope (LAT) on NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. The blobs, including 19 gamma-ray sources that weren't known to be extended before, provide crucial information on how stars are born, how they die, and how galaxies spew out matter trillions of miles into space.

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    Engineering professor receives Department of Energy grant

    New Mexico State University Department of Civil Engineering Assistant Professor Ehsan Dehghan Niri has received a United States Department of Energy grant. This is a three-year award for $400,000 and is a collaboration with Arizona State University.

    AVS and AIP Publishing Expand Partnership to Launch AVS Quantum Science

    AIP Publishing and AVS: Science and Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing (AVS) today announced an agreement to publish AVS Quantum Science, a new online interdisciplinary journal. The announcement coincides with the AVS 65th International Symposium & Exhibition in Long Beach, California, from October 21-26, 2018.

    Prototype Solar Energy, Battery Systems to Fuel Commercialization

    Designing, building and testing prototype systems that show how renewable energy can power devices, such as a weather and soil sensor station, can help bridge the gap between basic science research and commercialization.

    Argonne to Advance High Performance Computing in Manufacturing

    Argonne awarded funding to partner with Industry to advance the use of high performance computing in manufacturing.

    "Invisible Glass" Wins 2018 Create the Future Design Contest Grand Prize

    Scientists from the Center for Functional Nanomaterials developed a technique for making nonreflecting glass, silicon, and plastic surfaces.

    Missouri S&T researchers win multimillion dollar grant to build fast-charging stations for electric cars

    Researchers from Missouri S&T and three private companies will combine their expertise to create charging stations for electric vehicles that could charge a car in less than 10 minutes - matching the time it takes to fill up a conventional vehicle with gasoline."The big problem with electric vehicles is range, and it's not so much range as range anxiety.

    Making batteries store more energy, last longer

    A new solid polymer electrolyte may help make cell phone batteries store more energy and last longer.

    Three Brookhaven Lab Scientists Named Fellows of American Physical Society

    The American Physical Society (APS), the world's largest physics organization, has elected three scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory as 2018 APS fellows.

    Southern Research first to win accreditation under ISO 14034

    Southern Research has become the first organization in the United States to earn accreditation under ISO 14034, a new international standard for evaluating and verifying environmental technologies that was recently adopted by the American National Standards Institute.

    Kawtar Hafidi to head Physical Sciences and Engineering directorate at Argonne

    Physicist Kawtar Hafidi has been appointed Associate Laboratory Director, Physical Sciences and Engineering at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.

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    Cryocooler Cools an Accelerator Cavity

    Researchers demonstrated cryogen-free operation of a superconducting radio-frequency cavity that might ease barriers to its use in societal applications.

    Shining Light on the Separation of Rare Earth Metals

    New studies identify key molecular characteristics to potentially separate rare earth metals cleanly and efficiently with light.

    Placing Atoms for Optimum Catalysts

    Precise positioning of oxygens could help engineer faster, more efficient energy-relevant chemical transformations.

    How to Make Soot and Stardust

    Scientists unlock mystery that could help reduce emissions of fine particles from combustion engines and other sources.

    Breaking the Symmetry Between Fundamental Forces

    Scientists improve our understanding of the relationship between fundamental forces by re-creating the earliest moments of the universe.

    Water Plays Unexpected Role in Forming Minerals

    Water molecules line up tiny particles to attach and form minerals; understanding how this happens impacts energy extraction and storage along with waste disposal.

    Heavy Particles Get Caught Up in the Flow

    First direct measurement show how heavy particles containing a charm quark get caught up in the flow of early universe particle soup.

    Seeing Between the Atoms

    New detector enables electron microscope imaging at record-breaking resolution.

    Scaling Up Single-Crystal Graphene

    New method can make films of atomically thin carbon that are over a foot long.

    Discovered: Optimal Magnetic Fields Suppress Instabilities in Tokamak Plasmas

    U.S. and Korean scientists show how to find and use beneficial 3-D field perturbations to stabilize dangerous edge-localized modes in plasma.


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