NDnano awards summer undergraduate fellowships

Author: Provided by NDnano

NDnano is pleased to announce that the center has awarded NDnano Undergraduate Research Fellowships (NURF) to several students for the summer of 2015. The students will work with the research team of an NDnano faculty member on a 10-week project in nanoscience or nanoengineering.

"The NURF program is a highly competitive international program that provides aspiring engineers and scientists the rare and exciting opportunity to collaborate with world-renowned nanotechnology researchers on projects that may ultimately contribute to products and solutions that yield significant societal benefits," commented David Balkin, Ph.D., managing director of NDnano. "As always, we look forward to seeing what these great students will accomplish over the summer and are excited to provide fantastic experiences that can significantly influence participants' future career directions."


Fellowship recipients include current students at Notre Dame, Purdue College of Technology, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Bloomington, Saint Mary's College, Columbia University, and University of Texas El Paso. The 2015 NURF program is also pleased to welcome students from several universities abroad: Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi and Indian Institute of Science Education and Research-Thiruvananthapuram (India); Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork, and Dublin City University (Ireland); Tecnológico de Monterrey and Universidad de las Américas Puebla (Mexico); Tokyo University of Science (Japan); and Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Spain).

Funding for the students from Ireland is made possible through the support of the Naughton Fellowship Program, which is also funding summer research in Ireland for several Notre Dame students.

College of Science fellowship recipients are listed below, along with any other recipients doing research projects with College of Science faculty mentor(s).

Questions? Feel free to contact Heidi Deethardt at ndnano@nd.edu.

Project: Toxicity studies of nanoparticles

NURF recipient: Jennifer Diamond • University of Notre Dame
Faculty mentor: Prof. Paul Huber • Chemistry & Biochemistry

We are using Xenopus (a species of aquatic frog) as a model organism for studying the toxicity of nanoparticles. The advantage is that the Xenopus egg is extraordinarily large, over 1.2 mm, and material can be easily injected. Thus, we circumvent the complication of nanoparticle uptake that can mask their biological activity. Indeed, embryos exposed to metal oxide nanoparticles present in the water environment develop normally for the most part; whereas, small amounts of nanoparticles injected directly into the egg trigger a number of developmental defects in the growing embryo. One of the most prominent outcomes is compromised cell-cell contact that has similarities to the metastasis of cancer cells.  The student involved in this project will determine whether modifications to these particles, such as encapsulation in a protein or polysaccharide coating, can eliminate or minimize the toxic activity of metal oxide nanoparticles such as TiO2 and ZnO, which are found in a large number of consumer products.

Project: Perovskite solar cell

NURF recipients:
Isaac Wappes • Chemistry major • University of Notre Dame
Tessa Ronan • Dublin City University (Naughton REU Fellow)
Faculty mentor: Prof. Prashant V. Kamat • Chemistry & Biochemistry

In recent years, nanomaterials have emerged as the new building blocks to construct light energy harvesting assemblies.1 Efforts are being made to design high efficiency organic metal halide hybrid structures that exhibit improved selectivity and efficiency towards light energy conversion.2,3 This project will evaluate the performance of solid state methylammonium lead halide perovskite solar cells. The summer research involves solution processed thin perovskite films on various oxide films and constructing a solar cell. These cells will then be evaluated to establish their photovoltaic properties. The role of hole scavenger such as CuSCN, PEDOT, or 2,2´,7,7´-tetrakis-(N,Ndi-p-methoxyphenylamine) 9,9´-spirobifluorene (spiro-OMeTAD) deposited onto these photoactive films will also be evaluated. The overall goal is to extend the photoresponse of the thin film solar cell into the infrared and achieve solar conversion efficiencies greater than 15%.

1. Kamat, P. V., Quantum Dot Solar Cells. The Next Big Thing in Photovoltaics. J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 2013, 4, 908–918.
2. Christians, J. A.; Fung, R.; Kamat, P. V., An Inorganic Hole Conductor for Organo-Lead Halide Perovskite Solar Cells. Improved Hole Conductivity with Copper Iodide. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, 136, 758–764.
3. Manser, J. S.; Kamat, P. V., Band Filling with Charge Carriers in Organometal Halide Perovskites. Nat. Photonics 2014, 8, 737–743.

Project: Nanostructure assemblies for light energy conversion

NURF recipient: Sooraj Ben KR • Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram
Faculty mentor: Prof. Prashant V. Kamat • Chemistry & Biochemistry

Recent advances in the construction and characterization of graphene-semiconductor/metal nanoparticle composites in our laboratory have allowed us to develop multi-functional materials for energy conversion and storage. These next-generation composite systems may possess the capability to integrate conversion and storage of solar energy, detection and selective destruction of trace environmental contaminants, or achieve single-substrate, multi-step heterogeneous catalysis. This research project will involve synthesis of graphene-based assemblies for photocatalytic and photovoltaic conversion of light energy. The graphene oxide-semiconductor assemblies will be characterized by transmission electron microscopy, and the excited state processes will be evaluated using time-resolved emission and absorption techniques. The goal is to optimize the performance of graphene-based assembly and maximize the photoconversion efficiency.

1. Lightcap, I. V.; Kamat, P. V. Fortification of CdSe Quantum Dots with Graphene Oxide. Excited State Interactions and Light Energy Conversion.J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 7109–7116.
2. Lightcap, I. V.; Murphy, S.; Schumer, T.; Kamat, P. V. Electron Hopping Through Single-to-Few Layer Graphene Oxide Films. Photocatalytically Activated  Metal Nanoparticle Deposition. J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 2012, 3, 1453-1458.
3. Lightcap, I. V.; Kamat, P. V. Graphitic Design: Prospects of Graphene-Based Nanocomposites for Solar Energy Conversion, Storage, and Sensing. Acc. Chem. Res. 2013, ASAP article.

Project: Light transmission spectroscopy: A new bio-molecular tool

NURF recipient: Roland Rebuyon • Science-Preprofessional Major • University of Notre Dame
Faculty mentors: Prof. Steve Ruggiero and Prof. Carol Tanner • Physics

Nanoparticles are common in nature as well as in many industrial applications. Engineering at the nanoscale is now becoming part of a wide range of activities, including the design of electronics and new materials. Although we may not realize it, we are surrounded by manmade and naturally occurring nanoparticles present in our air, water, food, medicines and even sometimes our cells. As such, nanoparticles have a huge impact, both good (i.e., pharmaceuticals) and bad (i.e., toxic materials, viruses, bacteria), on human and environmental health. Our new platform technology, Light Transmission Spectroscopy (LTS), has the ability to identify and accurately measure in real time the size, shape, and number of nanoparticles ranging in size from 1 to 3000 nm in diameter suspended in fluid. It has an overall performance that far exceeds previous technologies. This general tool for nanoparticle analysis has already spawned a new technique for environmental DNA identification and protein geometrical analysis. Our latest project is using the instrument as a research tool to determine the difference between cancer and normal human cells based on the size distributions sub-cellular particles. LTS represents a true game-changer in medical diagnostics, biological research, and the general advance of human health.

Project: A screen for siRNA nanoparticle pesticides to target mosquito vectors of human disease

NURF recipient: Megan Kilbride • Biological Sciences major • University of Notre Dame
Faculty mentor: Prof. Molly Duman Scheel • Department of Biological Sciences/Eck Institute for Global Health

Aedes aegypti, the principal mosquito vector of viruses that cause yellow fever, chikungunya, and dengue, the most widespread and significant arboviral disease in the world, is a container-breeding mosquito that is closely associated with humans and their urban dwellings. Immature mosquitoes of this species are often concentrated in natural and artificial water-filled containers in urban environments and are susceptible to control efforts. Larviciding, the application of microbial or chemical agents to kill mosquito larvae before they are reproducing adults that vector human disease, is a key component of integrated A. aegypti control strategies worldwide. However, given the frequent development of pesticide resistance and rising concerns about the off-target effects of pesticides, the current larvicide repertoire will soon reach its expiration date. It is, therefore, critical to identify new environmentally safe larvicidal agents for use in integrated A. aegypti control programs. Our recent studies have demonstrated that larval ingestion of chitosan nanoparticles delivering small interfering RNA (siRNA), which can be designed to be species-specific, can be used for selective targeting of A. aegypti larval genes. The proposed research program will test the hypothesis that ingested siRNAs can be utilized as mosquito larvicidal agents. The larvicidal potential of hundreds of orally ingested siRNAs corresponding to putative A. aegypti larval lethal genes will be assessed in a large-scale screen. The initial batch-testing of siRNAs will facilitate high throughput screening, after which the larvicidal potential of individual siRNAs will be assessed in more detail. The experimental plan will facilitate the identification of siRNA larvicides that generate the highest levels of mortality, function throughout the larval period, can be used for control of multiple A. aegypti strains, and have little homology to genes in non-targeted species. Furthermore, siRNA larvicides corresponding to multiple target sequences within each larval lethal gene of interest will be identified, which will help to combat larval resistance arising from a point mutation in any one target sequence. The anticipated outcome of this research will be the discovery of many new species-specific siRNA larvicides for control of A. aegypti. The initial laboratory characterization of these siRNAs will generate diagnostic concentrations for monitoring A. aegypti susceptibility to the larvicides in field tests, which will be conducted in future studies, during which nanoparticle delivery strategies will be optimized. Given that many of the genes to be targeted in this investigation are conserved in other insects, this study will inform the design of siRNA nanoparticle larvicides for species-specific control of additional container-breeding insect vectors of human disease.

Project: Nanostructures for chemical detection and imaging 

NURF recipient: Colleen Riordan • Biochemistry major • University of Notre Dame
Faculty mentor: Prof. Zachary Schultz • Chemistry & Biochemistry

Spectroscopic signals associated chemical bonds provide a direct route to label-free monitoring of molecular behavior. In biological systems, optical microscopy is useful for detecting various macromolecular assemblies with varying chemical or structural properties. Commonly, fluorescent tags are used to identify biomolecules in the complex environment found in cells. An alternative approach is to use the signal enhancements associated with gold and silver nanoparticles for characterization. Our research uses the local electromagnetic fields resulting from the excitation of conduction band electrons in metal nanostructures to enhance Raman scattering from molecules in close proximity. This electromagnetic field enhancement, referred to as surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS), provides a sensitive, label-free probe of chemical environments. We use these enhancements for both imaging and trace analyte detection. We have coupled tip-enhanced Raman scattering (TERS) with nanoparticle probes to obtain chemical, structural, and spatial information simultaneously. We can monitor chemical interactions within cell membranes, detect trace levels of molecules in fluids, as well as monitor the electric fields associated with catalytic reactions. In addition to applications, we are interested investigating the fundamental interactions between nanostructures.

Project: Picometer-diameter pore-based protein sequencing

NURF recipient: Clare Tennant • University of Notre Dame
Faculty mentors: Prof. Gregory Timp and Prof. Tetsuya Tanaka

The primary structure of the protein—the linear sequence of amino acids (AAs) that comprise it—dictates the three dimensional (tertiary) structure that determines its function. However, the methods for sequencing long proteins suffer from post-translational modification and are relatively insensitive. In this project, undergraduate students will measure the performance of picometer-diameter pores, namely picopores, through an ultra-thin, inorganic membrane and interpret electrical signals associated with single-protein molecules translocating through the pore for sequencing the AAs. Prior experience with low-noise electrical measurements, wet labs, or coding with MATLAB, GENEIOUS, C++ and/or Labview is preferred.

Project: Modeling aging

NURF recipient: Sushrut Ghonge • Indian Institute of Technology Delhi
Faculty mentor:  Prof. Dervis Vural • Physics

Aging remains one of the fundamental open problems of modern biology. Although there exists a number of qualitative perspectives on mechanisms damaging basic cell functions, nearly nothing is known about how these microscopic failures manifest on the macroscopic scale of tissues, organs and ultimately the organism. The goal of this project is to bridge microscopic failures to their macroscopic manifestations, by theoretically and experimentally establishing the role of interdependence and interactions between damage-prone cells in complex tissues. 

Project: Stochastic computing with nanomagnet logic (NML)

NURF recipient: Katherine Sanders • Honors mathematics & electrical engineering double major • University of Notre Dame
Faculty mentor: Prof. Sharon Hu • Computer Science & Engineering

By placing nano-scale magnets in carefully crafted patterns, logic computation can be performed. Such nanomagnet logic (NML) circuits provide a drastically different way of processing data from traditional CMOS. NML circuits have many desired properties, including lower power, non-volatility, and radiation hardness. Basic structures of NML circuits have been experimentally demonstrated. Similar to other nanoscale devices, NML circuits are fundamentally more error prone than charge-based devices. Stochastic computing employs bit streams that encode probability values to represent and process information. If designed properly, a small number of bit flips (regardless of their position) in a long bit stream causes small fluctuation in the value represented by the bit stream. Such a desirable error tolerance feature is extremely attractive for NML technology. This project aims to explore the possibility of using NML technology to realize probabilistic logic networks which rely on stochastic representation for their evaluation. By participating in this project, students will learn fascinating properties of nanomagnets, become proficient with micromagnetic simulation tools, simulate different stochastic NML circuit structures, and investigate the performance and power of these structures.