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Nanoparticles, Worms, and Sensors Score Big

April 04, 2008

Lewis & Clark’s reputation for providing graduate-level research opportunities to undergraduates continues as science faculty secure grants from prominent funding organizations.

Anne Bentley: Nanoparticles

Anne Bentley, assistant professor of chemistry, has received a $30,000 Faculty Start-up Award from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation to fund her nanoparticle research. The microscopic fluorescent particles Bentley will study are similar to the materials used in television screens and have potential applications throughout the electronics industry.

Though tens of thousands of nanoparticles could fit across a strand of hair, Bentley will attempt to corral them into thin films using a technique called electrochemical deposition. By studying the growth of the nanoparticle-containing films, Bentley hopes to generate a new method of organizing nanoparticles so that they can be used in products ranging from electronic components to sensors.

“The tiny size of my research subject by no means represents its significance,” Bentley says. “What we learn through this project could greatly affect technology, and I hope that students working in my research lab gain skills that will help them in their scientific careers.”

One of only eight selected by the foundation this year, Bentley’s project is titled “Synthesis of Luminescent Lanthanide Nanoparticle/Solid State Thin Film Composite Materials via Electrochemical Co-Deposition.” Her five-year grant will support research across the academic terms and through summer breaks, when she hopes to integrate undergraduate research support by offering stipends to student assistants.

Greg Hermann: Lysosome Function in Worms

Greg Hermann, associate professor of biology, has received a $365,015 grant from the National Science Foundation for his project, “Cellular and Genetic Analysis of Lysosome and Lysosome-Related Organelle Biogenesis in C. Elegans.

Researchers affectionately call C. Elegans “the worm.” A tiny (one millimeter long) soil nematode, C. Elegans has become a leading model system for the study of biological processes in multicellular animals.

Hermann’s research focuses on the role of lysosomes, which he describes as “compartments equivalent to cellular trashcans.” According to Hermann, defects in making or maintaining lysosomes are associated with a number of diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and arthritis.

The three-year NSF grant will enable Hermann to involve numerous undergraduate students in his research.

Jens Mache: Wireless Sensor Networks

Jens Mache, associate professor of computer science, has received an $85,355 grant from the National Science Foundation to explore how to bring the new field of wireless sensor networks into the undergraduate classroom.

Until now, sensor network education has been offered primarily at the graduate or professional level. Mache and his colleague, Nirupama Bulusu, an assistant professor at Portland State University, will undertake a two-year project that emphasizes a lab-based, active learning environment for undergraduate students.

A wireless sensor network can create what Scientific American deemed a “macroscope,” a system of small devices that can collaboratively detect events in the physical world, such as temperature, sound, vibration, motion, or pollutants. Though each device includes sensing, computing, and communication capabilities, the dimensions of each device can vary from the size of a cell phone to the size of a quarter, and in the future might be as small as a grain of sand.

“This grant is allowing us to explore emerging technology with the next generation of scientists and leaders at a much earlier stage of their professional development,” Mache says. “This will advance sensor network education, give Lewis & Clark students a leg up in computer science, and enable students to take this knowledge into other fields including health care and environmental science.”

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