Hi, my name is Alex Aydt and I am a junior Biochemistry and Molecular and Cellular Biology Major here at the U of A. This summer, I went back home to St. Louis where I did research at the Washington University School of Medicine. There, I worked in the Optical Radiology Lab under Dr. Mikhail Berezin. The ORL’s purpose is to develop novel contrast agents, allowing doctors to effectively image the body, aiding in both early detection and treatment of various maladies. My project specifically was to attempt to find a compound capable of emitting light with a wavelength around 1300 nanometers. 1300 nanometers is a notable wavelength as it represents one of the recently discovered “Optical Windows.” These windows occur in places along the electromagnetic spectrum where water has a low absorbance. As the body is mostly water, we can utilize these windows to image more deeply into tissue than many conventional techniques.
In looking for a compound capable of emitting at this range, I chose to investigate a nanoparticle known as the quantum dot. Quantum dots are miniscule spheres made of a semiconductor coated in an interchangeable ligand coating. They are far smaller than even the smallest cells. There are multiple reasons why quantum dots were chosen for this experiment. Quantum dots are extremely bright, where a conventional dye typically emits far less than 1% of the energy it absorbs as light, quantum dots have been synthesized that convert higher than 30%! The method by which quantum dots emit light is also strikingly different than dyes. Due to their nature, dyes emitting over 1000 nanometers are very difficult to create. As quantum dots do not behave similarly, they will not run into this problem. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the surface coating can be easily interchanged. The implications of this is that we can easily stick some sort of targeting molecule to the surface of the quantum dot, allowing them to seek out tumors or bacteria, and then the fluorescent signal can be used to find the site. Over the course of the summer, I made great progress with this work. I successfully synthesized the quantum dots emitting at the correct wavelength and managed to perform a secondary reaction allowing these quantum dots to be dissolved in water. This is one of the first and m
ost important steps to making a new targeting agent available for use in the human body. I am excited to see how the project progresses in the future and grateful to have been a part of it.
Also over this summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to mentor Shane Blair, a high school student. Shane was selected for Washington University’s Young Scientist Program, a program devoted to promoting diversity in research by helping juniors in high school to enter labs. I myself am an alumnus of this program, and I never would have expected I would one day become a mentor to the next generation of scientists. Mentoring was an eye opening experience. It reminded me that science is a collaborative effort and showed me the enthusiasm of a new scientist. All in all, my summer was an exciting and productive experience, and I am glad to have had this opportunity.