This February, I was invited to attend the SPIE BiOS Photonics West Conference in San Francisco. With funding from the University of Arizona, I was able to attend and present a poster on research I had done over the past two years.
The project I presented on was completed in the Optical Radiology Laboratory with Dr. Mikhail Berezin. The lab’s focus is the design of new contrast agents to allow doctors to more effectively image the body, allowing for both earlier detection and better treatment of a variety of maladies. We have been observing certain “Optical Windows,” specific wavelengths of light which are absorbed less by water and other components of skin and tissue. One of these windows occurs at the wavelength of 1300 nanometers. However, it is very difficult to create a molecule using conventional methods which will emit at this wavelength.
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 from 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.
In the lab, we were able to successfully create such a nanoparticle, and even able to demonstrate a reaction which would allow the nanoparticles to be dissolved in water, a vital step in preparing for its eventual use in medical treatment. Presenting at the SPIE conference was crucial to the continuation of the project. It allowed me to share my knowledge of the project with scientists from around the world, as well as receiving a variety of questions and suggestions about how to overcome problems faced and determine alternate uses of our nanoparticle. The conference was also an astounding opportunity for personal development, providing me with an opportunity to learn how to present my own research and see the cutting-edge research presented by other scientists. The trip was a wonderful experience provided in part by the University of Arizona, and I am thankful that I was able to go.