Many vital chemical and biological processes in modern technology take place in microscopic, tightly constrained environments, where experimentation at macroscopic scale is no longer adequate to understand and exploit molecular behavior. Dr. Henry Du and Dr. Svetlana Sukhishvili of Stevens Institute of Technology have recently been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to address this challenge with a project titled Lab-in-a-Fiber Optofluidic Platform: In-Situ Assembly and Response of Layer-by-Layer Polyelectrolyte Films in Confined Geometry.
“We applaud the efforts of Profs. Sukhishvili and Du," says Dr. Michael Bruno, Dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science. "Their efforts reflect the very high quality, collaborative research underway at Stevens that is contributing to both our basic understanding of fundamental processes and our ability to develop transformative engineering tools.”
Dr. Du, Professor and Director of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, and Dr. Sukhishvili, Professor of Chemistry and Co-Director of the Stevens Nanotechnology Graduate Program, have combined their respective expertise in fiber optics and molecular-level process control to enable layer-by-layer (LbL) polyelectrolyte thin-film growth inside an ultra-sensitive photonic crystal fiber index transduction platform. Their integrated and interdisciplinary approach allows in-situ monitoring of the LbL growth process as well as the response of the resultant film to environment stimuli using novel optofluidics, in essence, a chemical reactor and an optical interrogator all within a specialty optical fiber.
The project aims to answer fundamental questions such as how, at tiny volumes, on a microscopic scale, things could be very different from larger scales in terms of molecular reaction, absorption, or response. “It is important to understand that chemical interactions work differently at this scale and under these tight constraints,” says Dr. Sukhishvili. “The success of the project is expected to bring to the basic and applied research community, and potentially the marketplace, a transformative lab-in-a-fiber optofluidic stimuli-responsive platform for scientific exploration and engineering applications,” says Dr. Du. “Our doctoral student Fei Tian deserves a lot of credit in the grant success for her exciting preliminary data and her direct involvement in the preparation of the proposal,” adds Dr. Du.
Research results from the project will be disseminated via various channels, including peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations, web posting, and case studies in classrooms. From an educational outreach perspective, the project will also engage local high-school students supported by the American Chemical Society’s SEED program. According to the ACS, the Project SEED summer research program opens new doors for economically disadvantaged students to experience what it’s like to be a chemist. They are given a rare chance to work alongside scientist-mentors on research projects in industrial, academic, and federal laboratories, discovering new career paths as they approach critical turning points in their lives.
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