Tunable gel for distributing nanoparticles wins student $30,000
5 March 2009
A PhD student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the US has
developed a new method for harnessing the enormous potential of
nanoparticles, which could lead to a new generation of medical devices,
drug-delivery technologies, and other applications of nanomedicine.
Yuehua “Tony” Yu, a doctoral student in Rensselaer’s Department of
Chemistry and Chemical Biology, is the first researcher to create binary
guanosine gels, or G-gels, with unique, highly tunable properties. The
discovery, which could enable a practical, cost-effective, and scalable
method for better exploiting the beneficial properties of many
nanoparticles, earned Yu the $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize.
Prize winner Yuehua Tony Yu
“Future global challenges will demand leaders who are not only
skilled scientists and engineers, but also innovators adept at problem
solving and out-of-the-box thinking. The Lemelson-Rensselaer Student
Prize recognizes ingenuity and inventiveness, while inspiring students
toward excellence,” said Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson.
Yuehua Yu is a shining example of this innovative spirit. A keen
thinker and passionate researcher, he enjoys a rich understanding of
technology, as well as a sharply focused determination to use his
abilities for the betterment of all. We celebrate his achievement, and
applaud all of the finalists for their dedication and effort. May they,
and all of us, continue to foster a healthy scientific curiosity, and an
unyielding drive for progress.”
Yu is the third recipient of the $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student
Prize. The prize, first given in 2007, is awarded annually to a
Rensselaer senior or graduate student who has created or improved a
product or process, applied a technology in a new way, redesigned a
system or in other ways demonstrated remarkable inventiveness
Breakthrough in nanoparticle technology
Breakthroughs in nanotechnology hold the promise of revolutionizing
medicine, energy production and storage, water purification,
electronics, and a host of other diverse fields.
A key challenge for many researchers working with nanoparticles is
simply getting the nanoscopic materials where they need to go. Using
liquid to disperse nanoparticles seems like a natural fit, but most
materials have a tendency to aggregate, or clump together, when placed
in liquids. Current solutions for properly dispersing nanomaterials in
liquid often impact the materials’ properties, cause irreversible
damage, or result in concentrations too low to be effective.
To address this problem, Yu investigated guanosine gels, or 'G-gels'.
Yu was the first researcher to develop a G-gel comprised of more than
one guanosine compound. He discovered that some of these new binary
G-gels were liquid at low temperature, but formed firm gels when heated
to room or body temperature. Further study showed that binary G-gels
were highly tunable.
This ability to easily convert the G-gels from liquid to gel, and
back again, was a natural fit for the reliable delivery of
nanoparticles. Yu’s G-gels proved to be an inexpensive and scalable
means to gently, nondestructively disperse single-walled carbon
nanotubes (SWNTs) and other nanoparticles at a high concentration.
By simply controlling the temperature, Yu engineered G-gels that can
selectively solubilize specific SWNTs, and then be easily removed from
the site after the SWNTs are in place. The gels can be tuned to
selectively solubilize SWNTs based on different properties, including
conductivity and structure.
Another key application of G-gels is their ability to preserve, and
even restore, enzyme activity. Because they begin as liquids and form
gels at body temperature, the G-gels could be used to encapsulate live
cells, enzymes, or other materials for delivery into the human body,
with potential applications in drug and gene delivery, as well as
Yu has also demonstrated the ability of G-gels to keep certain
enzymes stable for months at room temperature, which has captured the
attention of cosmetics and sunscreen companies.
The Lemelson-MIT Program
Yu joins last year’s winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer
Student Prize, graduate student Martin Schubert, who invented the first
polarized light emitting diodes (LED), an innovation that promises to
improve the energy-efficiency and performance of liquid crystal displays
(LCDs) for televisions, computers, cell phones, cameras, and other
devices. In 2007, Rensselaer doctoral student Brian Schulkin won the
first-ever $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize for developing the
first portable terahertz sensing device, the “Mini-Z,” which has since
been commercialized and brought to market.
The $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize is funded through a
partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program, which has awarded the $30,000
Lemelson-MIT Student Prize to outstanding student inventors at MIT since
Geoffrey von Maltzahn, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Division
of Health Sciences and Technology, is the 2009 winner of the $30,000
Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. Von Maltzahn’s inventions include a new
class of therapeutics that provide more precision to cancer ablation,
and a communicating system of nanoparticles to more efficiently deliver
drugs to tumours — enhancing the overall efficacy of cancer therapy.
Jerome H Lemelson, one of America's most prolific inventors, and his
wife, Dorothy, founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by the Lemelson
Foundation, a philanthropy that celebrates and supports inventors and
entrepreneurs in order to strengthen social and economic life in the US
and developing countries.
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