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Stories

Wheeler Lab 2017

What an exciting year in the Wheeler lab!  We published science literature, received a major grant, had two lab members who graduated to great positions, and I received tenure and promotion. The images represent just a few highlights of our many celebrations.

The research group in the past year included Sarah Anderson (2016), Lauren Schmitt (2016), Zoe Amaris (2017), Danny Freitas (2017), Matt Findlay (2017), Mai-Loan Nguyen (2017), Karen Mac (2018), and Madeline Eikin (2019). We even had group alumni Grace Park (2013) and Jasmine  Marckwordt (2015) return to the lab briefly as part-time research technicians to help drive the research forward and share their experiences in local biotechnology companies with the rest of the research group.

Of course, the seniors in the lab, Sarah and Lauren, graduated in June. Both are now involved in interesting new research projects. Sarah is enjoying the first few months of her Ph.D. program in inorganic chemistry at Northwestern University, where she recently joined the Harris research group. Lauren now works as a research assistant in a lab at University of Colorado Denver, where she studies genetic factors for obesity.

This summer, Matt, Mai-Loan, and Madeline all worked in the lab developing new tools for the next phase of our research. Perhaps inspired by Grace and Jasmine’s stories, Danny and Zoe took a break from our lab at SCU during summer 2016 to pursue an exciting research internship in medicinal chemistry at a local company, Gilead Sciences. Since their return to the lab this fall, they have shared their new expertise in a variety of new instrumental methods.

Last September, I received a $374,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to support a project entitled "Peptide probes of nanomaterial protein corona dynamics and biological response”.  This project develops new tools to evaluate biochemical changes that alter nanomaterials in the blood stream. Insights from this work can be broadly applied to design principles for non-toxic nanomaterials and in design of effective drugs on the nanoscale. In addition to new instrumentation, these funds will support training of nearly a dozen undergraduate researchers and support collaborative work between the Wheeler lab and Assistant Professor Prashanth Asuri's lab (Bioengineering).

Throughout the year, we’ve shared our results in publications and presentations. In winter 2016, seniors Danny and Zoe coauthored a paper in the Journal of Nanobiotechnology with group alumni, Andy Martinolich (currently a PhD candidate at Colorado State University). The paper focused on characterizing the role of proteins in the oxidation reaction that enables silver nanoparticles to be antimicrobial. The report will hope-fully push others in the research community to examine the role of protein reactivity in mediating the biological reactivity and downstream environmental effects of nanomaterials. I also published a piece for non-scientists in the on-line magazine, Slate, summarizing the complications of assessing the environmental impact of nanomaterials. Entitled "From nano to nature", the piece was part of the nanotechnology installment of Futurography, a series that introduces readers to the technologies that will define tomorrow.

As for presentations, I gave a talk on our work at the American Chemical Society National Meeting in San Diego in spring. Even better was a trip with Danny and Matt to Orlando, Florida in Nov 2016 to present our recent work at the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization meeting. I gave a talk on the recent work Danny and Matt have been doing in the lab. Matt and Danny presented a poster and were amongst only a small handful of undergraduates within a conference of mostly graduate students, post-docs and faculty/ government scientists.

I’d like to end on a bit of a personal note. Since receiving tenure last spring, I’ve been reflecting on the joys of teaching, doing research, and learning with my students here at SCU. To all the students I’ve had in biochemistry since I’ve been here at SCU, I’d like to send along a huge thank you. Thank you for making my first few years at SCU so successful and filled with so much joy. I’m incredibly grateful to be able to continue to work with excellent colleagues and spend my days with an intelligent, thoughtful and considerate student body.