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Nanotechnology - No Small Matter

5/4/2017, 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM | German House New York

Nanotechnology - No Small Matter

Co-Sponsor:
• UARuhr

On May 4th, 2017, the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) New York and the University Alliance Ruhr, hosted the panel discussion, “Nanotechnology – No Small Matter.” Although nanotechnology is a relatively new science, it has numerous applications in our daily lives, ranging from consumer goods to medicine to improving the environment. Three experts from Germany, the U.S., and Canada presented their cutting-edge research and stressed the importance of nanotechnology for the future.

Dr. Joann Halpern, director of the GCRI New York, and Peter Rosenbaum, executive director of the University Alliance Ruhr, opened the panel discussion by welcoming the attendees and speakers as well as the moderator of the evening, Thomas Theis, executive director of the Columbia Nano Initiative.

Theis introduced the first speaker of the evening, Nadrian Seeman, Professor of Chemistry at New York University and Kalvi Prize winner. Theis described Prof. Seeman as a true leader and pioneer in his field. Prof. Seeman was the first person who discovered that DNA might be the key to being able to design and build structures at the atomic scale. When the National Nanotechnology Initiative first started, Seeman’s idea that there are ways to design complex structures from the bottom up had – and continues to have – a significant impact on this field of research.

Prof. Nadrian Seeman discussed his team’s approach to nanotechnology, which is centered on branch DNA molecules. By using DNA’s chemical information, it is possible to direct the structure of molecules and larger constructs at the molecular level. Prof. Seeman explained that his team created a method to make synthetic DNA molecules come together to form branch points, so-called immobile branched junctions. When combining these branched molecules with sticky ends, known as sticky ended cohesion, it is possible to program the affinity between the double helixes. Thus, he reveals, the central concept of structural DNA nanotechnology is combining branched molecules with sticky ends on them to create little square objects, as well as lattices, crystals, and devices.

Prof. Seeman then demonstrated that there are numerous applications for his laboratory’s research. For the structural applications his laboratory tries to organize components in crystals and use these crystals to develop nanoelectronic, and nanorobotics applications. His lab’s very first invention was a DNA cube, which and eventually enabled them to create three dimensional macroscopic crystals which can be seen with the naked eye.

The second speaker, Prof. Dr. Shirley Knauer, Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Duisburg-Essen, focused on the medical application of nanoscience. She explained that biomolecules in human cells are approximately the same size as a nanoparticle. Nanoparticles can enter the body via various entry routes, e.g. applying them to skin when putting on sunscreen and the most dangerous way is inhaling them. Nanoparticles are very interactive with everything in their environment, which is why they cover up even smaller biomolecules like proteins or lipids. This effect attracts a biomolecule known as corona. The formation of corona influences the nano-(patho)physiology in the blood system.

Prof. Knauer further discussed what happens when humans inhale spores that are covered as well as spores that are not covered with nanoparticles. The spores that are not covered with nanoparticles are easier to be cleared from the immune system and disease formation will be less likely. Also, in highly relevant environments, the nanoparticles form stable complexes with spores of airborne fungal pathogens. The coating of the nanoparticle affects the biological identity of both fungal spores and the nanomaterial. The extent of this formation is influenced by the biomolecule corona. Based on these findings Prof. Knauer concluded that it should be possible to develop antibiotics for the improved usage for strains of macrobiotics that are resistant to current antibiotics.

The third speaker, Frank Gu, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo, considers nanotechnology an enabler for developing new applications that can be used in a variety of industries. He outlined three major examples. Nanotechnology can be used for targeted drug delivery to specific parts of the body. One of the biggest advantages of this is the ability to eliminate the side effects from the drugs interacting with the rest of the body. By using targeted drug delivery, Prof. Gu explained, you can achieve a similar effect as conventional chemotherapy, but with fewer side effects, such as less nausea and hair loss. Another targeted delivery application is to treat contaminations and diseases in soil in order to clean our environment. The second major application is colorimetric diagnostics, which means creating smart metric color sensors that can be put on surfaces such as keyboards in a hospital. Prof. Gu added that this is beneficial for hospital staff’s clean energy solutions. The final application is light harvesting, which can be used for alternative fuels, clean energy, and solar fuels.

The main part of his presentation was on the dry eye disease. One in three people are affected by dry eye, which is becoming even worse due to smart phones and smart screens. For people with dry eye, conventional eye drops only last for the first thirty seconds until it goes away. When adding nanoparticles to the eye drops, the liquid can stay on the eyes for 30 hours, or longer. Thus, patients would need to use the eye drops only once a day or possibly only once a week. Prof. Gu and his research team at the Frank Gu Lab are currently working on commercializing the product.

The evening concluded with a further discussion and Q&A that focused on topics, such as regulatory challenges and risks of nanotechnology, the impact of nanotechnology on the environment and applications in electronic devices.

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  • Featured Speakers

    • Prof. Nadrian C. Seeman

      Department of Chemistry, New York University

    • Prof. Dr. Shirley Knauer

      Professor of Molecular Biology II, University of Duisburg-Essen

    • Prof. Frank Gu

      Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, University of Waterloo

    • Thomas N. Theis (Moderator)

      Executive Director, Columbia Nano Initiative, Columbia University