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NMSU professor joins national nanoscience program

New Mexico State University Biology Professor Elba Serrano will have access to some of the nation's most sophisticated nanoscience facilities for her quantum dot nanoparticle project, thanks to her selection to the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT) User JumpStart program.

New Mexico State University Biology Professor Elba Serrano, center, discusses lab techniques with, from left, graduate students Desarae Gutierrez and Lina Urquidi, research associate Casilda Provencio and undergraduate Joanna Beeson, who recently was selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute research scholar. (Photo by Darrell J. Pehr)

CINT is a Department of Energy Nanoscale Science Research Center (NSRC) that operates as a national user facility. It is intended to establish the scientific principles that govern the design, performance, and integration of nanoscale materials, by providing open access for selected researchers to tools and expertise.

CINT is one of five NSRCs that are affiliated with major facilities at the DOE's national laboratories, including Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, to cover nanoscience and technology.

Serrano is collaborating with Jennifer Hollingsworth, a technical staff member at LANL whose Ph.D. is in inorganic chemistry. Hollingsworth fabricates quantum dots, tiny crystalline semiconductors that are so small, it would take a line of four million "q-dots" to span a penny. In biology, the q-dots can be used to help understand how cells work, to image molecules, and to potentially find new ways to deliver drugs to cells and to non-invasively target anticancer agents to tissues.

Hollingsworth is developing novel materials that are predicted to have high compatibility with biological tissues, Serrano said.

Serrano's work began with an ADVANCE Seed Grant in 2004. Since 2002, NMSU has benefited from ADVANCE funding, provided by the National Science Foundation to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers.
The team being assembled by Serrano will include graduate students Bleu Knight, Desarae Gutierrez (recipient of an Alliance for Minority Participation grant) and Lina Urquidi, research associate Casilda Provencio and undergraduate Joanna Beeson, who recently was selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute research scholar.

Serrano plans to get started by evaluating the materials being developed by Hollingsworth. She'll validate their fate and effects in human cells grown in culture.

Serrano plans to develop applications for non-invasive bioimaging, and as a long-term goal, hopes to work toward using quantum dots as a means of delivering drugs and providing therapy in the treatment of brain cancer.

She intends to spend much of next semester at LANL on sabbatical setting up her program. Research will be conducted at the CINT user laboratory there, and at the new Biosafety Level 2 laboratory in NMSU's Foster Hall.

Serrano plans to involve NMSU and NMSU students in the cutting-edge research, and to compete for additional funding for further research. Serrano also sees NMSU's involvement in the New Mexico Consortium's Institute for Advanced Studies, which includes NMSU, New Mexico Tech, the University of New Mexico and Los Alamos National Laboratory, as an additional avenue for the nanoparticle research project.

"I'm elated," Serrano said. "It all came together. This shows why it's valuable to have pre-existing programs (such as ADVANCE and AMP). We've invested a lot in programs at NMSU that will bring people together and I hope that we can find more mechanisms to do that."