Rice's CNST awards Smalley/Curl funds for innovation

02/07/05

Inaugural awards fund new studies in medical diagnostics, drug delivery

HOUSTON, Feb. 7, 2005 Rice University's Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) today awarded its first grants from the Smalley/Curl Fund for Innovation to faculty members Michael S. Wong, Rebekah Drezek and Jason Hafner.

The one-year, $15,000 grants are designed to provide faculty with the seed funds they need to develop novel ideas that have the potential of impacting all areas of nanotechnology.

CNST's innovation fund was established in 2003 in honor of Richard Smalley, University Professor, the Gene and Norman Hackerman Professor of Chemistry and professor of physics; and Robert Curl, University Professor, the Kenneth S. Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor of Natural Sciences and professor of chemistry. Professors Smalley and Curl won the 1996 Noble Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of fullerenes, the third major form of carbon after diamond and graphite.

"Seed funding is absolutely pivotal in generating the preliminary data required to secure large federal grants," said Drezek, the Stanley C. Moore Assistant Professor of Bioengineering and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. "Jason Hafner and I tremendously appreciate the support provided by the Smalley/Curl Fund for Innovation in helping us get our new project off the ground."

Jason Hafner, assistant professor of physics and astronomy and assistant professor of chemistry, and Drezek are studying the synthesis, functionalization, and optical properties of gold nanorods so that they may be used in biomedical applications. They aim to develop bright, biocompatible contrast agents that can "light up" cells that are expressing specific molecular markers indicative of early precancerous changes. With the seed money from the Smalley/Curl Fund for Innovation, Drezek and Hafner will evaluate targeted nanorods as molecular probes for reflectance confocal microscopy and optical coherence tomography--two real-time, high-resolution optical imaging techniques.

"These funds are very helpful, especially when one is starting a new research group and developing new approaches to current problems," said Hafner.

Wong, assistant professor of chemical engineering and assistant professor of chemistry, is developing methods for the self-assembly of hollow microcapsules by mixing inert nanoparticles and polymers at room temperature. Wong's lab has learned to make these hollow capsules with "patchy" surfaces, and they can attach molecules to specific locations on those surfaces.

Placing molecules on flat surface in a desired pattern is difficult, and it is even more difficult to do so on a curved surface. Wong's method will make it easier to pattern molecular coatings on the capsule material. Ultimately, he hopes to engineer these patchy capsules for targeted drug delivery and other advanced encapsulation applications. "I am thrilled to receive this honor in the first year of its inception, and I look forward to carrying out research with my students to achieve the vision set out by Rick Smalley and Bob Curl for their award," said Wong.

CNST officials say Rice, the Houston business community and the general public all stand to benefit from the innovation funding provided by the Smalley/Curl Fund for Innovation.

"These small grants are designed to bridge the gap between ideas and proof of concept," said CNST Director Wade Adams. "In so doing, they allow our faculty to compete for more substantial external funding, and that, in turn, will lead to major new technologies for Houston's economic growth.

"Nanotechnology will create entirely new industries in much the same way that developments in information technology did 30 years ago," said Adams. "Who knows which of these bright ideas will turn into Houston's next Compaq or Texas Instruments? To ensure that Houston doesn't miss out on future opportunities, CNST continues to build its endowment for the Smalley/Curl Fund and to search for new ideas that have a high probability of impacting the local economy."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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