Turkeys and Photonic Crystals: Lots to Be Thankful For

Did you know that Americans consume a whopping average of 46 million turkeys at Thanksgiving? That’s about 1 turkey for every 7 Americans!1,2 With the colossal number of turkeys consumed during the holidays, it only makes sense that we often think of turkeys as just a food source.

But what if I were to tell you that turkeys could actually inspire future technologies? Is this completely unthinkable? Well, actually, no! Birds, such as turkeys, have unique iridescent feathers that researchers can potentially study to form newer and better forms of video displays, fiber optic telecommunications, and computer chips, to name a few.


A few of the wild turkeys that hang out near the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus, not helping much with research. (image by Miriam Krause)

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What’s in a scientific publication’s name? One research article title explained

I recently had an article published in the journal Environmental Science: Nano along with seven co-authors from the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology. The title is “Formation of supported lipid bilayers containing phase-segregated domains and their interaction with gold nanoparticles.”1 At first glance that title may be confusing, but I promise it will all make sense soon! Let’s break it down into fun-sized pieces that we can all enjoy (I don’t know about you, buy my wife and I are still swimming in Halloween candy).


Figure 1. A John Madden-style breakdown of the important players in the system we studied in these experiments. Referring back to this figure regularly as you read this post is highly encouraged! Notice the size of the gold nanoparticles and supported lipid bilayer in this figure are both 4 nanometers (nm). In this figure they are shown TEN MILLION times bigger than their actual size of 4 nm! (image by Eric Melby)

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Putting “Diversity, Innovation, Safety, and Communication” Front and Center in Scientific Research

There has been a recent upswing in promoting a “culture of safety” in academic chemistry departments and labs across the country.1,2 Industry labs have been heralding this as a much needed training element for chemistry students and are happily hiring graduates of the most progressive departments. It’s not as though chemistry departments didn’t care about or were ignoring safety before this (we couldn’t, of course), but this new energy puts safety front-and-center every day.

A couple years ago, my department at the University of Minnesota initiated a simple but effective way to promote safety: before each and every seminar or group meeting, the seminar host or presenter starts by presenting a short “safety moment.” The topics of these safety moments vary from specific instructions about how to handle a particular chemical compound to the general practices of safely operating commonplace laboratory equipment like centrifuges.3 Presenting safety moments is a way to make sure that the importance of safety is not just a theoretical priority in our department, but is something that we actually discuss in practical terms on a regular basis.

Safety moment example about footwear

Presenting safety moments before every seminar helps maintain a “culture of safety” in the department. (image by the U of MN Joint Safety Team)

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The CSN Research Experience for Veterans Program

In honor of Veterans Day here in the U.S., we’d like to highlight something we’re very proud of at the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology: our Research Experience for Veterans (REV) program.

REV student Alec Kinczewski

Baghdad, Iraq ‘Victory Over America Palace’ roof, 2010; Northwestern University Physiology Lab, 2015   (images courtesy of Alec Kinczewski)

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Using Gene Expression to Learn About Nanoparticle Toxicity

What happens to cells when they come into contact with nanoparticles? Researchers in the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology are trying to answer this question in a lot of different ways. The effect of exposing organisms to nanoparticles is not as simple as life or death. In one recent study1 we explored the molecular changes that can happen with an exposure level that is not enough to kill a living organism (otherwise known as a “sub-lethal” exposure). For example, organisms may respond to nanoparticles by changing the expression level of ribonucleic acids (RNA) in cells, and these changes affect cell and organism functions.


Figure 1. DNA and RNA both play crucial roles in determining how cells perform their functions. (Image adapted from Wikimedia)

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Happy Mole Day 2015!

It’s Mole Day! As we explained in our Mole Day post last year, Mole Day celebrates a fundamental unit of measurement in chemistry, the mole (Avogadro’s number, 6.02 x 1023).

We’ve also been celebrating both National Chemistry Week and #RealTimeChem Week this week. In case you missed any of the the festivities, here are some links you might enjoy:


Moles!  (image by fihu)