Fighting Infection with Nanoparticles
Chemical Engineering undergraduate Rachel Kenion spends her days working in a field experiencing exponential research growth, applying 3D tissue samples cultured in microfluidic devices with inkjet-printed antibiotics that combat rugged pathogens. In Dr. Woo Lee's lab at Stevens Institute of Technology, Rachel cultures and treats bacteria biofilms with inkjet-printed silver nanoparticles, in the hope of discovering a better way to fight infection on orthodontic implants.
This hands-on experience was not where Rachel first started. With a deep affinity for Chemistry, she was initially hesitant about moving away from her favorite material into the more applied methods of Chemical Engineering. A dual-degree student, Rachel is working towards an engineering degree at Stevens while finishing her Chemistry degree at New York University.
"There is something inherently exciting about Chemistry and its applications," Rachel says. "I enjoy seeing the link between the science that I like to play with and its use in the real world."
Early into her Chemical Engineering classes, Rachel approached Dr. Woo Lee about available positions in his lab after hearing graduate students describe the professor's ongoing research using microfluidic devices. Working with the lab during the academic year, the Pennsylvania native developed a Technogenesis Scholar project, which allowed her to travel on scholarship in the summer to the Netherlands. At the University Medical Center in Groningen, Rachel grew biofilms and performed live/dead staining in support of Dr. Lee's research.
Rachel's role has been to investigate the printing and delivery of silver particles to effectively destroy undesirable bacteria, such as commonly found on orthodontic implants, without harming the human patient. Using the inkjet printer, which deposits antimicrobial silver nanoparticles in rows of tiny dots, Rachel compares results dependent upon printing conditions, nanoparticle concentrations, and printed versus non-printed methods.
Beyond her satisfaction in seeing the results of this breakthrough research, Rachel has had other diverse learning opportunities in the lab. As an undergrad surrounded by an influential group of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, her lessons include lab procedures, how to balance research and personal life, and how to continue as a Ph.D. candidate.
"Being a full-time student and also conducting research is demanding," Rachel says. "This lab has been a supportive environment where we work as a team."
Rachel appreciates the balance she has found between hard Chemistry and its application in Chemical Engineering. She is anticipating graduate study in Chemical Engineering that will focus on polymer and materials science, and continuing into an academic career for the long-term.
To learn more about Chemical Engineering undergraduate education at Stevens, visit the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science to learn more or Undergraduate Admissions to apply.