Nano Particles, Big Collaborations

UB’s transmission electron microscope magnifies the smallest particles as well as the opportunities for collaborative research.
The University of Bridgeport is now home to a state-of-the-art Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) granted to the University through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Laboratory Equipment Donation Program, thanks to Prabir Patra, Ph.D., Program Director for Biomedical Engineering and Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. “We participated in a grant competition and won it. They gave it to the best team and we were proud to have received it,” says Patra.

The TEM is part of a growing collection of equipment at UB critical to teaching and research in biomedical engineering. The TEM transmits electrons that interact with an ultra thin sample to form an image that is captured on a fluorescent screen. It may look like a gigantic microscope, but it’s a very sophisticated piece of equipment that is much more complex than its desktop-sized counterpart.

nano_400_photo2Yes, there are lenses and they have an optical effect, but there’s much more. An electron gun emits electrons down through the specimen and the transmitting electrons must be cooled midway through a cooling system made up of liquid nitrogen at -130º Celsius in the middle of the tube. An image is captured at an atomic scale and then magnified onto a screen.

Patra describes the level of magnification and its use in research, “If I take a single strand of your hair and divide it approximately 40,000 times, it will be close to the actual size of the magnified image that you are viewing. This level of magnification helps us understand the structure of particles at very atomic scales, which is really important in biomaterials and biomedical engineering. It makes the connection between nanotechnology and medicine.”

Patra received his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, India and did his postdoctoral research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Rice University. He came to UB as a mechanical engineering faculty member in January of 2009 and spearheaded the establishment of a new master’s degree in biomedical engineering, simultaneously establishing and developing his research trajectory. He currently works with a core research group of four Ph.D. students and 20 Master’s students. Patra was nominated for the prestigious DuPont Young Faculty Investigator Award for 2011, a nomination which is an enormous honor.

While Patra’s lifetime research focus is on nanomaterials and nanocomposites and their use in medicine, his scholarly passion and intense energy have helped Patra engage a growing group of faculty and students at UB and beyond to take part in cutting edge research. UB collaborators include faculty in mechanical engineering, computer science and engineering, electrical engineering, chemistry and biology.

nano_400_photo1Patra explains, “It is a very interdisciplinary area, where mechanical engineering meets biomedical engineering, computer science and design, but they can’t do anything without chemistry. That’s where Dr. Santiago comes in.” Dr. Angela Santiago, Associate Professor of Chemistry at UB explains, “It is not about organic or inorganic chemistry, it is more about the different factors involved, such as temperature and pressure. It’s about researching all the science and engineering aspects of the materials we are developing.”

Additional collaborating teams include researchers from Harvard, Wesleyan, Rice, the University of Texas at Dallas, Cleveland Clinic, and Brookhaven National Laboratory. Together with the TEM, other equipment, and inter-organizational collaboration, UB faculty and student researchers have the infrastructure needed for important cutting-edge research.

The eight research projects that Patra and students are currently involved in include:

    1. The study of nanotechnology and nanomaterials to develop an artificial connective tissue network known as Carbon NanoTube PolyDiMethylSiloxane (CNT/PDMS). This research is being conducted with colleagues at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Rice University, and other institutions. This specific study is part of a larger research interest to investigate the orientation and alignment of nanofibers in order to design structurally tunable scaffolds for tissue engineered materials that can lead to advanced materials such as artificial skin, wound healing bandages and filters, to name a few.
Scholarly passion and intense energy have helped Patra engage a growing group of faculty and students at UB and beyond to take part in cutting edge research.
  1. An investigation of the unique biological dispersion of graphene, a two-dimensional, anatomically thin, honeycomb-shaped carbon crystal structure and its binding effectiveness with proteins identified in Alzheimer’s. This collaborative research involves faculty and student researchers at Wesleyan University.
  2. The development of an “invisible ink”-based diagnostic tool for the rapid screening of tuberculosis, with an eye on being cost-effective and requiring no special storage or laboratory facilities in order to be available to developing nations.
  3. A pilot study to establish precise graphene signatures of Graphene Nanoribbons (GNR) by manipulating the conductivity of the GNR surface in order to explore its use in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). This study has the potential to develop a new biological contrast agent for MRI use. Yale University’s Core Center for Quantitative Neuroscience with Magnetic Resonance awarded a P30 grant to Patra for this work. The grant provides the use of a vertical bore 11.7T system, along with NMR scans, the reagents used for sample preparation, and the technical support of the Center’s scientists, technicians, and engineers.
  4. A study of graphene nanoribbon-DNA self assembly, conducted at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
  5. Research in collaboration with a colleague at the University of Texas at Dallas to develop a microelectrode-based point of care diagnostic tool for hs-CRP biomarker detection.
  6. The study of nanofiber orientation and alignment through the electrostatic jetting of polymer nanofibers and the inkjet deposition of conductive formulations to be used in tissue engineering. Patra and students are working with researchers at the Cleveland Clinic to research a specific application to identify determinants for the fabrication of electrospun composite nanofibers to generate the optimal tissue scaffold for use in the prevention of aneurysms.
  7. A University of New Haven research project conducted at Brookhaven National Laboratory on biofilms and nanostructures.