Friday, June 10, 2011

Student chemist perfecting data transfer for electronic devices

Silicon-based integrated circuits currently used in cell phones and mp3 players are about as small as they’re going to get with current technology. Now, in response to consumer demand for even faster, more efficient electronic devices, chemists are racing to develop tiny molecular structures that would process data instead—and a UWindsor PhD student in chemistry has joined the race.

“Everyone knows that if we want data to be transferred faster we need to make things smaller, but we’ve almost reached the limit now with how small we can go,” said Mike Miller, who recently won a three-year post-graduate doctoral scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council worth $63,000.

Miller, who works under the supervision of associate professor Tricia Carmichael, said many scientists are trying to create molecular wires and resistors by linking together chains of functional molecules that could be lined up in such a way so that one day, data could be transferred through them and they could replace conventional circuits. Miller’s attention, meanwhile, is devoted to studying ways to smooth the surfaces those molecules would bond with, as a way of ensuring better conductivity and data transfer.

Specifically, he is analyzing an industrial process called chemical mechanical planarization, which involves polishing metal surfaces with a combination of abrasives and chemical etchants to control the surface roughness and grain structure of thin films of metals such as gold, copper, silver and palladium.

“We’re studying what we can change about the molecules, but also what we can change about the surfaces and how that might affect how those molecules will behave,” he said. “It’s not quite there yet. There’s a lot of fundamental work that needs to be done.”

But if breakthroughs are made, they’ll go a long way towards creating some amazing new technologies, such as low-cost flexible electronic devices. As an example, Miller points to the possibility of electronic wallpaper. Users would be able to change the look of their room with a few simple keystrokes instead of stripping and putting new paper up on their walls, he said.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Students take top honours at natural health products conference

The son of parents from Vietnam and grandparents from China, Dennis Ma grew up in house where traditional remedies and natural herbal products were commonplace. So using a derivative from a rare plant to try to find a cure for cancer doesn’t really surprise him all that much.~

“A lot of these natural products have been used as traditional medicines for a long time, but we’re starting to see a lot more of them being used in a scientific setting,” said Ma, a second year master’s student in biochemistry who tests the effectiveness of pancratistatin, a derivative of a Hawaiian spider lily which has proven to kill certain cancer cells without harming healthy ones.

Ma and lab partner Katie Facecchia, both students in the lab of professor Siyaram Pandey, recently returned from Montreal where they attended the Natural Health Products Research Society of Canada’s annual conference. Ma took first place in the student oral presentation category while Facecchia, who studies the effectiveness of a water soluble formula of the naturally occurring Coenzyme Q10 at halting the progression of Parkinson’s disease, placed second.

Another group of Dr. Pandey’s students recently garnered a considerable amount of attention for their work on a formula they developed from dandelion root extract, which also halted the spread of certain types of cancer cells.

Facecchia said attending the conference gave her a renewed sense of optimism that the scientific community is embracing the notion of looking to nature to test solutions for current medical challenges.

“People used these products back in the day for a reason and now we’re rediscovering them with modern science,” she said.

There were five presentations from Pandey’s lab made at the conference and three of them were dedicated to the memory of Kevin Couvillon, who died in 2010 at the age of 26 after a lengthy battle with cancer. His parents donated $20,000 to Pandey’s lab earlier this year. Pandey said Ma, Facecchia and fellow students Pamela Ovadje and Madona Chochkeh made high-impact presentations, which he believes contributed to the society’s decision to hold its 2013 here in Windsor.

“They responded to the panel’s questions very lucidly and defended the work very well,” he said. “We’re very grateful to Seeds 4 Hope, Joseph Sczesei and the Couvillons for generously supporting their research.”