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Research / Discovery

CSU professor, student team collaborate with research lab in Italy

June 11, 2012
By Courtney West

The rich culture and heritage of Bari, Italy, will play host to Colorado State's chemistry chair and one of her students as part of the American Chemical Society GREET program.

Ellen FisherGREET, or the Global Research, Experiences, Exchanges, and Training program selects five teams every year to travel abroad and study with a foreign laboratory to provide a comprehensive international research environment and opportunities for collaboration, according to the ACS website.

Ellen Fisher, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry, and doctoral student Jeff Shearer, have been selected to travel to a laboratory of their choice to expand and further their own research abroad. Fisher selected the Favia labs in Bari, Italy.

“Professor Pietro Favia is a person that I’ve known my entire professional career, but we haven’t actually collaborated before,” said Fisher. “Having followed his work and that of other members of the group in Bari for over two decades, I have long wanted to formalize a collaboration with him, and the GREET program was the perfect opportunity.”

Focusing on plasma applications

In the program, the mentees stay and conduct research for four to eight weeks in the host lab, while the mentors stay for a concurrent two- to three-week period.

Research conducted by Fisher’s group focuses on various applications of plasmas, including biocompatible materials that can be used in medical devices, such as vascular stents, contact lenses, targeted drug delivery systems and implantable devices.

Shearer works with coating nanoparticles, specifically iron oxide, with polymer-based films. To get these films to attach to the nanoparticles, one has to specifically tailor the films to control surface chemistry of the particle, Shearer said. The labs in Bari have already taken this process further than any labs at CSU.

“Our labs focus on the synthesis of polymer films on the nanoparticle surfaces,” explained Shearer. “The labs in Bari take this a step further and use the coated nanoparticles in biological applications such as cell and protein adhesion.”

Learning new lab techniques

Fisher is also looking to use this opportunity to expand on her current research.

“As my work has not been very biologically-oriented, this is going to be an excellent opportunity to gain some expertise in a new area,” Fisher explained.

Fisher and Shearer will also learn a variety of lab techniques for testing how molecules such as cells and proteins interact with materials they are currently exploring at CSU.

“The Chemistry department recently invested in a cell facility that has many of the tools we will need to perform experiments here at CSU. We just need to gain the expertise in how to execute the appropriate analyses on our materials,” said Fisher.

'Pay it forward'

The GREET program also involves a “pay it forward” concept—participants are expected to involve their home institutions when they return, and maintain the collaboration with the foreign laboratory. Fisher and Shearer plan to invite Favia to come to Fort Collins and work in the Fisher labs at CSU for a summer program. They intend to foster a strong connection between labs at CSU and in Bari, so that future student exchanges can occur and the collaboration can grow.