The work of OSU physics graduate student Lee Aspitarte was featured as a Scientific Highlight on the American Institute of Physics website. Lee’s recent experiments in Ethan Minot’s lab provide new insights about nanoscale pn-junctions. Nanoscale pn-junctions are a promising technology for maximizing the efficiency of light-to-electricity conversion.

Bethany Matthews has been awarded the Ben and Elaine Whiteley Endowment for Materials Research Fellowship.  This endowment, established in 2007, provides support for materials research in the College of Science.

Ms. Matthews is a fourth-year PhD student working with Prof. Janet Tate. Her research involves the design, synthesis, and characterization of thin film semiconductors for the improvement of renewable energy applications such as solar cells, thermoelectrics (materials which can convert heat to usable energy), or piezoelectrics (materials which can convert a mechanical stress or push to a usable energy). These semiconductors are stabilized in higher energy states than they would normally be found in through alloying and appropriate temperature control to improve their properties and make them more suitable for devices. She is particularly interested in studying the microstructure (e.g. size, composition, structure, and orientation of crystals on a very small scale) of these materials by electron microscopy and learning how changes to that microstructure explain changes to properties on a much larger scale. This fellowship will allow her to study these materials and similar systems in greater detail at the microscopy facility at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado and to explain anomalous property behaviors which, if they can be controlled, could greatly increase device efficiency.

Fourth year graduate student Nicole Quist has been chosen as a member of the United States Delegation for the sixth International Conference on Women in Physics. As a member of the delegation, she is involved in writing the conference proceedings paper for the United States and creating the national poster which focus on the statu

Nicole Quist

s of women in physics in the United States and the problems that women in physics experience. The delegation will also be completing a project that will provide tools to aid women in physics, and Nicole will contribute to this as well. Although she will not be part of the subset of the group that will travel to the conference itself, her contributions will. This is an exciting opportunity for Nicole to work with women around the country to focus on encouraging diversity in physics.

Bethany Matthews, a 4th-year graduate student in Prof. Janet Tate’s lab, has won a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science Graduate Student Research Award.  The award is for the proposed research project, “Microscopy Analysis of Metastable Heterostructural Alloys with Anomalous Piezoelectric Response”, to be conducted at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO during the summer and fall of 2017.

The award citation states that, “The SCGSR award is in recognition of outstanding academic accomplishments and the merit of the SCGSR research proposal, and reflects Bethany Matthews’s potential to advance the Ph.D. studies and make important contributions to the mission of the DOE Office of Science.” Congratulations, Bethany!

Bethany will work with Dr. Andrew Norman of NREL and also with Prof. Brian Gorman and Dr. Andriy Zakutayev, her collaborators in the DOE-funded Energy Frontier Research Center, the Center for Next-Generation Materials by Design. The EFRC members study metastable materials of many types, and Bethany’s role has been understanding metastable alloys.  Her developing interest in transmission electron microscopy, using OSU’s Electron Microscopy Facility under the guidance of Dr. Pete Eschbach, led her to submit a proposal to DOE to study metastable alloys with microscopists at NREL and Colorado School of Mines.

Prof. Bo Sun and student Amani Alobaidi’s work on 3-D tumor modeling technology has been highlighted in an article in Advantage-Impact.

DIGME discoids shaping the growth of tumor cells.
DIGME diskoids shaping the growth of tumor cells. (full caption in article below)

Here is the full article

DIGME shapes better cancer therapies

A new 3-D tumor modeling technology could drastically change the way cancer is treated. Diskoid In Geometrically Micropatterned Extracellular matrix (DIGME) is a tissue-patterning solution that uses a low-cost device to control the shape of tumors — as well as the directionality and rigidity of their surrounding matrix — to stop cancer cells from spreading.

Bo Sun, an assistant professor of physics in Oregon State’s College of Science, says DIGME will help doctors test their own cancer treatments and create new ones. And it could even improve the efficiency of early cancer detection.

“Right now, cancer detection is relying on techniques that were developed decades ago,” Sun says. “I think tumor modeling is going to show us the new things we should look at. There may be a different set of metrics that make the accuracy and sensitivity of early detection much better.”

Sun’s device can facilitate development of new cancer treatments by better mimicking the physiological condition of tumors. Oregon State University has filed for a patent and is looking for potential licensees and research collaborators to further develop the technique.

Understanding how cancer cells spread

In order for a cancer cell to dissociate from the main tumor and spread — also known as metastasis — it must dig a hole through the extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM is the area that surrounds a tumor, which is made up of connective tissues like collagen. It can act as a barrier to keep tumor cells in or out, depending on its porousness.

For example, an ECM that is very porous provides a soft environment for cancer cells to easily squeeze through and enter other areas of the body. An ECM that is very rigid, on the other hand, provides a barricade that is very difficult for a cancer cell to dig into. However, a rigid ECM also promotes tumor growth; therefore the relationship between ECM and cancer is anything but simple. This relationship is one of the central problems of cancer research.

Modeling tumors

Sun’s team worked with standard cancer cell lines in the lab. To shape a tumor, a micro-fabricated stamp is used to create a mold made of collagen. Tumor cells are then suspended in a collagen solution and poured into the mold. The liquid collagen turns into a gel and links to the mold. The device can precisely control the location and rotation of the stamp, creating an exact shape.

Different tumor shapes equal different clinical outcomes for patients, Sun explains. If a tumor has very high curvature corners, these sharp corners are more likely to become cancer stem cells, which are very invasive and lead to metastasis.

Changing directions

Directionality is an equally important factor. The ECM — which is covered in polymer fibers — can be rotated with the help of DIGME technology. When the ECM is polarized — or given positive and negative charges — the orientation of those fibers can be rotated circularly, preventing additional cancer cells from disconnecting and spreading throughout the body. Controlling the shape and directionality allows DIGME to create challenging environments for cancer cells, testing their adaptability and understanding how they respond to treatments in complex physiological conditions.

“A tumor — no matter where it starts — is going to experience many different environments when it metastasizes into many parts of the body,” Sun says. “If a cell has no way to adapt to this new environment, it is going to stop there and won’t be able to spread.”

Sun’s research began with the goal of determining how tumors migrate and communicate with one another. Two-and-a-half years later, DIGME has the potential to help save lives.

For licensing information, please contact Jianbo Hu at jianbo.hu@oregonstate.edu or 541-737-2366.

This figure shows a breast cancer cell.

(A) DIGME consists of a diskoid – a tumor cell aggregate whose shape is tightly controlled. The example shown in A is a hexagonal diskoid of monolayer thickness. Typical diskoid thickness can range from one to five cell layers. (B) A triangle diskoid of MDA-MD-231 cells (green) in collagen matrix (labeled with fluorescent particles, blue). Top: top view. Bottom: side view. (C) A MDA-MD-231 diskoid (green) surrounded by two layers of collagen matrix with different concentrations (1.5 mg/ml, red and 3 mg/ml, blue). Top inset: the diskoid invasion into the surrounding ECM after five days. Bottom inset: confocal reflection imaging showing distinct fiber microstructures across the interface of two collagen layers. (D) A MDA-MB-231 ring diskoid with its sounding ECM circularly polarized. The configuration mimics the ductal carcinoma in vivo. Scale bars: 200 μm.

Andrew Stickel wearing a Swedish Doctoral hat.
Andrew Stickel wearing a Swedish Doctoral hat.

On University day, our own Andrew Stickel will receive the University wide Herbert F. Frolander Award for Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant!

University Day is Monday, September 19th and there will be an awards ceremony at the LaSells Center.

Andrew recently defended his dissertation “Terahertz Induced Non-linear Electron Dynamics in Nanoantenna Coated Semiconductors at the Sub-picosecond Timescale”. Please congratulate him on both of these accomplishments!

Scientists from the Physics Department visited the first grade classes (about 100 students) at Clover Ridge Elementary School. Atul Chhotray and Davide Lazzati used solar telescopes to give students an introduction to astronomy. Nicole Quist, Jacob Bigelow and Ethan Minot used an assortment of interactive demos to explain the amazing things we can do with air. From pushing a sail boat with giant air molecules, to floating on a hover craft. Nicole: “Raise your hands if you want to say something.” Student: “That was awesome!”

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