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MU doctoral student Wood earns award from IEEE Sensors competition

Wood

Aaron Wood, a doctoral student in MU’s Bioengineering Department, won the Student Paper Competition Award — Track 3 for his paper, “Enhanced Fluorescence Through the Incorporation of Nanocones/Gaps Into a Plasmonic Gratings Sensor Platform,” at Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Sensors 2014 in Valencia, Spain. Photos courtesy of Aaron Wood.

Any excuse to take a trip to Valencia, Spain — with its rich history, stunning architecture, mild climate and location on the Mediterranean Sea — is a good one. But going to Valencia to present your paper in front of industry professionals and fellow students and in the process earning top marks in your category has to rank pretty high on the list.

Aaron Wood, a doctoral student in MU’s Bioengineering Department, did just that from Nov. 2 to 5, winning the Student Paper Competition Award — Track 3 for his paper, “Enhanced Fluorescence Through the Incorporation of Nanocones/Gaps Into a Plasmonic Gratings Sensor Platform,” at Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Sensors 2014 in Valencia.

Presentation

“It was a rather large conference,” Aaron Wood said. “(Presenting) was a little nerve-wracking, but in the end, I think it was definitely worth it. We’re all working in the same field, basically.”

Roughly 600 papers were accepted out of nearly 1,000 submitted, so the presenters and advisers alone made up quite a sizeable crowd for the event. Not a bad audience for Wood’s first presentation at an international conference.

“It was a rather large conference,” Wood said. “It was a little nerve-wracking, but in the end, I think it was definitely worth it. We’re all working in the same field, basically.”

Earning the top award in his category while a part of that atmosphere made it even sweeter. But, beyond that, the chance to network, attend different seminars and glean new ideas and approaches proved perhaps the best perk.

“It was an excellent opportunity to meet all the professors around the world that also work in plasmonics and really establish international collaboration,” Wood said.

The paper outlined how to use a simple stamping technique to inexpensively create nano-gratings, which enhance the detection of fluorescence given off by a sensor, making the process both easier and less expensive. Wood said that, in the past, cameras costing in the neighborhood of $80,000 were needed to detect the fluorescence; now, in certain cases, it can be done with tools as ubiquitous as iPhones, allowing for greater ease of use in the field.

The work itself is a bit of a balancing act, with both potential laboratory and practical, real-world applications. Those two ends are aided by two different funding providers — the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. NSF funding tends to focus more on lab-based research, while the Coulter Foundation’s stated goal is improving health care and making those improvements financially accessible for everyone.

This particular sensor work draws in elements from bioengineering and computer engineering, as well. That’s why Wood worked on his research under the guidance of both Shubhra Gangopadhyay, C.W. LaPierre professor of electrical and computer engineering, and bioengineering Professor Sheila Grant. Wood’s research ties in with Gangopadhyay’s current sensor work, which includes a Coulter-funded project working toward better detection of tuberculosis, and optical biosensors are a research focus of Grant’s, including the use of fluorescence resonance energy transfer.

Gangopadhyay said she likes the students to have an opportunity to attend these kinds of conferences to give them a unique, outside-the-classroom learning experience.

“It’s a good time to travel and discuss science with students, too,” she said. “It’s good training for students to see what’s going on in the whole world. It’s an international conference, highly competitive, and winning an award in his track is quite an accomplishment.”

For Wood, being able to work on a project that has potential applications both to real-world issues alongside the lab-based applications has been fascinating. And a chance to see a different part of the world because of that work was a nice bonus.

“The platform has many, many uses, and being able to do it inexpensively really opens up the doors to nanoscience for a lot of groups,” he said.