Tuesday, January 12, 2021

URSP Student Christopher Veatch Works to Fabricate and Optimize Magnetic Iron Nanorods

This fall, I have been working with Dr. Moran in the GMU mechanical engineering department to fabricate and optimize magnetic iron nanorods for use in medicine, delivering drugs directly to tumors (alleviating the issues associated with traditional chemotherapy). As expected, COVID-19 has presented roadblocks to acquiring materials from distributors and spending time in the lab, but that has not stopped the lab’s research completely. My goal is to develop the apparatus to mass-produce iron nanorods and optimize the process for coating them in polyethylene glycol (PEG). The rods are grown through a process known as electrodeposition which resembles making a batch of cupcakes. First, an aqueous solution containing iron ions fills the cylindrical nanopores of a membrane. The diameter of the pores is the same as the diameter of the eventual rods, and these pores are tiny – about 1/10000th the diameter of a human hair. The membrane serves as our “muffin pan.” The “baking” process occurs when an electric charge is sent through the membrane which reduces the iron in solution into its neutral, solid state. Slowly, the “cupcakes” grow in solid metal form. Removing these iron cupcakes from their membrane pan is achieved by dissolving it and the product is thousands of magnetic iron nanorods. The “toppings” can be any drug that can be loaded on to treat diseases such as cancer. The PEG layer “lubricates” the rods so they can move through tissues more efficiently.

So far, I have aided with the design of the experiment and facilitated contact with suppliers and vendors to acquire materials and ensure our setup would work. I also helped Dr. Moran in preparing figures and graphics related to grant proposals. This semester presented many challenges in the form of COVID-19 but this project allowed me to learn a great deal about myself and my future goals. Throughout this project, I realized that I am far more interested in optimizing the process for creating iron nanorods than I am interested in their potential uses, which is the opposite of what I expected before beginning research.