University of Utah undergraduate wins top science prize for gold nano "cages"

Published: Friday, Oct. 14 2011 6:34 p.m. MDT

3D animation of how cages would look.

Ryan Robinson/University of Utah College of Engineering,

SALT LAKE CITY — Think of it as a little bling for inside your body.

Ryan Robinson, a bioengineering student at the University of Utah, has been researching how to create tiny, nano-sized, "cages" made out of gold. These gold cages would then be used to house anti-cancer drugs that can target a tumor and destroy it without harming much of the surrounding tissue.

Each cage is about 30 nanometers wide. To understand how small that is, the diameter of a human hair is about 60,000 nanometers, while the head of a pin is about 1 million nanometers across. To build something that tiny takes a few steps.

"You start with a silver nano cube and you use that as a template to create the gold cage, and the silver nano cube is essentially eaten up from the inside, leaving the gold cage," Robinson said.

Robinson's work has earned him big recognition. Earlier this month, Robinson won top honors at the NDConnect undergraduate nano science and nano engineering competition at the University of Notre Dame. In addition to winning first place, he received a $5,000 prize.

"I was very excited, but kind of surprised because they had a lot of good research going on," he said, speaking of his fellow competitors.

"The contest brought some of the best undergraduates in the country to Notre Dame and allowed us to show off our faculty and facilities," said Alan Seabaugh, professor of electrical engineering and director of the Midwest Institute of Nanoelectronics Discovery. "The judges' enthusiasm, coupled with the high quality of the student presentations, made it a great day."

Robinson said he has dreamed of being a nano technology researcher ever since he was in middle school, when he did a science project on the subject. "It's probably science fiction books that really piqued my interest in it," he said.

But what was science fiction only a few years ago, is now becoming reality.

Research into nano particles has yielded breakthroughs in everything from solar power, to computers, and even medicine.

Robinson said the tiny cages he created would accumulate within the body of a cancer patient through the bloodstream, including tumors. A laser attuned to the harmonic frequency of the gold cages is then aimed at a tumor, breaking down the cages in the tumor and releasing the medicine to kill the cancerous tissue. The other gold cages in healthy tissue remain inactive and are eventually flushed out of the body. Because they are made of gold, the particles are bio-friendly and do not harm or damage tissue.

A senior, Robinson said he plans to continue on to graduate research, specifically in exploring the use of nano technology in medicine.

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com

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