MRS Day 3: Exciting STEM work by female researchers!
Nurturing Future Material Scientists

Stability of liquid-nanostructure interfaces

In the talks of Michael Rubinstein and Joanna Aizenberg, the theme was the liqud-nanostructure interface. One great example is the Respiratory Epithelium, the subject of. Dr. Rubinstein's study (Wikimedia Commons): Respiratory epithelium

Cilia on top of the respiratory epithelial cells are both surrounded by, and topped by, a mucous layer. Dr. Rubinstein's work has elucidated how the properties of this mucous layer turn out to be very important to the cilial ability to sweep away particulates that are inhaled. In healthy lungs, the cilia are free to "beat" in a mesh of mucose that is more dense closer to the epithelial cell layer. This dense mesh prevents small particles from penetrating to the cells. In lung diseases, however, the upper layers of mucous become too dense, resulting in an increased osmotic pressure and subsequent collapse of the cilia. They may cease to beat and the mucous may even become adhered to the epilthelial cells, significantly reducing lung function. In the future Dr. Rubenstein will focus on determining the molecular forces that allow the mucosal film to interact both with the cilia and  with the cell layer. This could help him develop anti adhesion agents that could clear problematic mucosal film adhesions to improve lung function for patients of chronic bronchitis or COPD.

Because of thse cilial membrane's beatufiul properties to keep surfaces clean, Dr. Aizenberg has mimicked this functionality. Just as Dr. Rubenstein hinted, there are key parameters which must be satisfied for the films to remain stable, and through careful application of basic physical reasoning, Dr. Aizenberg has identified them and satisfied them. Namely, she determined that by carefully tuning the surface energy of the nanostructures and the lubricating liquid, she can create a stable lubricating film atop a nanostructured surface, producing what she calls a SLIPS film. This surface has many of the characteristics that our Respiratory Epithelium has, including a self-healing capability, an amazing self-cleaning ability, and an ability to repel droplets of a variety of chemical compositions. 

Seeing these two talks in a row showed us how much can be gained from meetings like MRS where we are able to learn from great scientists in our field. Its so interesting how these two talks addressed similar issues but from different perspectives. 


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