Mao Honored With Teaching Award

Hai-Quan Mao. Credit: Will Kirk / JHU

The Johns Hopkins Alumni Association annually recognizes university faculty who demonstrate superior skill in instruction with its Excellence in Teaching Awards. More than a dozen faculty members across JHU received the 2008 Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Awards, one of whom was Hai-Quan Mao, an affiliated faculty member of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology and assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The following was taken from a recent issue of the Johns Hopkins Gazette.

At the Head of the Class

Academic divisions honor their own with Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Awards

Excerpt from the Johns Hopkins Gazette, May 19, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 35

Hai-Quan Mao, Materials Science and Engineering

Hai-Quan Mao recalls his response last semester when one of his students botched the first part of a Thermodynamics of Materials midterm exam. “I was curious and a little upset because I had gone over the material with this student in a tutorial session,“ said Mao, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

The student, among those who nominated Mao for the teaching honor, describes the event a bit differently. “I first realized that Dr. Mao was a unique teacher when, after the first day of the Thermodynamics midterm, he called me on my cell phone because he was ‘a little surprised that I did not answer all of the questions correctly,’ as we had conversed about the material several times prior,“ the student wrote on a nomination form. “He requested that I meet him in his office 10 minutes later, and we reviewed the first section of the exam.“

This story, the student said, had a happy ending: “Dr. Mao’s exceptionally sincere gesture to ensure that I understood all of my errors before the second part of the exam was successful,“ the student wrote. “I continued to perform well because of his help and ended up with an A in the challenging course.“

Mao was pleased to hear that his teaching is getting through to his students, particularly because English is not his first language. Mao was raised and educated in China and learned English in high school and college. “At the beginning, I was a little concerned about not communicating effectively with my students,“ Mao said. “That made me try harder in finding good ways to teach.“
His ties to Johns Hopkins go back to 1995, when he became a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He later spent four years conducting research at a Johns Hopkins affiliate in Singapore. In 2003, he joined the Whiting School faculty, focusing his research on the design, synthesis and application of polymeric materials for drug and gene delivery and tissue engineering.

Despite the demands of this research, he continues to maintain a close rapport with his students, fielding questions even outside of his regular office hours.

“I find it so hard to say no to students when they knock on the door, particularly those who are sincere to learn,“ Mao said. “But if you do a good job in class, the number of students knocking on the door will eventually go down.“

Story by Phil Sneiderman

Mao’s research interests include cell and tissue engineering, nanofibers, neural stem cells, gene delivery and polymer micelles. Learn more about research in the Mao Lab.

Nanotechnology for Cancer: INBT featured on CBS Evening News

George Sgouros, professor of radiology and affiliated faculty member of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins University, is one of the scientists featured on the CBS Evening News in a segment on nanotechnology for cancer. [Read more…]

Small Science Draws Big Crowd for Johns Hopkins NanoBio Symposium

Poster Session during the 2008 NanoBio Symposium at Johns Hopkins University. (left) Noy Bassik
(right) Jonathan Schneck. Credit: Will Kirk / JHU

A standing-room-only crowd packed Owens Auditorium of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center May 1 to hear how future cancer detection and treatment will involve tools and therapies designed at the scale of molecules and atoms. More than 500 people attended the annual NanoBio Symposium hosted by the Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) on May 1 and 2 at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Along with Thursday’s Nanotechnology for Cancer workshop with 10 Hopkins faculty presenters, the symposium featured talks by distinguished speakers and a poster session representing nano-related research from several university divisions and beyond. [Read more…]

Johns Hopkins NanoBio Symposium Set for May 1-2: New workshop focuses on nanotechnology for cancer

2008 NanoBio Symposium. This year’s event will be held at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

All facets of research relating to the emerging discipline of nanobiotechnology—a science that operates at the scale of one-billionth of a meter—will be explored at the second annual Johns Hopkins NanoBio Symposium, May 1-2, 2008. This year’s event will be held at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md. and is hosted by the Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT). [Read more…]

2008 NanoBio Symposium Preview: Paras Prasad

Picture of Paras Prasad
Paras Prasad. Speaker at the 2008 NanoBio symposium. Credit: Paras Prasad

Cancer can’t hide from light of nanobiophotonics

People reap the benefits of the harvesting of photons every day. Printers, DVD players, remote controls, lasers, sensors, and other similar devices all are based on photonics. But Paras Prasad, director of the Institute for Lasers, Photonics, and Biophotonics (ILPB) at the University at Buffalo, says there is much more to learn about the interaction of light with materials and its role in biomedical research. Prasad will discuss this topic at the Johns Hopkins 2008 NanoBio Symposium on May 1-2, hosted by the Institute of NanoBioTechnology.

“Photonics, in a broad sense, deals with the emission, transmission, amplification, detection, modulation, and switching of light,“ says Prasad. Through this manipulation of light, scientists and engineers are using photonics to discover new ways to deal with problems such as the diagnosis and treatment of disease or the generation and storage of energy.

For example, researchers at the University of Buffalo’s Institute for Lasers, Photonics, and Biophotonics have developed special kinds of plastic-based nanocomposites that can be fabricated into many structures and designs, including more efficient and larger-scale solar panels to gather the sun’s energy over the entire spectrum, including ultraviolet and infrared.

“Such hybrid nanocomposites can be used to harvest solar energy from larger structures in the form of tents, panels and coatings,“ Prasad says. Patents in this area are on file and a California-based company is now working to develop its commercial applications.

Also exciting, Prasad says, are the scientific advances in areas that marry biology, nanotechnology and photonics—nanobiophotonics. At this interface of disciplines, scientists and engineers are breaking new ground in the realms of health care and medicine, he says.

For instance, Prasad says, funding from the National Cancer Institute supports a partnership between the UB institute and researchers at Hopkins to develop better ways to diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer. Prasad’s group, together with teams lead by INBT affiliated faculty members Anirban Maitra of the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center and Martin Pomper at the In Vivo Cellular and Molecular Imaging Center, are working on a project that “accelerates the advance of photonics and nanotechnology out of the lab and into the cancer clinic,“ he adds.

Pancreatic cancer is especially deadly, says Prasad, because survival rates are poor, even when a tumor is just barely observable at microscopic scales. Therefore early detection is critical to improve outcomes. The ILPB researchers have shown effective early detection of pancreatic cancer with quantum dots and metallic nanorods that have been conjugated with antibodies that specifically target pancreatic cells.

“We are developing diagnostic and treatment methods for pancreatic cancer that capitalize on our expertise in designing targeted hybrid ceramic-polymeric nanoparticles to better image pancreatic cancer in vivo and to deliver drugs more effectively to treat it,“ says Prasad. “It is very exciting to see that these photonic technologies developed at the University at Buffalo are being applied to a disease where the need for earlier detection and more effective treatment is so pressing.“

During his talk, Prasad also plans to highlight other nanobiophotonics research at ILPB including nanoparticles for photodynamic therapy of cancer and the use of nanoparticles in gene therapy particularly in the brain and liver. Prasad says these nanoparticles hold exciting prospects for developing new approaches for dealing with health care concerns with high societal impact, such as obesity, drug addiction and new infectious diseases.

Related Web site:

Story by Mary Spiro

2008 NanoBio Symposium Preview: Jennifer West

Picture of Jennifer West
Jennifer West. Speaker at the 2008 NanoBio symposium. Credit: Rice University

Metallic Nanoshells Shine Light on Cancer

Clinicians may soon be able to add metallic nanoshells to the arsenal of weapons that they can use to preserve and protect human health. Metallic nanoshells— super tiny spheres composed of layers of differing materials—allow light to safely penetrate deep within tissues to help diagnose or treat disease, says bioengineer Jennifer West. West will discuss her current work with nanoshells at the second annual Johns Hopkins NanoBio Symposium, hosted by the Institute for NanoBioTechnology, on May 1 -2 at the School of Medicine.

West is the Isabel C. Cameron Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She was previously named one of the world’s 100 Top Young Innovators by Technology Review, the innovation magazine of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she earned her undergraduate degree.

Nanoshells have the ability to be “optically tuned,“ West says. “Depending on their size and composition, we can make them either absorb or scatter light anywhere in the electromagnetic spectrum.“

This property of optical tuning means nanoshells can either heat up locally to destroy tumor tissue or reflect light back to improve imaging—or both—over a range of light wavelengths. The materials used for each layer of the nanoshell determine the wavelengths over which the device can be tuned. A typical nanoshell can be fabricated by fusing an outer layer of a biocompatible metal, such as gold, over an inner core of silica, West says, though other materials also are used.

Since the nanoshells typically “tune“ over a very narrow range of near infrared light (from 700-900 nanometers in the spectrum), they will neither heat up the water in tissues nor will they be absorbed by hemoglobin in blood or melanin in the skin, West explains, This property prevents the nanoshells from causing collateral damage to the surrounding tissues.

“A light shone from outside the body can pass harmlessly through tissue,“ West says. “There is such deep penetration of light that this technology can be used for whole breast biopsy and whole brain imaging.“

The property of optical tunability also makes nanoshells an excellent tool for detecting viruses and bacteria in whole blood, West adds. Nanoshells with antibodies attached to their surfaces interact with the antigen in question and form clumps. The clumps diffuse the light reflected by the nanoshells, West explains, and one can determine the concentration of whatever is being studied by the degree of diffusion.

West says that she and the inventor of the nanoshell—Naomi Halas, the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Professor of Chemistry at Rice—are currently working with a Texas firm to commercialize the use of a nanoshell-based medical device for clinical use.

Related Web sites:

To learn more about Jennifer West and her research on biofunctional material, tissue engineering and nanophotonics, visit her web page at Rice University.

For information on the 2008 NanoBio Symposium, hosted by the Institute for NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins University, go to

Nanoparticle Clusters Offer Surprises for Physical Chemists

Continuous negative ion mass spectrometer. Credit Bowen Lab/JHU

Faculty profile: Kit Bowen Jr.

Extremely small scale materials behave differently than one might expect when they come into close proximity to one another. The principles of basic physical chemistry are not quite as clear cut as one might imagine. And it is these properties that inspire the research of Kit Bowen Jr., the E. Emmett Reid Professor of Chemistry in the Krieger School of Arts and Science and affiliated faculty member of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology. [Read more…]

IGERT Profile: Tania Chan

Picture of Tania Chan
Tania Chan. Graduate student in the NanoBio IGERT program. Credit: Mary Spiro / JHU

Tania Chan is a first year PhD student in materials science at Johns Hopkins University and member of the NanoBio IGERT with the Institute for NanoBioTechnology. IGERT stands for Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship and is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Working with Michael (Seungju) Yu, associate professor of materials science and engineering and INBT affiliated faculty member, Chan has synthesized a protein, called QK, which mimics VEGF, the natural growth factor responsible for new blood vessel growth. The QK will be paired with a synthetic peptide that mimics natural collagen—a protein found in connective tissues, bone, muscle and skin. This synthetic combination will be used to modify collagen scaffolds with the long term goal of controlling microvasculature formation in artificial tissue and wound healing. [Read more…]

Hopkins Faculty Affiliated with INBT Receive Recognition

Hai-Quan Mao

Hai-Quan Mao, Johns Hopkins University assistant professor of materials science and engineering and affiliated faculty member of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology received a $500,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, given in recognition of young scientists’ commitment to research and education. The award offers $100,000 each year for five years. One aspect of Mao’s research centers on creating nanofiber scaffolds that mimic the topography and biochemical cues found in the extracellular matrix—that is, the “basement“ membrane that provides structure and support to cells. This CAREER award supports his research in how these nanofiber scaffolds can serve to direct and control the adhesion and growth of neural stem cells. The ultimate goal of this work, Mao says, could lead “stem cell-based regenerative therapies, particularly for treating degenerative diseases and traumatic injuries of the central nervous system.“

Howard E. Katz

Johns Hopkins Professor of materials science and engineering and INBT affiliate Howard E. Katz recently was honored with title of inaugural Fellow of the Materials Research Society (MRS). He was one of 34 distinguished scholars who received this lifetime designation. The title of MRS fellow honors its members who are notable for their distinguished research accomplishments and their outstanding contributions to the advancement of materials research, worldwide. The official presentation took place, March 26 at the 2008 Spring Meeting of the MRS in San Francisco, Calif. Katz was lauded “for introducing multifunctional organic materials into electronic and optical devices including transistors and electro-optic modulators; for innovation in materials synthesis; and for serving the materials community through society leadership, editorship, and government outreach.“ Katz has served on the MRS board from 2000 to 2005 and will assume the Presidency of the International Union of Materials Research Societies in 2009. He leads the Congressional Visit Days and is an Associate Editor of the MRS Journal of Materials Research.

Related Web sites:

Book Explains Nanotechnology Use in Biomedical Imaging

“Nanoparticles in Biomedical Imaging,“ is the title of a new book co-edited by Jeff W.M. Bulte, professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and affiliated faculty member of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology, and his colleague Mike M.J. Modo, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College in London, UK. Published by Springer, Bulte says this volume “would be an excellent textbook for materials scientists and chemical engineers working on fabricating all sorts of particles, but who need more information about their various biological and medical applications.“ [Read more…]