The IMEC blog and why you should read it

Every summer since 2009, Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology has been sending students to the lovely town of Leuven in Belgium to conduct 10 weeks of research at IMEC, that country’s leader in nanoelectronics fabrication and testing. The students, both undergraduates and pre-doctoral students, collaborate on projects coordinated by Hopkins and IMEC faculty.

The research program is co-funded by the National Science Foundation International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program, by INBT and by IMEC. Travel, housing and a stipend are covered for each student. They work hard during the week, but weekends are open for European travel, which they all take advantage of.

IMEC summer researchers from left, Matthew Gonzalez, Polly Ma, Rustin Golnabi and Eugene Yoon.

IMEC summer researchers from left, Matthew Gonzalez, Polly Ma, Rustin Golnabi and Eugene Yoon.

We ask the students to blog about their experiences there. Four students are currently working at IMEC for summer 2014. This year the blog has been pretty active, so we invite you to check it out. Find out what it is like to conduct research in a foreign country. Find out about Belgian beer. Experience their summer away vicariously through their writings and photos.

You can find the IMEC blog here.

For all press inquiries regarding INBT, its faculty and programs, contact Mary Spiro, mspiro@jhu.edu or 410-516-4802.

DEADLINE EXTENDED: Applications accepted for INBT IRES until Feb 14

If you have been curious to discover what laboratory work is like in another country, now is your chance to apply for one of INBT’s coveted positions as an international undergraduate researcher. Applications are now being accepted for our National Science Foundation funded International Research Experience for Undergraduates in Leuven, Belgium with IMEC.  The deadline for applications is February 14, 2014. The opportunities are for Johns Hopkins University students.

IMEC clean roomIMEC boasts world-class micro- and nano-fabrication facilities and a campus with more than 1,000 researchers from around the globe who are collaborating on leading-edge projects. Belgium boasts waffles, beer and chocolate. Really, you can’t go wrong here.

INBT international research internships focus on a project of mutual interest to Johns Hopkins faculty and to IMEC investigators. INBT has a long-standing research collaboration agreement with IMEC, one of the world’s leading research organizations focusing on silicon nanotechnology headquartered in Leuven, Belgium. Since 2009, students, both undergraduates and postgraduates, from INBT labs have had the opportunity to participate in internships at IMEC’s state-of-the-art research facility. These internships have the dual purpose of providing international research experience for students as well as furthering the research interests of both Hopkins and IMEC.

To read about some of the previous experiences of our IRES participates, visit INBT’s Summer at IMEC blog here.

To apply, send the following items to Tom Fekete, INBT’s director of corporate partnerships, before Feb. 1: tfekete1@jhu.edu.

  • CV/Resume
  • Research Statement
  • Letter of Recommendation

If you are not sure what you would like to work on, Tom has a list of possible research areas that you can inquire about as well. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Tom.  If he is unavailable, please contact Ashanti Edwards, INBT’s Academic Program Administrator at ashanti@jhu.edu.

Nanotech collaboration between Johns Hopkins and Belgium had INBT roots

Johns Hopkins Medicine recently announced exciting news of a joint collaborative agreement with IMEC, a leading nano-electronics research center based in Belgium. The objective of the partnership is to advance applications of silicon nanotechnology in health care, beginning with development of a point-of-care device to enable a broad range of clinical tests to be performed outside the laboratory. This unique venture will combine Johns Hopkins clinical and research expertise with IMEC’s technical and engineering capabilities.

TIMEC clean roomhe two organizations plan to forge strategic ties with additional collaborators across the value chain in the health care and technology sectors. Development of a next generation ”lab-on-a-chip”, making diagnostic testing faster and easier for applications such as disease monitoring and management, disease surveillance, rural health care and clinical trials, will form the initial focus of the partnership. Denis Wirtz, Associate Director of INBT, will serve on the Advisory Board for the collaboration.

The roots of the new Hopkins-IMEC partnership were initiated over five years ago when Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) established a collaborative relationship with IMEC. Since its inception in 2009, the INBT-IMEC partnership has blossomed into a number of collaborative projects, which enabled both graduate and undergraduate students from Hopkins to broaden their research experience with internships at IMEC’s state-of-the-art laboratories in Leuven, Belgium (with some students from IMEC also interning at Hopkins).

These projects were built around Hopkins/INBT research interests in nanobiotechnology such as controlled drug delivery, microfluidics, stem cell platforms and neural networks to mention a few. IMEC’s massive expertise in nanofabrication, darkfield and lens-free microscopy, neuro-electronics and lithography provides a huge opportunity for JHU researchers to evaluate translational pathways for basic discoveries.

Initial discussions about a broader relationship between the two institutions originated with an INBT-IMEC team exploring possible additional opportunities building on our existing partnership. A visit to Hopkins by senior IMEC management in August 2012 was organized by INBT, and laid the groundwork for subsequent next steps which included a University-wide team. We are delighted to have identified an opportunity for Hopkins to create a collaborative model to develop potentially revolutionary new techniques combining the unique advantages of silicon technology to a new generation of diagnostics and cures.

Separate from this recent collaboration, INBT has hosted students to conduct research at IMEC since 2009. Funding to support students abroad has come from INBT and the National Science Foundation International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program.

Read the official announcement from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine here.

Check out the INBT/IMEC blog.

Read about the INBT/IMEC IRES program here.

By Tom Fekete, INBT director of corporate partnerships.

 

Academic research internships are for grad students too

Cell migration assays

Before enrolling in the PhD program in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins, I didn’t know that academic internships were available for graduate students. When I was an undergraduate, I spent one summer working at a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Iowa State University. REU programs are paid research internships that are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and hosted by universities throughout the country, and they are well-advertised by academic advisors. They provide great opportunities for undergraduate students to see what full-time research in an academic setting is like before committing to graduate school. My undergraduate research experiences were instrumental as I made the decision to apply to PhD programs.

However, I didn’t realize that similar opportunities would be available once I’d entered grad school. I was very excited to learn that INBT offers an International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program that is open to both graduate and undergraduate students. This program offers an incredible opportunity to work internationally. By partnering with the Inter-University MicroElectronics Centre (IMEC) in Leuven, Belgium, INBT gives students the chance to work in IMECs microfabrication facilities to develop biomedical devices. They have incredible fabrication facilities at IMEC, and students traveling there learn a lot about how microelectronics manufacturing techniques can be translated to answer biological questions.

Leuven pic-web

In July and August of 2013, I visited IMEC to work on using new imaging techniques to study cell migration. We are trying to make cell motility studies easy, affordable, and high-throughput. Time-lapse motility experiments are typically limited to labs focused on cell motility because they require expensive microscopes and specialized equipment. Therefore, not every lab that cultures cells can perform these experiments, even though tests of cell motility can tell researchers a lot about other cellular behavior.

At IMEC, I worked on using an affordable imager that could be placed directly in cell culture incubators to study cells in wound healing, random motility, microcontact printing migration, and microchannel migration assays. We had some promising early results, and our collaboration is continuing. The internship provided me exposure to techniques I wouldn’t have otherwise known about, and I learned a lot about building collaborations with other researchers.

Colin Paul is a fourth-year PhD student in the laboratory of Konstantinos Konstantopoulos in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

Info sessions on international research internships

IMEC clean room

What’s better than working on a cool research project in your lab? Why it’s working on a cool research project in a fascinating European country, of course!

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology offers undergraduate and graduate research internships at IMEC’s world-class nanofabrication laboratory in Belgium. Internships last approximately 10 weeks and include housing and a stipend. Find out how to apply and what kinds of projects are being sought at one of our upcoming informational sessions. Two sessions will be held October 8, one at 1 p.m. with light refreshments and a second at 5 p.m. with pizza, both in Croft Hall, Room 170.

RSVP is required to Tom Fekete at tfekete1@jhu.edu

Blog posts from Belgium

colin-leuven

Catholic University of Leuven (Photo by Colin Paul)

During the summer, a select group of researchers from Johns Hopkins travel to Leuven, Belgium to work at the micro- and nano- electronics fabrication laboratories of IMEC. Usually three to five students are able to go over for up to three months to work on a research project that is collaboratively arranged by both IMEC researchers and Johns Hopkins University faculty.

The students usually are advancing some aspect of a project they have started here at JHU. In a few instances, researchers from IMEC come to JHU to work. Faculty at both locations work together to develop projects that are mutually beneficial to all parties.

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology provides financial support for our research through the National Science Foundation’s International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program. The arrangement with IMEC has been in place since 2009.

IMEC, which used to be referred to as the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre, is an unusual research entity that grew out of an agreement between the Flemish government and the academic community at Catholic University of Leuven They now have more than 2,000 researchers from all around the globe working at their high tech facility.

To keep in touch with our researchers while they are away and to find out about their outside of laboratory adventures, INBT established the IMEC blog.  Click here to check out what our students have done, this summer and over the last several years.

 

Five Hopkins students conduct nano research in Belgium

Each summer, Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) has funding to support several summer research internships abroad. The International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program, funded by the National Science Foundation, provides support for students to work with researchers at The Inter-University MircroElectronics Centre (IMEC) in Leuven, Belgium. Students work at IMEC’s world-class microfabrication facility and learn to design, fabricate and test a wide range of biomedical devices.

Internships can last two to three months, although they can be much shorter depending on the project. They include travel expenses, accommodation and a stipend. The IRES program is open to Johns Hopkins undergraduate and graduate students.

Students are selected through discussions with and recommendation from their advisers. Interns selected must also have a research project that is mutually of interest to investigators at both Johns Hopkins and IMEC. Interested students should contact INBT’s Academic Program Administrator Ashanti Edwards (ashanti@jhu.edu) to being the process of applying for upcoming internships.

During the summer of 2012 five students from Johns Hopkins conducted research at IMEC. They included the following:

Gregg Duncan is a doctoral student in the lab of Michael Bevan, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Duncan used dark field microscopy to quantify nanoparticle-cell interactions.

Colin Paul is a doctoral student in the lab of Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Paul brought cell migration devices fabricated in the Konstantopoulos lab to IMEC to perform proof-of-concept experiments with Nicolas Barbera (see below).

Nicolas Barbera is a rising senior working in the Konstantopoulos lab. Barbera gained skills in fluorescence microscopy, dark field microscopy and hyperspectral imaging.

Sarah Friedrich is a doctoral student from the laboratory of Andre Levchenko, professor of biomedical engineering. Friedrich worked on a platform that could expose cells to both chemical and topographical stimulation at the same time.

Peter Nelson is a rising sophomore working in the lab of Jordan Green, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. Nelson worked developing on a polymer-nanoparticle with the ability to apply hyperthermia (heat) and chemotherapy treatments.

Story by Mary Spiro 

Device with tiny ‘speed bumps’ sorts cells

These illustrations show magnetically labeled circulating tumor cells (shown as yellow spheres), together with red, white and platelet cells, attempting to travel over an array of slanted ramps. The ramps act as speed bumps, slowing the tumor cells.. (Illustration by Martin Rietveld)

In life, we sort soiled laundry from clean; ripe fruit from rotten. Two Johns Hopkins engineers say they have found an easy way to use gravity or simple forces to similarly sort microscopic particles and bits of biological matter—including circulating tumor cells.

In the May 25 online issue of Physical Review LettersGerman Drazer, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and his doctoral student, Jorge A. Bernate, reported that they have developed a lab-on-chip platform, also known as a microfluidic device, that can sort particles, cells or other tiny matter by physical means such as gravity. By moving a liquid over a series of micron-scale high diagonal ramps—similar to speed bumps on a road—the device causes microscopic material to separate into discrete categories, based on weight, size or other factors, the team reported.

As the tumor cells slow, the flow carries them along the length of the ramp, causing lateral displacement. After the tumor cells traverse an array of these ramps, they have sufficiently been displaced and can be continuously isolated from other cells in the sample. (Illustration by Martin Rietveld)

The process described in the journal article could be used to produce a medical diagnostic tool, the Whiting School of Engineering researchers say. “The ultimate goal is to develop a simple device that can be used in routine checkups by health care providers,” said doctoral student Bernate, who is lead author on the paper. “It could be used to detect the handful of circulating tumor cells that have managed to survive among billions of normal blood cells. This could save millions of lives.”

Ideally, these cancer cells in the bloodstream could be detected and targeted for treatment before they’ve had a chance to metastasize, or spread cancer elsewhere. Detection at early stages of cancer is critical for successful treatment.

How does this sorting process occur? Bernate explained that inside the microfluidic device, particles and cells that have been suspended in liquid flow along a “highway” that has speed-bump-like obstacles positioned diagonally, instead of perpendicular to, the path. The speed bumps differ in height, depending on the application.

“As different particles are driven over these diagonal speed bumps, heavier ones have a harder time getting over than the lighter ones,” the doctoral student said. When the particles cannot get over the ramp, they begin to change course and travel diagonally along the length of the obstacle. As the process continues, particles end up fanning out in different directions.

“After the particles cross this section of the ‘highway,’” Bernate said, “they end up in different ‘lanes’ and can take different ‘exits,’ which allows for their continuous separation.”

Gravity is not the only way to slow down and sort particles as they attempt to traverse the speed bumps. “Particles with an electrical charge or that are magnetic may also find it hard to go up over the obstacles in the presence of an electric or magnetic field,” Bernate said. For example, cancer cells could be “weighted down” with magnetic beads and then sorted in a device with a magnetic field.

The ability to sort and separate things at the micro- and nanoscale is important in many industries, ranging from solar power to bio-security. But Bernate said that a medical application is likely to be the most promising immediate use for the device.

He is slated to complete his doctoral studies this summer, but until then, Bernate will continue to collaborate with researchers in the lab of Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and with colleagues at InterUniversity Microelectronics Center, IMEC, in Belgium. In 2011, Bernate spent 10 weeks at IMEC in a program hosted by Johns Hopkins’ Institute for NanoBioTechnology and funded by the National Science Foundation.

His doctoral adviser, Drazer, said, the research described in the new journal article eventually led Jorge down the path at IMEC to develop a device that can easily sort whole blood into its components. A provisional patent has been filed for this device.

The research by Bernate and Drazer was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Story by Mary Spiro.

Related links:

 

 

German Drazer’s Web page: http://microfluidics.jhu.edu/

Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering: http://www.jhu.edu/chembe/

NanoBioTech Institute Sends Hopkins Senior To Belgium For Summer Research

Michael Keung

Michael Keung

This summer, Michael Keung, a rising senior in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, will participate in the Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program. INBT’s IRES program, funded by the National Science Foundation, allows students to collaborate with researchers from Hopkins and The Inter-University MircroElectronics Centre (IMEC) in Leuven, Belgium. Students work at IMEC’s world-class microfabrication facility and learn to design, fabricate and test chip-based platforms and integrated microelectronic systems for biomedical applications. The goal of the program is to help students gain a broader, global perspective of science and technology.

Michael is working on a bachelor’s degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering (ChemBE) with a concentration in interfaces and nanotechnology with a minor in entrepreneurship and management. Before he left for Belgium on May 30, he answered a few questions about how he became involved in INBT’s IRES program. While abroad, Michael will keep a blog so that everyone back home can read about his experiences at IMEC and in Europe. To read Michael’s blog, “Summer 2009 at IMEC,“ go to http://www.keungatimec.blogspot.com.

1. Why did you want to participate in INBT’s IRES program?

I think it is safe to say that a large majority of students consider Hopkins to be extremely, if not overly, rigorous. Any opportunity to take a break from school work or getting off campus is welcomed with wide, open arms. After my sophomore year at JHU, I was strongly considering some type of travel abroad, whether it was taking classes or doing an internship, to get a break from Hopkins and Baltimore.

I first heard about INBT’s IRES program from an email distributed from my principal investigator, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering David Gracias (an affiliated faculty member of INBT). I wanted to be a part of this program because it provides an amazing opportunity to further one’s education, both academically and personally. IMEC has world class facilities and has been a leader in nanoelectronics and nanobiotechnology. I can’t imagine any better way to spend a summer than traveling around Europe and working in such a renowned facility as IMEC.

2. What do you hope to learn about nanobiotechnology, business, research etc.?

I hope to learn new fabrication techniques and ways of perfecting the current ones I am already familiar with. By bringing these back to the Gracias lab, perhaps we will be able to improve our own fabrication methods. Additionally, I hope to become exposed to the biological side of nanotechnology. As a ChemBE concentrating in interfaces and nanotechnology, my exposure to the biological aspect is very limited. With this research opportunity, I hope to broaden my academic scope.

3. How did you prepare yourself academically and personally for your trip?

Coming from the Gracias lab, I already have a lot of experience with microfabrication. The processes that we use to fabricate our structures are similar to the techniques used over at IMEC. IMEC, however, has very large facilities and equipment with greater resolution than what we have at our disposal at Hopkins. My research background with the Gracias lab has prepared me academically for this trip.

Personally, one thing I am definitely taking with me are Dutch and French dictionaries. I have a feeling that I will need it, considering I have zero background in either language. The whole language barrier problem should be fun trying to get around, albeit frustrating.

4. What skills do you hope to gain from this research trip?

I hope to gain skills in perfecting the fabrication techniques employed in the Gracias lab. By integrating the experience I obtain at IMEC with our lab here at Hopkins, perhaps we may be able to fabricate new types of micro and nanostructures.

5. What research project will you be working on?

The project will be a collaborative effort between the Gracias lab and IMEC. The Gracias lab has experience in fabricating 3D self-assembled structures ranging from 100 nanometers to several millimeters. The group I’ll be working with over at IMEC has experience in fabricating plasmonic nanostructures that are sensitive towards the attachment of biomolecules. Together, we will be working on fabricating nanocubes with plasmonic nanostructure cavities on each face of a cube. This will allow us to demonstrate directional sensitivity in three dimensions on the nanoscale and have importance in surface enhanced raman spectroscopy (SERS) experiments in fluids or even in vivo.

6. What qualities do you think you bring to this research trip?

Personally, I will be bringing the cube fabrication experience from our lab and combining it with the resources over at IMEC to fabricate new types of plasmonic nanostructures.

7. What do you think will be the most challenging part about your trip?

One aspect of this research experience that will be challenging to acclimate to is the different equipment on the IMEC campus. When working with the instruments in the Gracias lab, you get familiar with the workings and intricacies of the equipment. I do not know about IMEC specifically, but at some companies, technicians operate each specific piece of equipment, such that one individual never fabricates a wafer from beginning to end. Although getting acquainted with new procedures will be challenging, they will have to be overcome.

Additionally, I think being submerged in a new country and culture will be very intimidating. I have no experience with the Dutch or French languages, so a language barrier will definitely be present between me and some individuals. Also, I have never traveled to Europe, so I am aware that I will probably experience a culture shock in terms of traditions and lifestyle.

8. What do expect will be the most fun about your trip?

I think I will have a lot of fun being exposed to the different fabrication techniques and equipment over at IMEC. Plenty of researchers over there are leaders in their field. It will be a very pleasurable experience to be working and learning side-by-side with them.

Not to forget the fact that it is Europe, I will definitely be traveling around to different countries on the weekends. I have already planned the cities I am going to visit along with the train routes I will need to take to get there. Although I will be working at IMEC on the weekends, I will be pseudo-backpacking around Europe during my free time.

9. What do your family and friends think about you going on this trip?

I am very excited and grateful to INBT for being given this great opportunity to travel to Europe and perform research at IMEC. My friends and family are very excited for me, most wishing that they could join me. Everyone has been very supportive of this opportunity and I am incredibly excited to begin my journey.

10. Anything else?

This is the first year of the IMEC program, and I know that it took a lot of work to get it off the ground. I would like to thank Thomas Fekete, Ashanti Edwards, and everyone associated with the program, I now cannot wait for it to begin.

Links:

Michael Keung is keeping a blog on his adventures at IMEC in Belgium.  Click here to read it.