The Pittsburgh Meeting

alpert-photo3Here is the report of the 4th annual QSTORM team meeting!  This year Ge Yang hosted us at Carnegie Mellon on April 17 and 18.  Peter and Jianquan flew up from Georgia; Jessica and Qirui drove over from Columbus; Carol Lynn and Karine jetted in from Boston, and Nati hopped up from Rhode Island, representing Beth’s lab.  Everyone presented their current work, and the team jointly hashed out the latest protocols, findings, conclusions, and directions.

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Conscious that the end of funding for this grant is near, we also took some poignant moments to reflect on our long journey to becoming a team, persevering through multiple scientific and technical obstacles, achieving small breakthroughs on numerous fronts, and moving steadily closer to our goals.   While we still have not solved the central challenge of creating reliably switchable quantum dots and getting them, conjugated with targeting antibodies, to bind to specific targets in living cells, we have made considerable progress.

Qirui and Jessica are continuing to explore the reversible QD quenching strategy with gold nanoparticles and DNA linker molecules.   The Ohio State team has shown that their micelle-coated quantum dots perform better than those used by other leading super-resolution imaging labs.  They have been able to customize these  micelle-coated dots with targeting histochemistry.  Working together, Peter and Jessica’s lab teams have shown that they can indeed harness QD “blueing” behavior to conduct STORM imaging inside cells, and are set to try it with two colors.  Peter and Kayvan are well on their way to establishing a new coupled mirror and computational adaptive optics system to achieve some thick sample clarity.  On the biological front, Ge and Jianquan have firmly established a protocol for importing QDs into living cells using cell-penetrating peptides.  And Beth and her team have developed an important new animal cell model for two-color STORM imaging of muscle fiber contraction that is getting them closer to their goal of measuring tiny changes in muscle protein dynamics.

Beyond the real progress the teams are making tackling the series of challenges they must overcome in order to achieve the ultimate goal of “making molecular-scale movies” inside living cells, they have provided an extraordinary education in interdisciplinary biology, chemistry, optics, and engineering for more than a dozen graduate students, undergraduates and post-docs.  QSTORM students have made us all proud.  Cruising from lab to lab, post-doc Jianquan Xu has acquired enviable cross-cutting knowledge and proficiency in specialties as diverse as cell biology, bioengineering, quantum dot chemistry, and optics, and he will emerge from this training with a handful of papers and conference presentations to his name.  Gang Ruan achieved a professorial appointment in his native China.  Both Julia Olszewski and Breanna Stillo earned prestigious NSF Fellowships.  Andrew Herrington found a great job with a precision optics manufacturer.  Yiyi Yu went on to a fellowship at Sandia National Labs.  And Natividad Chen is moving on to a splendid career in scientific illustration and animation.  How lucky we are to have worked with so many talented, creative, and hard-working young scientists from a diverse variety of backgrounds and training.

So far, the research has resulted in four publications, contributed to eight others and to over 25 scientific presentations and posters, with more on the way, and, so far, one invention disclosure.   The “Making Molecular Movies with QSTORM”presentation has been presented at four science museums, and seen by 4,100 people, and by many others online.  The QSTORM website pioneered a unique open lab book approach, providing a worldwide open window into interdisciplinary research.  Jessica has achieved tenure at Ohio State and an “Entrepreneur of the Year” award.  Peter is probably now the world leader in adaptive optics for STORM imaging. Ge earned an NSF Career Award and was able to stablish a new STORM imaging lab at Carnegie Mellon, making great headway in exploring the dynamics of resource transport in neurons, and providing a new background fluorescence-eliminating algorithm to the research community.  Partnering closely with Peter, Beth, already a pioneer in live x-ray imaging of large muscle groups in action, has now launched her lab into a whole new field of intracellular muscle dynamics.

For our part, Karine and I believe we have possibly established a new benchmark in the annals of science-museum/research-team collaboration, so embedded are we in the communication of research among team members as well as to public audiences.   We have now shared the QSTORM collaboration model with dozens of organizations active in the NSF Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network, and our QSTORM educational materials are in active dissemination through that network.  We have gone onto a new scalable nanomanufacturing research collaboration with Jessica at Ohio State, and are currently partnering with a Center for Chemical Innovation at Brown.  After a three-year competition – joined with Harvard, MIT, and Howard University – we won a prestigious NSF Science Technology Center award – I am now serving as co-PI and co-director of the Center for Integrated Quantum Materials.  Most of all, we are proud of the fact that – after three years struggling to figure out how to tell the compelling story of this unique interdisciplinary collaboration while also explaining four different areas of scientific and technical expertise to family audiences in under 20 minutes – we did it!  Karine’s presentation of “Making Molecular Movies with QSTORM is a real winner with audiences at all the museums at which she’s performed – and the smiles on the faces of families at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Museum capped a great end to the 2014 QSTORM annual meeting.

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