Northeastern University

Designing Optically Active Semiconductor Nanocrystals for Biomedical Applications

Dr. Allison Dennis, Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering, Northeastern University
March 14, 2023 3:25 pm

Dr. Dennis is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Northeastern University. She is passionate about using nanobiotechnology to address biomedical challenges. Her lab uses their expertise in the design and synthesis of heterostructured semiconductor nanoparticles, colloidal chemistry and stability, and biofunctionalization to develop fluorescent probes for biosensing and biomedical imaging. Her lab uses their own QDs and other fluorophores spanning broad wavelength ranges for use in Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)-based sensing, visual color change-based sensing, and preclinical imaging. Nanotoxicity and degradation considerations are forefront for considering how they could better design QDs for eventual clinical translation as optical contrast agents for human diagnostic imaging.

Although the unique optoelectronic properties of semiconductor nanoparticle quantum dots (QDs) enable a variety of commercial products including display technology, solid state lighting, and photovoltaics, different design criteria need to be considered to use these nanoparticles in biomedical devices. Here, I will discuss how we tailor the composition and optical properties of QDs for a variety of biosensing and bioimaging applications. For example, I’ll describe how we use bright red and green emitting QDs in a rapid, instrument-free assay to detect small molecules such as antibiotics in complex water samples and use near infrared and shortwave infrared emitters to improve the clarity and resolution of in vivo imaging in mice. Finally, I’ll describe how biodegradable and biocompatible plasmonic semiconductor nanoparticles could be used to overcome barriers to clinical translation for photoaccoustic imaging and photothermal therapy applications. Notably, the efforts to remove heavy metals from the nanoparticles compositions also reduces the environmental impact of QDs developed for energy applications. By carefully considering material properties and engineering design choices, we develop semiconductor nanoparticles for a wide variety of applications.

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