Northwest’s department of natural sciences received its fourth grant to continue theoretical research from the National Science Foundation.
Associate professor Himadri Chakraborty applied for the grant, this time receiving $300,000 over three years, for continued research in computational and theoretical nanophysics.
Chakraborty explained his research is specifically concerning a 60 carbon atom, soccer ball-shaped cage called a fullerene.
“The research is about looking at the interaction between laser light with materials,” Chakraborty said. “The specific kind of materials we are interested in are the fullerene materials, sometimes we (Chakraborty’s team) are also interested in atoms and molecules, but most of our interest goes into buckminsterfullerene.”
What Chakraborty is looking for is how the fullerene interacts with the light.
“(The fullerene cage) can absorb energy from the laser light and do stuff inside, or if the light energy is high enough, then some of the electrons from the system get knocked out, and one can actually detect the electrons,” Chakraborty said. “We don’t do the detection part because that’s the experimental part, but we can simulate this whole process theoretically or computationally.”
Chakraborty explained that can be extremely useful in technological applications.
“Number one (use) I would say is in drug delivery,” Chakraborty said. “So the fullerene is a cage, you can actually put anything that is small enough size and you can sequester it, and that inside thing pretty much will not know anything about the external environment, it’s fairly well confined.”
One practical example would be cancer-fighting drugs.
“Let's say I got a cancerous development tissue on my finger, they will push that in my bloodstream and the drug will flow in my bloodstream and eventually get to the site, but in the process of going through the bloodstream, it’s going to kill a lot of healthy tissues,” Chakraborty said.
With the fullerene cage, the drug would not harm anything until it got to its destination.
Chakraborty uses part of the grant money to continueto hire summer student interns and soon a postdoctoral fellow. One of the students that worked on this project is senior Dakota Shields.
“I am kind of like the worker bee putting in the different parameters to run the programs,” Shields said. “I’m the one that makes the data for the graphs and the bonding and antibonding for the molecular states.”
Shields has liked working with Chakraborty, as it helps him use what he learned in class and apply it to the real world.
“It’s been interesting seeing actual theoretical work because you know you take all your classes and it’s like pencil and paper and you’re doing these simple-ish equations,” Shields said. “Then take all of that, and you make the equations hundreds of times harder, and then you translate into a computer program that does everything for you.”
Part of that experience has been to understand that an experiment does not just rely on physics.
“You also need the computation and the coding to make it all work together,” Shields said.
Shields said he has also been able to go on conferences and publish papers because of working with Chakraborty. These experiences are things that Shields values.
Chakraborty said experiences like what Shields gets is another reason why these grants are helpful.
“It’s great for our programs as well as our chemistry or physics programs because students who get experience in this frontline research always enrich their resume and when they apply for going into jobs, besides the educational part of it,” Chakraborty said. “It makes them more marketable, more attractive going into the future.”
Chakraborty has applied for previous grants dating back to 2007. Chakraborty believes his success in previous grants has helped gain him the new one.
“Your track record helps definitely,” Chakraborty said. “If you have successfully completed a previous grant then you have more chance to get the next grant, but it’s not exactly a renewal.”
Chakraborty said his research is theoretical and computational, which limits what his expenses are.
“For me, since it’s mostly theoretical and computational, I need to spend money buying some high-efficiency computer system and paying people,” Chakraborty said.
Chakraborty said his costs are reduced further by Northwest’s high-performance computer cluster, Bartik.
“That is one good news for Northwest, we have this Bartick computer system which saves me some money not needing to buy my own computer, I can use this network,” Chakraborty said.