Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brown/IMNI Part of Consortium Awarded $450,000 to Research Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico

The Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation (IMNI) at Brown University is part of a consortium, led by Gulf State partner Tulane University, that has been selected to receive funding as part of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI-BP) program to address future large-scale petroleum spills. The Brown / IMNI sub-award is $450,000 and focuses on particle-based alternatives to chemical dispersants.

Media contact: Dr. Robert Gropp

Reston, VA – Research on the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico took a major step forward today with the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) Research Board’s announcement that eight Research Consortia will be funded for the next three years. A total of $112.5 million over three years will support this portion of the GRI research effort. These teams will investigate the fate of petroleum in the environment, the impacts of the spill, and the development of new tools and technology for responding to future spills and improving mitigation and restoration.

The grant recipients announced today were selected using a competitive merit-review process.

The GRI Research Board is an independent body established by BP to administer the company’s 10-year, $500 million commitment to independent research into the effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident. Through a series of competitive grant programs, the GRI is investigating the impacts of the oil, dispersed oil, and dispersant on the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico and the affected coastal States in a broad context of improving fundamental understanding of the dynamics of such events and their environmental stresses and public health implications. The GRI also funds research that improves techniques for detecting oil and gas, spill mitigation, and technologies to characterize and remediate spills. Knowledge accrued will be applied to restoration and to improving the long-term environmental health of the Gulf of Mexico.

“I know the research community has been awaiting this announcement,” said Dr. Rita R. Colwell, Chairman of the GRI Research Board. “The GRI worked aggressively to develop RFP-I to ensure that we stimulate critically important research. The GRI has continued to work relentlessly to receive and review grants in order to make this announcement by the deadline we set last April.”

The grants awarded today were in response to RFP-I, a request for proposals the GRI Research Board issued on April 25, 2011. This request for proposals solicited applications from Research Consortia –
groups of researchers with compatible expertise from four or more institutions – to address one or more of the five intellectual themes established by the GRI Research Board. These themes are: 1) Physical distribution, dispersion, and dilution of petroleum, its constituents, and associated contaminants under the action of physical oceanographic processes, air-sea interactions, and tropical storms; 2) Chemical evolution and biological degradation of the petroleum/dispersant systems and subsequent interaction with coastal, open-ocean, and deep-water ecosystems; 3) Environmental effects of the petroleum/dispersant system on the sea floor, water column, coastal waters, beach sediments, wetlands, marshes, and organisms, and the science of ecosystem recovery; 4) Technology developments for improved responses, mitigation, detection, characterization, and remediation associated with oil spills and gas releases; and 5) Fundamental scientific research integrating results from the other four themes in the context of public health.

“These Consortia establish a research community of great strength with promise of substantial achievement. The results will illuminate the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill, and enable appropriate responses should there be future releases not only in the Gulf of Mexico, but anywhere that oil and gas is produced in ocean environments. They will also assist local, state and federal agencies in their work to remediate the consequences of the oil spill in coastal and marine environments. The long term contribution of this research will be of major benefit to industry, governments, and the people who live along the Gulf of Mexico coast,” said Colwell.

“The GRI received a number of excellent proposals,” said Colwell; “Following a competitive merit review process the Research Board approved funding for eight Research Consortia. These groups will be funded for the next three years and will then be eligible to apply for additional funding.”

The Research Consortia funded are:

Lead Institution: The University of Texas at Austin, Marine Science Institute.
Lead Investigator: Edward J. Buskey, Ph.D.
Project Title: “The Impact of Biological, Physical and Chemical Processes on the Fate of Oil Spills – bridging small scale processes with meso-scale modeling,”
Member Institutions: The Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Minnesota, SINTEF Norway, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Research Applied Technology Education Services (Rates)/Coastal Oil Spill Simulation System (COSS)

Lead Institution: Texas A&M University at College Station.
Lead Investigator: Piers Chapman, Ph.D.
Project Title: “Gulf of Mexico Integrated Spill Response Consortium.”
Member Institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, North Carolina State University, University of Texas at Austin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Hawaii at Manoa, University of Maryland, Georgia Institute of Technology

Lead Institution: Florida State University.
Lead Investigator: Eric Chassignet, Ph.D. Project Title: “Deep-C: Deepsea to Coast Connectivity in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.”
Member Institutions: Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Florida Institute of Oceanography, Georgia Institute of Technology, Naval Research Laboratory, Norwegian Meteorological Institute, Science Applications
International Corporation, University of South Florida, University of West Florida, University of Miami, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Lead Institution: Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.
Lead Investigator: Nancy N. Rabalais, Ph.D.
Project Title: “The Effects of the Macondo Oil Spill on Coastal Ecosystems.”
Member Institutions: Brigham Young University, Connecticut College, Florida Gulf Coast University, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, Louisiana State University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Maryland, University of Tennessee, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Lead Institution: University of South Florida.
Lead Investigator: Jacqueline Dixon, Ph.D.
Project Title: “Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of the Gulf Ecosystem (C-IMAGE).”
Member Institutions: Eckerd College, University of West Florida, Florida Institute of Oceanography, Texas A&M University, Florida State University, University of Miami, Mote Marine Laboratory, North Carolina State University, University of California at Los Angeles, University of California at San Diego, Pennsylvania State University, Leibniz Institute, Hamburg University of Technology, NHL University of Applied Sciences, University of Calgary, Wageningen University

Lead Institution: University of Miami.
Lead Investigator: Tamay Özgökmen, Ph.D.
Project Title: “Consortium for Advanced Research of Hydrocarbon Transport in the Environment (CARTHE).”
Member Institutions: City University of New York, Staten Island, Florida International University, Florida State University, Naval Postgraduate School, Naval Research Laboratory, Nova Southeastern University, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Tulane University, University of Arizona, University of Delaware, University of Texas at Austin

Lead Institution: Tulane University.
Lead Investigator: Vijay T. John, Ph.D.
Project Title: “The Science and Technology of Dispersants as Relevant to Deep Sea Oil Releases.”
Member Institutions: University of South Florida, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Rhode Island, Princeton University, Auburn University, Louisiana State University, City University of New York, University of Houston, University of Minnesota, University of Buffalo, Arizona State University, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, North Carolina State University, Brown University, University of Michigan, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Southern Mississippi, University of Maryland, Florida International University, Georgetown University, Princeton University

Lead Institution: University of Mississippi.
Lead Investigator: Raymond Highsmith, Ph.D.
Project Title: “Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG).”
Member Institutions: University of Southern Mississippi, University of Georgia, Florida State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Temple University, Oregon State University, Pennsylvania State
University, Columbia University, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Texas at Austin, J. Craig Venter Institute

This is the second round of funding the GRI has provided this year. On June 30, 2011, the Research Board awarded 17 grants totaling $1.5 million to support the time-sensitive acquisition of critical samples and observations associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. Funding for these grants was awarded under the terms of an emergency request for proposals, RFP-III. There will be an additional opportunity for researchers to pursue funding from the GRI. Colwell advised, “The GRI is working to develop and issue another request for proposals, RFP-II, which will award approximately $7.5 million a year in smaller grants to individual or small teams of researchers.”
The GRI Research Board members are:
Rita R. Colwell, Ph.D., Research Board Chair
Margaret Leinen, Ph.D., Research Board Vice Chair
Debra S. Benoit, M.Ed.
Peter G. Brewer, Ph.D.
Richard E. Dodge, Ph.D.
John W. Farrington, Ph.D.
Kenneth M. Halanych, Ph.D.
David Halpern, Ph.D.
William T. Hogarth, Ph.D.
Jörg Imberger, Ph.D.
Raymond L. Orbach, Ph.D.
Jürgen Rullkötter, Ph.D.
David R. Shaw, Ph.D.
John Shepherd, Ph.D.
Bob Shipp, Ph.D.
Burton Singer, Ph.D.
Ciro V. Sumaya, M.D., MPHTM
Denis Wiesenburg, Ph.D.
Charles Wilson, Ph.D.
Dana Yoerger, Ph.D.

For more information about the GRI or the Research Board, please visit: .

Brown University Biomedical Engineering Program Receives ABET Accreditation

After a complete review, the undergraduate program in biomedical engineering at Brown University has received ABET accreditation.

“This represents a major accomplishment for the Center of Biomedical Engineering, the School of Engineering and the Division of Biology and Medicine,” said Dean Larry Larson.

The external ABET evaluation team examined all aspects of the curricula, student outcomes and feedback from alumni and students.

“This is a well deserved recognition of excellence,” said Edward Wing, Dean of the Warren Alpert Medical School, “and an acknowledgement that Biomedical Engineering brings together faculty from Engineering, BioMed and our affiliated hospitals for an outstanding curriculum.”

The review was led by Professors Anubhav Tripathi and Jeffrey Morgan, co-directors of the Center of Biomedical Engineering with assistance from faculty, staff and students who worked on the preparation of the materials for the review.

“As an Ivy League university competing for today’s brightest students and faculty, Brown biomedical engineering offers an opportunity for scholarship in a burgeoning multidisciplinary context where the synthesis of life sciences and engineering creates new knowledge and real solutions for modern medical care,” said Tripathi. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nickel nanoparticles may contribute to lung cancer

Lab experiments find that nickel particles with diameters billionths of a meter wide can trigger a cellular pathway that promotes cancer growth.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — All the excitement about nanotechnology comes down to this: Structures of materials at the scale of billionths of a meter take on unusual properties. Technologists often focus on the happier among these newfound capabilities, but new research by an interdisciplinary team of scientists at Brown University finds that nanoparticles of nickel activate a cellular pathway that contributes to cancer in human lung cells.

When human lung epithelial cells are exposed to equivalent doses of nano-sized (left) or micro-sized (right) metallic nickel particles, activated HIF-1 alpha pathways (stained green) appear mostly with the nanoparticles.
“Nanotechnology has tremendous potential and promise for many applications,” said Agnes Kane, chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. “But the lesson is that we have to learn to be able to design them more intelligently and, if we recognize the potential hazards, to take adequate precautions.”

Kane is the senior author of the study published in advance online this month in the journal Toxicological Sciences.

Nickel nanoparticles had already been shown to be harmful, but not in terms of cancer. Kane and her team of pathologists, engineers and chemists found evidence that ions on the surface of the particles are released inside human epithelial lung cells to jumpstart a pathway called HIF-1 alpha. Normally the pathway helps trigger genes that support a cell in times of low oxygen supply, a problem called hypoxia, but it is also known to encourage tumor cell growth.

“Nickel exploits this pathway, in that it tricks the cell into thinking there’s hypoxia but it’s really a nickel ion that activates this pathway,” said Kane, whose work is supported by a National Institues of Health Superfund Research Program Grant. “By activating this pathway it may give premalignant tumor cells a head start.”

Size matters

The research team, led by postdoctoral research associate and first author Jodie Pietruska, exposed human lung cells to nanoscale particles of metallic nickel and nickel oxide, and larger microscale particles of metallic nickel. A key finding is that while the smaller particles set off the HIF-1 alpha pathway, the larger metallic nickel particles proved much less problematic.

In other words, getting down to the nanoscale made the metallic nickel particles more harmful and potentially cancer-causing. Kane said the reason might be that for the same amount of metal by mass, nanoscale particles expose much more surface area and that makes them much more chemically reactive than microscale particles.

Another important result from the work is data showing a big difference in how nickel nanoparticles and nickel oxide nanoparticles react with cells, Pietruska said. The nickel oxide particles are so lethal that the cells exposed to them died quickly, leaving no opportunity for cancer to develop. Metallic nickel particles, on the other hand, were less likely to kill the cells. That could allow the hypoxia pathway to lead to the cell becoming cancerous.

“What is concerning is the metallic nickel nanoparticles caused sustained activation but they were less cytotoxic,” Pietruska said. “Obviously a dead cell can’t be transformed.”

Although Kane said the findings should raise clear concerns about handling nickel nanoparticles, for instance to prevent airborne exposure to them in manufacturing, they are not all that’s needed to cause cancer. Cancer typically depends on a number of unfortunate changes, Kane said. Also, she said, the study looked at the short-term effects of nickel nanoparticle exposure in cells in a lab, rather than over the long term in a whole organism.

Still, in her lab Kane employs significant safeguards to keep researchers safe.

“We handle all these materials under biosafety level 2 containment conditions,” she said. “I don’t want anyone exposed. We’re handling them as though they were an airborne carcinogen.”

In addition to Kane and Pietruska, other authors on the paper are Ashley Smith, Kevin McNeil, and Anatoly Zhitkovich, a toxicologist; chemist Xinyuan Liu; and engineer Robert Hurt. Kane, Hurt, and Zhitkovich are associated with Brown’s Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Thomas Powers named Director of Graduate Programs for School of Engineering

Professor Thomas Powers has been named the director of graduate programs at the School of Engineering at Brown University for the 2011-12 academic year.

“Professor Powers was recommended and nominated by several of his colleagues, and I want to thank him for his service to the School of Engineering in filling this vital role,” said Larry Larson, Dean of the School of Engineering.

Professor Powers received an S.B. in physics and an S.B. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology in 1989. In 1995, he received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Pennsylvania. After Penn, he held postdoctoral positions in the physics departments of Princeton University and the University of Arizona. Then, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. He joined the Division of Engineering of Brown University in 2000 as the first holder of the James R. Rice Term Chair in Solid Mechanics.

Professor Powers' research interests include molecular and cellular biomechanics, the physics of soft matter, and nonlinear dynamics. He is currently an associate editor of Reviews of Modern Physics.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Karen Haberstroh named Director of Undergraduate Programs for School of Engineering

Professor Karen Haberstroh has been named the director of undergraduate programs at the School of Engineering at Brown University for the 2011-12 academic year.

“As a former undergraduate engineer at Brown and a professor who has excelled at teaching the introductory Engin 3 course to first semester freshmen, Karen is well-suited to this important role,” said Larry Larson, Dean of the School of Engineering.

Haberstroh is the Director of STEM Outreach and an Assistant Professor of Research (Engineering) at Brown. Prior to joining the University, she served as an assistant professor in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue University.

Her degrees are in biomedical engineering from Brown University (Sc.B., 1995) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (M.S., 1996; Ph.D., 2000). Prof. Haberstroh's research addresses the use of novel nano-structured polymeric materials in soft tissue engineering applications.

In addition to her research accomplishments, Dr. Haberstroh is dedicated to engineering and science education, and especially focuses on novel methods of education geared towards increasing the percentages of females and minorities in various physical science fields. Finally, she has worked to build connections between the Providence Public School system and Brown University, so that students in the rising generation might consider futures in science.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Brown Professor Thomas Webster receives Patent for “Nanofibers as a Neural Biomaterial”

Dr. Thomas Webster, associate professor at the Brown University School of Engineering, has received a patent for "Nanofibers as a Neural Biomaterial," U.S. Patent Number: 7,993,412. Professor Webster has now been awarded 11 full patents plus four provisional patents in his 11 years in academics (five years at Brown and six years at Purdue).

The technology in this patent describes the use of carbon nanotubes/nanofibers to heal a wide range of neurological disorders, from stroke to Parkinson's disease. In this technology, carbon nanotubes and nanofibers, which are tubes and fibers formed from the helical arrangement of carbon, were shown to significantly promote the function of neurons while inhibiting glial scar tissue formation to reverse brain damage. In particular, the unique high conductivity coupled with high strength to low weight ratios of carbon nanotubes were helpful for stimulating functions of nuerons. Carbon nanotubes have even been shown to improve stem cell differentiation into neurons in animal experiments. Currently, this technology is licensed to Nanovis, Inc. (

Webster received his bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, and his master’s degree and and Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Professor Webster directs the Nanomedicine Laboratory which designs, synthesizes, and evaluates nanophase materials for various implant applications. Nanophase materials are central to the field of nanotechnology and are materials with one dimension less than 100 nm. Materials investigates to date include nanophase ceramics, metals, polymers, carbon fibers, and composites. Organ systems evaluated to date include orthopedic, cartilage, vascular, bladder, and the central and peripheral nervous systems.

His lab group has generated four books, 33 book chapters, 85 invited prestentations (including tutorials), 215 literature articles and/or conference proceeding, and 245 conference presentations. His technology has resulted in one start-up company. He is the founding editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Nanomedicine and is on the editorial board of ten other journals. He has organized over 25 symposia at academic conferences. Dr. Webster was the 2002 recipient of the Biomedical Engineering Society Rita Schaffer Young Investigator Award, the 2004 recipient of the Outstanding Young Investigator Award for the Schools of Engineering at Purdue University, the 2004 finalist for the Young Investigator Award of the American Society for Nanomedicine, and the 2005 recipient of the Wallance Coulter Foundation Early Career Award.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Brown Researchers Honored for simulation video

A scientific simulation video created by a group of Brown researchers, including Professor Emeritus Bruce Caswell from the School of Engineering, is among those honored by the U.S. Department of Energy during its annual program called SciDAC, or Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing. The simulation was created to explore microscopic interactions between healthy blood cells and sickly ones. A second simulation in the video captures how blood-clotting platelets cram into a potentially lethal aneurysm, a weakened cell wall that bulges outward.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Professor Eric Suuberg Named a Fellow of the American Chemical Society

Brown University Professor of Engineering Eric Suuberg is the first faculty member at Brown to become a fellow of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The society announced its 2011 class of fellows on Aug. 8. Suuberg, associate director of the Superfund Research Program and co-director of the Program in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship (PRIME), said the recognition is an unexpected surprise and honor: “I am quite proud to join a distinguished group of individuals who have made significant contributions in the chemical sciences.”  Suuberg joins 212 scientists who have demonstrated outstanding accomplishments in chemistry and made important contributions to ACS, the world’s largest scientific society. The 2011 fellows will be recognized Aug. 29 during the society’s national meeting in Denver. This is not Suuberg’s first honor from the ACS. The society awarded him the H.H. Storch Award for Fuels Chemistry Research in 1999.

Professor Suuberg has been at Brown since 1981, when he was one of the founding members of Brown's Chemical Engineering program. His research interests have been in the areas of energy and environmental engineering. He has served as Associate Dean of the Faculty (2002-2005), as Chair of the Psychology Department (2004-5) and as a member of the Executive Committee of the Division of Engineering. He is currently Co-Director of the Superfund Basic Research Program, and a co-founder of the Commerce, Organizations and Entrepreneurship concentration as well as a co-founder of the PRIME master’s program. He is a principal editor of the journal Fuel.

Professor Suuberg's research interests center on
 energy and environmental areas, involving study of fuel chemistry (coal, oil shale, biomass), activated carbons (production and properties), materials reuse (automobile tires, coal fly ash), fire safety and, most recently, the characterization and cleanup of lands and sediments contaminated with mixed pollutants with a focus on thermodynamics of mixtures of high molecular weight organic compounds and the related problem of vapor intrusion.

He received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from M.I.T., a master’s degree in management science from M.I.T., and an Sc.D. in chemical engineering from M.I.T.