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George Mason University

In the Laboratory of Nanotechnology - Tiny Particles Have Far-reaching Implications

March 30, 2016   /   by Martha Bushong

Dr. Carolina Salvador Morales with VSE student in Lab

Dr. Carolina Salvador Morales works at the Nanotechnology laboratory in the Krasnow Institute.

In the Laboratory of Nanotechnology Volgenau School of Engineering researchers study particles thinner than a hair on an infant's arm, smaller than a droplet of sea mist, and attachable to a single molecule.
Assistant Professor in Bioengineering, Carolina Salvador Morales is the director of the lab, which is located at Krasnow Institute. Her laboratory focuses on the design and applications of a wide range of carriers at the nano and micron-size scale to treat a number of devastating diseases including cancer. This type of research holds the promise for revolutionizing the way scientists approach common societal problems for example from creating novel cancer theranostics to nanopesticides.
"Fundamentally we aim to understand what mechanisms form the carriers so we can control their physical and chemical properties to diseases more effectively than standard treatments," said Salvador-Morales. 
She believes the more researchers can understand about the physico-chemical  aspect of nanocarriers the more effective those carriers will be in medical and industrial settings.
Because the research projects are highly translational, Salvador-Morales's team collaborates closely with hospitals, industries, and federal research laboratories in the Washington metropolitan area. In her research, she works with many experienced international collaborators, but she sees her role as a teacher to undergraduates in the lab as one of her most important roles.
"My goal is to create the next generation of young scientists. I want my students to experience science in the most meaningful and magical way. I want them to understand the medical problem they are addressing and develop research strategies to generate innovative solutions so that one day the scientific discoveries made in the lab can benefit society. I'm strict, but they know when they leave my lab, they will be scientists of high caliber" Salvador-Morales said. 
One of Salvador-Morales's undergraduate lab technicians, Alex Nixon, worked in the nano lab 
while he was a full-time bioengineering student. 
"It fascinated me that the work that I did as an undergraduate could be used as a medical test in the future," he said. "One of the biggest things I've learned, and one of the things my mentor constantly reminds me about, is research is not a 9-5 job." 
Working in the lab can mean arriving at 6 a.m. to carry out a reaction and staying as late as 2 a.m. to centrifuge and wash the nanoparticles as well as being in and out of the lab at normal hours. 
"While it's crazy to be working until 2 a.m. some nights, what's even crazier is that I'm perfectly okay with it, in fact I love those nights," said Nixon.
Salvador-Morales, who recently won an award from the Jeffress Trust will be working with three more undergraduates in the lab during the coming years. "Alex will graduate and will be working in the private sector next year," she said. "I know what he has learned in the lab will serve him well in whatever profession he choses."