Pioneering Minds

A noble metal nanostructure interacts with blue light. (Courtesy Teri Odom)

A noble metal nanostructure interacts with blue light. (Courtesy Teri Odom)

Scientific risk takers are taking to the podium at the National Institutes of Health, where the fifth annual NIH Director's Pioneer Award Symposium kicked off yesterday. The Pioneer Awards reward outside-the-box research ideas, and more than a few chemists were in this year's lineup of presenters (these researchers won awards in 2008, and the 2009 awardees were announced yesterday morning). I'm at NIH through today to learn more about the awardees, and it seemed to me that many of the chemists in the lineup had some kind of "nano" bent to their research. I asked Northwestern's Teri Odom, a 2008 Pioneer Awardee, what she thought about that. Nano's presence makes sense because the nanoscale is an excellent one for probing biological processes, Odom, a materials scientist, says. People couldn't easily access the nanoscale before, but now that they can, "it's a direction a lot of people want to move in," she says. It's something she's interested in as well- Odom is developing metal nanostructures for resolving subcellular structures in 3D, without any fluorescent or other labels. After making the cut to win a highly competitive grant, NIH had one more challenge for the 2008 Pioneer AWardees-- tell audience members about your work in ten minutes or less. National Institute of General Medical Sciences director Jeremy Berg, who is moderating the symposium, called it "the lightning round". It's not always easy to condense your research like that, says Hongkun Park, a chemical physicist at Harvard University. Park, also a 2008 awardee, gave an overview of how his lab looks at interactions between arrays of nanowires and live cells. He's aiming to make drug delivery or high-throughput screening tools. But Park and Odom both agree that short-and-sweet talks are a great way to reach the diverse scientific audience that is at the symposium, which ranged from epidemiologists to computer scientists. Stick to big ideas, give the audience a taste of your vision and get them interested in the problems you're tackling, and they're bound to come back for more.

UPDATE 10/06: Webcast of day 1 of the symposium is available here.

Author: Carmen Drahl

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