Hiding in Plain Sight

Tracking small but potentially world-changing materials earns national recognition for scientist Korin Wheeler.

Hiding in Plain Sight
Korin Wheeler holds test tubes as she tracks nanomaterials in the lab.

Nanomaterials are in lots of everyday products, from sports equipment to cosmetics, electronics to clothing. But are they dangerous?

Chemistry and biochemistry Associate Professor Korin Wheeler and her student researchers want to find out.

These tiny nano-sized particles, which exist in nature but are also man-made, cannot be seen by the human eye. For scientists like Wheeler, that makes it hard to understand how nanomaterials impact the environment and human health.

Now, with the help of a prestigious $60,000 Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, she hopes to develop tools to monitor nanomaterials moving through the ecosystem.

“We as a field—scientists and engineers—are saying, ‘Let’s get ahead of this before it becomes a problem, before we make a mistake,’” she says. “Then we can leverage this knowledge to build more sustainable, healthy materials.”

As well as ensuring environmental safety and effectiveness of nano-enabled products, Wheeler’s research also aims to inform the development of health products, including sensors to detect disease. Her five-year grant, almost all of which supports her undergraduate student researchers on the project, represents an opportunity “to go into a new direction and to do some work I had only sort of dreamed about,” said Wheeler. “It could be game-changing.”

Prof Korin Wheeler Lab, Plus Students : Kira Fahy, Kaitlin Leung
Korin Wheeler, center, in her lab with students Kira Fahy ’20 and Kaitlyn Leung ’21
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