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In the News

Science magazine

Sep 5, 2014
featured a cover story on artificial cells by a team of physicists, including Syracuse's Mark Bowick and Cristina Marchetti. The story has been picked up by media outlets all over the world.
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"Bridge Street" (News Channel 9)

Sep 4, 2014
interviewed the Humanities Center's Mi Ditmar about the 2014 Syracuse Symposium, whose theme is "Perspective."
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NPR

Aug 26, 2014
spoke with Rebecca Moore Howard, a national authority on intellectual property and plagiarism, about Turnitin.com, a company that provides anti-plagiarism software.
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The Los Angeles Review of Books

Aug 25, 2014
interviewed Minnie Bruce Pratt, professor of writing and rhetoric and of women's and gender studies, about the reissue of her classic book "Crime Against Nature" (A Midsummer Night's Press and Sinister Wisdom, 2013).
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Time Warner Cable News

Aug 11, 2014
talked to Samuel Gorovitz, professor of philosophy, about the medical ethics of using experimental drugs to treat Ebola.
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National Geographic Daily News

Aug 9, 2014
interviewed Susan Parks, assistant professor of biology, about the impact of shipping traffic on whales.
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570 News Radio

Aug 8, 2014
spoke with Samuel Gorovitz, professor of philosophy, about the ethical implications of treating Ebola.
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WSYR Radio

Aug 8, 2014
talked to Samuel Gorovitz, professor of philosophy, about using experimental drugs to treat Ebola.
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Centre Daily Times (Pa.)

Aug 8, 2014
interviewed communications manager Rob Enslin about his new book, "Now's the Time: A Story of Music, Education, and Advocacy" (Epigraph, 2014).
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CNY Central

Aug 8, 2014
spoke with Samuel Gorovitz, professor of philosophy, about the role of the World Health Organization in treating Ebola.
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"Bridge Street" (WSYR-TV)

Jul 2, 2014
talked to Deborah Justice, the Carole and Alvin I. Schragis Faculty Fellow in the Department of Art and Music Histories, about her work with "media-savvy evangelicalism."
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Syracuse University researchers use nanotechnology to harness the power of fireflies

New research recently published in Nano Letters

Jun 14, 2012 | Article by: Judy Holmes

nanorods glow orange in a mold shaped like an S

Nanorods created with firefly enzymes glow orange. The custom, quantum nanorods are created in the laboratory of Mathew Maye, assistant professor of chemistry.


What do fireflies, nanorods, and Christmas lights have in common? Someday, consumers may be able to purchase multicolor strings of light that don’t need electricity or batteries to glow.  Scientists at Syracuse University found a new way to harness the natural light produced by fireflies (called bioluminescence) using nanoscience. Their breakthrough produces a system that is 20 to 30 times more efficient than those produced during previous experiments.

It’s all about the size and structure of the custom, quantum nanorods, which are produced in the laboratory by Mathew Maye, assistant professor of chemistry in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences; and Rebeka Alam, a chemistry Ph.D. candidate. Maye is also a member of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute.

“Firefly light is one of nature’s best examples of bioluminescence,” Maye says. “The light is extremely bright and efficient. We’ve found a new way to harness biology for non-biological applications by manipulating the interface between the biological and non-biological components.”

Their work, “Designing Quantum Rods for Optimized Energy Transfer with Firefly Luciferase Enzymes,” was published online May 23 in Nano Letters and is forthcoming in print.  Nano Letters is a premier journal of the American Chemical Society and one of the highest rated journals in the nanoscience field. Collaborating on the research were Professor Bruce Branchini and Danielle Fontaine, both from Connecticut College.

Fireflies produce light through a chemical reaction between luciferin and it’s counterpart, the enzyme luciferase. In Maye’s laboratory, the enzyme is attached to the nanorod’s surface; luciferin, which is added later, serves as the fuel. The energy that is released when the fuel and the enzyme interact is transferred to the nanorods, causing them to glow. The process is called Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET).

“The trick to increasing the efficiency of the system is to decrease the distance between the enzyme and the surface of the rod and to optimize the rod’s architecture,” Maye says. “We designed a way to chemically attach, genetically manipulated luciferase enzymes directly to the surface of the nanorod.” Maye’s collaborators at Connecticut College provided the genetically manipulated luciferase enzyme.

Mat Maye and Rebeka Alam look at BRET data from glowing nanorods

Maye and Rabeka Alam, a chemistry Ph.D. candidate, study the BRET data produced by the quantum nanorods.

The nanorods are composed of an outer shell of cadmium sulfide and an inner core of cadmium seleneide. Both are semiconductor metals. Manipulating the size of the core, and the length of the rod, alters the color of the light that is produced. The colors produced in the laboratory are not possible for fireflies. Maye’s nanorods glow green, orange, and red.  Fireflies naturally emit a yellowish glow. The efficiency of the system is measured on a BRET scale. The researchers found their most efficient rods (BRET scale of 44) occurred for a special rod architecture (called rod-in-rod) that emitted light in the near-infrared light range. Infrared light has longer wavelengths than visible light and is invisible to the eye. Infrared illumination is important for such things as night vision goggles, telescopes, cameras, and medical imaging.

Maye’s and Alam’s firefly-conjugated nanorods currently exist only in their chemistry laboratory.  Additional research is ongoing to develop methods of sustaining the chemical reaction—and energy transfer—for longer periods of time and to “scale-up” the system. Maye believes the system holds the most promise for future technologies that that will convert chemical energy directly to light; however, the idea of glowing nanorods substituting for LED lights is not the stuff of science fiction.

“The nanorods are made of the same materials used in computer chips, solar panels, and LED lights,” Maye says. “It’s conceivable that someday firefly-coated nanorods could be inserted into LED-type lights that you don’t have to plug in.”

Maye’s research was funded by a Department of Defense PECASE award sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). The AFOSR and the National Science Foundation supported the work performed by Maye’s collaborators at Connecticut College.

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Contact Information

Judy Holmes
jlholmes@syr.edu
315-443-8085

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