Awards Database

Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2016

Yan Yu

Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Indiana University at Bloomington

Exploiting Nanomaterials to Unravel Trafficking Inside Cells

There is very little elbow room inside a living cell, so making accurate images of what’s going on in there is quite a challenge. A more precise understanding of the traffic inside a cell could lead to better treatment for such ailments as Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Yan Yu, assistant professor of chemistry at Indiana University, is attempting to develop a new imaging method to reveal how living cells transport and manipulate their “internal cargos,” the miniscule sacs of fluids and fats required to fuel and maintain life.

Yu and her associates will be working with nanoparticles painted on one side with a fluorescent dye. Once, the nanoparticles are ingested by the cell, it is hoped they will function as nano-sized GPS tracking devices for organelles inside cells. “This imaging approach will be combined with automated tracking algorithms to reveal single-cargo dynamics that are inaccessible to conventional methods,” Yu says.

Specifically they will be looking for correlations between cargo dynamics and the three-dimensional structure of microtubules in cells. Hollow filament-like structures, microtubules in cells can be roughly compared to the highway networks in a city. Researchers currently theorize they may be responsible for pausing and changing the direction of intracellular cargos – an issue Yu hopes to explore.

For the education component of the Cottrell Scholar Award, Yu intends to create teaching modules that use art to enhance students’ conceptual understanding of chemistry. She will also create a “Chemistry in Art” seminar to encourage freshmen and sophomores to engage in critical readings of scientific literature.

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