Awards Database

Cottrell College Science Awards - 2015

Laura M. Wysocki

Wabash College

From Dark to Light: Versatile Synthesis of Fluorogenic Small Molecule Sensors and Enzyme Substrates

Fluorescence is the emission of light by an object or substance that has absorbed light or some other form of electromagnetic radiation; scientists employ fluorescence to study many things, living and nonliving.

Laura M. Wysocki, assistant professor of chemistry at Wabash College, has received a Cottrell College Science Award from Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) to come up with a new and less toxic method to produce a class of fluorogenic probes that are used to study many different types of enzymes and other biochemical reactions. Many of these chemical probes are currently derived from formaldehyde or incorporate related toxic compounds.

Wysocki’s goal is to develop new derivatives of fluorescein, a synthetic compound, that are highly stable in the presence of water, and that exhibit low background fluorescence -- meaning the molecules would only light up under certain conditions, making them easy to spot under a microscope.

Specifically, her challenge is that she is focusing on modifying the xanthene class of compounds, which is the basis for a range of dyes including fluorescein. Unfortunately, some of these compounds fall apart in water, resulting in unwanted fluorescence. She will use a process chemists call “alkylation,” a term that loosely means attaching various atoms or molecules to an existing group. If she is successful Wysocki may be able to create fluorogenic probes that become luminous when the alkyl group is chemically removed, much like flipping a light switch.

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