Alan R. Esker of Blacksburg, assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, has won a five-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award designed to encourage promising young researchers.

Esker's research is aimed at understanding the properties of polymer stabilized magnetic nanoparticles (MNPs) at surfaces and interfaces and providing insights into using MNPs for biomedical diagnostics and the treatments of diseases such as cancer and blindness resulting from macular degeneration. In particular, this research focuses on studying the interaction of MNPs with "biological soaps," or lipids, which include triglycerides, cholesterol, and phospholipids, the principal components of cell membranes.

The ultimate goal of the research is to harness MNPs for hyperthermia, or the use of heat to alter the physiological state of cells. One example of this would be to trap drugs inside MNPs and use a magnetic field to deliver them to the exact site of the diseased cells. Subsequently, an alternating magnetic field could then be used to generate heat with the MNPs to melt the stabilizing polymer coating and release the drug to the specific site, thereby avoiding damage to healthy tissue.

This work is done in collaboration with Judy S. Riffle, professor of chemistry and the director of the Macromolecular Science and Engineering Program at Virginia Tech.

Esker earned a bachelor's degree and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He served as an intern at Procter & Gamble and a post-doctoral researcher at the Max-Planck Institut fuer Polymerforschung in Germany as well as a guest scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

A member of the Virginia Tech faculty since 1999, Esker is also a member of the Center for Adhesive and Sealant Science and the Macromolecular Science and Engineering Program faculty. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the 3M Untenured Faculty Award and the Omnova Solutions Signature University Award. Esker was elected to Sigma Xi and Phi Beta Kappa. He is a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Physical Society, and the Neutron Scattering Society of America. He is a native of Weston, Wis.

The College of Science at Virginia Tech gives students a comprehensive foundation in the scientific method. Outstanding faculty members teach courses and conduct research in biology, chemistry, economics, geosciences, mathematics, physics, psychology, and statistics. The college is dedicated to fostering a research intensive environment and offers programs in nano-scale and biological sciences, information theory and science, and supports research centers—in areas such as biomedical and public health sciences, and critical technology and applied science—that encompass other colleges at the university. The College of Science also houses programs in pre-medicine and scientific law.

Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech has grown to become the largest university in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, Virginia Tech's eight colleges are dedicated to putting knowledge to work through teaching, research, and outreach activities and to fulfilling its vision to be among the top 30 research universities in the nation. At its 2,600-acre main campus located in Blacksburg and other campus centers in Northern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Roanoke, Virginia Tech enrolls more than 28,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries in 170 academic degree programs.


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