BioFrontiers broadens science department

Sept. 23, 2013

Samantha Morley
[email protected]

There are hidden aspects of every building on campus. The Osborne Center, for example, is home to several high-tech, multi-million dollar laboratories that explore innovative inventions and ideas that may in the future be common to everyday life.

The school’s BioFrontiers Institute was originally started at CU-Boulder and only recently brought to Colorado Springs, broadening the UCCS science department.

BioFrontiers is an interdisciplinary research program that applies sciences from several fields to a single problem.

“We don’t necessarily have immediate collaboration with Boulder,” said Kyle Culhane, a Ph.D. student who works with the BioFrontiers Institute and specializes in particle physics and cosmology. “They’re trying to separate the two and keep us our own entity.”

Culhane and a few of his associates have been working on nanoparticle projects in the Osborne Center. “We’re interested in biological application [of nanoparticles],” he said.

“We’re looking at silver and gold because their noble metals [and] hoping they’re going to be biologically compatible.”

They have developed fluorescent nanoparticles that can glow certain colors under specific lights, therefore allowing the team to image cells.

Also within Osborne is a laboratory that researches liquid crystals. Liquid crystals have become popular in current technology.

Items that feature an LCD display, such as phones, televisions and computers, have liquid crystal components.

Yuriy Garbovskiy, a senior research associate, has been at UCCS for three years and works with the liquid crystals. “Here is a complete set of facilities that allow us to produce any different kind of nanobiotics,” Garbovskiy said.

He provided a thorough explanation of the way liquid crystals work, how they are made in the lab and their practical applications.

The liquid crystals are also being used for biological means, such as a method that could potentially remove cancer cells by less invasive means.

However, it can take several months for a small sample of crystals to be made. A small bottle of liquid crystals can cost around $10,000.

Another lab contains a scanning electron microscope (SCM) and a “cluster,” which consists of several computational nodes and a head node that aid in the solving of complicated numerical problems. The cluster, called UCCS ROCKS because it resembles a rock cluster, began in 2010.

Jewell Anne Hartman, Ph.D. student in physics specializing in metamaterial optics and nanotechnology, and her associates add nodes periodically.

There is also a solid-state lab that showcases machinery worth millions of dollars each. “The floor is basically an infinite sink. This floor alone cost $1 million dollars,” Hartman said.

“The presence of one electron in this room would damage all of this equipment.” Because electrons possess a charge, they would interfere with the sensitive processes of the machines, therefore rendering them useless. Tom Christensen, a professor in the department of physics and energy science, runs this lab.

Hartman also went into detail about an atomic force microscopy (AFM) unit and a powerful laser that holds a titanium-doped sapphire.

The laser can be in both continuous and pulsing modes, but the laser goes through a series of reflective devices, such as mirror and a soda can, to reach its end point, thus proving to be a complicated process.

As for funding, the school primarily receives money from private entities. Donations are also accepted. “We get donations of equipment all of the time,” Hartman said. “We got $14 million of equipment from some lab up in Denver.” The school, however, often purchases new devices and adds them to the collection.

In an effort in increase awareness of the projects, Hartman hosts a Demo Day event every semester during finals week, in which her students can tour the laboratories.

Students are welcome to invite friends. “I tell my students to invite guests. So whoever they choose to bring gets to see it.” Hartman said.