In this series, we are highlighting the experience of past winners of the Hayes Graduate Research Forum, which will take place virtually this year on April 9, 2021.

In our second installment, fourth-year PhD candidate in Chemical Engineering, Elizabeth Jergens, discusses her PhD journey, Hayes Forum experience and the important role mentorship has played.

When I started my PhD journey here at OSU, I had exactly zero experience with and knowledge about nanotechnology. Now, I am a fourth year PhD candidate in Chemical Engineering under the advisement of Dr. Jessica Winter. The main interest of my research is studying the interactions of DNA and nanoparticles for biological applications. At the Hayes Forum in 2020, I presented my work on the use of DNA cages for erasable fluorescent imaging. To sum up the important points, we produce custom nanoparticles in our lab that contain a fluorescent dye and we coat the surface of these nanoparticles with DNA tiles. These DNA tiles interlock with each other and have several targeting strands made of single-stranded DNA. This single stranded DNA will want to bind with a complimentary strand of DNA that we have conjugated to antibodies thus allowing for labeling of cells or tissue. DNA will want to bind to the most complimentary strand available which in this case allows for the removal of the DNA cages. Over the course of 15 minutes using DNA and a simple salt solution, up to 80% of the labeled signal can be erased. In the future, we hope to apply to histological samples using both fluorescent and colormetric dyes.

I decided to participate in the Hayes Forum for the past few years to practice my presentation skills and get better at explaining my research to those who are outside my area of expertise. Scientific research is very important but if the information can’t be communicated to the general public then the research means nothing. I hoped that the Hayes Forum could help me with this, and I believe that it did. To those who are considering presenting at the Hayes Forum in the future, I would highly encourage it. My advice is to keep your abstract simple with plain language so that people who are outside your field can easily understand the information that you are trying to provide.

My advice to anyone who wants to get involved in research at OSU is find work that interests you and is being done by a mentor that will help you learn and grow as a researcher. The research can be extremely interesting but if you don’t get to be involved how you want, then the work won’t be fulfilling. I am very grateful to be working with Dr. Winter since her work style matches mine and she pushes me to be better and think deeper about my research every day. In the future, I hope to be as a good a mentor as she is.