Ohio State professor receives NSF grant for work in Nanomaterials and Bioengineering

Posted: March 26, 2021

Gunjan Agarwal

Dr. Gunjan Agarwal, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, has received a three-year collaborative research grant for $390,433, from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for her work in Nanomaterials and Bioengineering.

Agarwal’s project, “Collaborative research: Magnetic mapping of bio-inspired clusters of iron oxide nanoparticles” is funded by the NSF’s Nanoscale Interactions program. The proposed research seeks to understand the fate of and better characterize iron-oxide nanoparticles in biological systems, she said. Agarwal (as lead PI) will be collaborating with Dr. Sam Oberdick, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, on this project.

Iron oxide nanoparticles have widespread importance for labeling cells and molecules both inside and outside the human body. However, nanoparticles often cluster together in complex bio-environments, and the effect of clustering on their collective magnetic properties is not well understood. So, the overall objective of this work is to explore the relationship between nanoparticle clustering and resultant magnetic properties.

“Findings from this work can potentially be used to engineer magnetism-based sensing tools for more accurately tracking of iron nanoparticles in biological systems,” Agarwal said. “Data from this project can also advance other biomedical applications of iron oxide particles, such as their uses in magnetic hyperthermia for cancer therapy or as contrast agents for medical imaging.”

This work is highly multidisciplinary as it combines the fields of Biophysics, Nanotechnology, Microscopy and Imaging, and Biosensing.

The grant will be used to support and train graduate and undergraduate students in specialized techniques involving atomic force microscopy and electron microscopy, as well as cell-culture, histology and other analytical techniques. Another outcome of this award will be to develop outreach activities to educate underprivileged students at a local high school about nanoscience and engineering concepts.

 “We are honored by the opportunity to pursue this collaborative project. It has been an outcome of our combined efforts over the past few years to explore and understand biomagnetism,” Agarwal said. “In particular, I would like to acknowledge my Biophysics graduate student Kevin Walsh for his efforts and contributions. We look forward to an exciting journey to answer some fundamental questions pertaining to nanoparticle behavior in biological environments.”

Agarwal’s ongoing research also focuses on extracellular matrix (ECM) remodeling to understand the collagen fibril structure and function. This past year, she received another three-year grant on “Collagen fibril structure, surface charge and vascular calcification” from the NSF’s Engineering of Biomedical Systems program.