The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News September 30, 2005

New nanometer scale at OC

Nanotechnology is slowly entering the world of Oberlin science students as new biochemistry Professor Jason Belitski started working on two nano projects that include undergraduate research. Belitsky knows what all the excitement is about when it comes to nanoresearch. Talk of the many applications of carbon nanotubes is big, but really anything at the nanosize scale raises lots of interest.

“Many areas of science are converging on a size regime of 1-100 nanometers,” Belitsky says.

And it is just at this size range in which Belitsky works, from particles found in hair that can clean the air to molecules that can play a vital role in understanding biological functions.

With a B.A. from Amherst College, Belitsky felt drawn to work at a liberal arts school himself. With a Ph.D. from Caltech as well, he knows the benefits of a large research facility, but finds that the emphasis on one-on-one work matches well with what he finds important. He enjoys working with and training undergraduates and preparing them for research later in life.

Belitsky brings the nanoconnections into his one-on-one work with junior Chris Boyd and honors chemistry student, senior Mae Gackstetter, who have the opportunity to take their small-scale research and apply it to current problems in science.

“From a chemistry perspective, we always work at that scale, we work at an even smaller scale,” Belitski says. “To a chemist, nanotechnology is the realization from other fields of how important chemistry is.”

Looking at the natural product from hair that produces the melanin acting as pigment in hair and in skin, Belitsky, along with Boyd and Gackstetter, look to replicate the structure of the product at the nanometer scale. Such a molecule would have vast applications.

Melanin can be both beneficial and harmful in regards to skin cancer, but many people don’t realize the technological tool they can be for the environment. Able to bind to practically anything, they can be used to attach to unwanted chemicals and pollution in the atmosphere, serving as an environmental filter.

Honors student Ronnie Shmookler is another one of the undergraduates who experiences real-world research by understanding a molecule that can be used to label proteins biologists might want to study. At this point, the project is still synthetic chemistry, as the students and professors working on it are just starting to create the biological dye.

To do so, they must first understand the structure that would both attach to the primary target, and be very unreactive to processes going on around it. After that they must synthetically create a particular molecule with a shape that leads to the molecule’s unique properties. In the future, the molecule will be used to follow the behavior of cyclic amino peptides, allowing for an entire host of alternate research projects to be explored.

“Ultimately undergrads can work on all parts of this [project],” Belitski said, from the synthetic chemistry of the dye creation, to the biochemistry used to understand the peptides.

With both projects on which he is working, Belitsky brings more connections to cutting edge advancements for student use as they prepare to enter the field of scientific research. Nanoresearch abounds at Oberlin College, with more advances each year and with applications that will result in the smallest answers to some of our biggest problems.


Search powered by