“G-Gels” take the cake

by Michael Mullaney on March 4, 2009

Congratulations are in order for doctoral student Tony Yu, who yesterday won the coveted $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize. The annual award is reserved for a student who displays remarkable innovation and inventiveness. Tony won for developing binary guanosine gels, which he calls G-gels, with some truly amazing properties.

Here are Tony’s G-gels in a nutshell:

Researchers have known about guanosine gels for a while. But Tony, soon after enrolling at Rensselaer and joining the research group of professor (and now department head) Linda McGown, started investigating what would happen when he mixed two different gels together. The resulting binary G-gels proved to be more interesting – and more useful – than he or anyone else expected.

The binary G-gels are liquid in cold temperatures, but solidify into gels (think about the jiggly consistence of Jell-o) when warmed up. This behavior is certainly counter-intuitive, as most materials we’re used to – ice, metals, Jello-o! – are liquid at higher temperatures, but turn solid when cooled.

Tony and his group found many interesting applications and potential applications for the highly tunable G-gels. Two of the most promising are nanoparticle displacement and enzyme preservation.

It is increasingly evident that different nanoparticles of all shapes and sizes, in the near- and long-term future, will play a key role in everything from solar energy, fuel cells, water purification, to new medicine, new medical procedures and devices, along with computers, displays, and other electronics. But it’s still a big challenge for researchers working with nanoparticles to get the nanoscopic materials — some of which measure only a few billionths of a meter in length — where they need to go.

Using liquid to disperse nanoparticles seems like a natural fit, as liquid can flow wherever it needs to go, but most materials have shown a tendency for clumping together when placed in liquids. Liquid dispersion can also damage the nanoparticles.

Tony’s G–gels, on the other hand, have proven to be highly effective at dispersing nanoparticles, and do so gently and at high concentrations. The liquid gel carries in the nanoparticles, and is then warmed up to solidify and place or activate specific nanoparticles. Afterward, cooling the temperature again allows the gel to turn back to liquid, and easily be removed or drained. Easy as Jello-o!

The second key application of G-gels is their ability to preserve enzyme activity. Because they begin as liquids and form gels at body temperature, the G-gels could be used to encapsulate live cells, enzymes, or other materials for delivery into the human body, with potential applications in drug and gene delivery, as well as implantable devices. Tony said certain enzymes, with a shelf life of only a few days, have shown to remain stable for six months and longer when encased in G-gels. This could be big news for creating longer-lived implantable medical devices, and the gels have already caught the attention the cosmetics and sunscreen makers.

Tony has applied for U.S. and international patents, and has co-authored two papers (one here and one forthcoming) on G-gels.

Congratulations again to Tony! You can read more about his project here.

You can watch the video of yesterday’s award ceremony – which features an excellent video presentation on Tony and his research – at http://www.eng.rpi.edu/lemelson

{ 1 comment }

omnadren 05.18.10 at 6:49 pm

cooling the temperature again allows the gel to turn back to liquid, and easily be removed or drained. design inspirations 🙂

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