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Program Description


The development of ultrasensitive biological and chemical sensors stands as one of the grand science, engineering, and training challenges of the 21st century. The popular press is replete with reports of problems stemming from the inability to detect hazardous materials for homeland security, food safety, human health, and the environment. The September 11 tragedy focused the public eye on homeland security, a situation heightened by the subsequent dispersal of anthrax via the postal system. The status of the global food/water supplies is equally alarming. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that there are 76M illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths from food-borne pathogens in our country each year. The US Department of Agriculture estimates the domestic economic burden of these food-borne pathogens at ~$10B/year. Moreover, the World Health Organization reports that over 1 billion people are without clean drinking water. Worldwide, illnesses traceable to unsafe water annually kill ~1.8M people. As part of the integrated graduate education, research, and training (IGERT) program you will help develop materials and methodologies used to detect dangerous pathogens including: chemical/biological pathogens like anthrax, smallpox, viral fevers, and other category A agents; food/animal safety pathogens like Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella, bovine viral diarrhea, and feline calicivirus; and environmental safety pathogens such as asbestos, pesticides (e.g., DDT), and explosives (e.g., TNT).

Through this program you will receive training to become an expert in this field and embark on an exciting career in nanobiosensor research and development. The premise of this IGERT is that science and engineering must be advanced in nanomaterials, interfaces, miniaturization, sample collection/ manipulation, signal transduction, manufacture, and validation to make detection of these agents realistic.

IGERT core areas of emphasisWe have divided our programmatic emphasis into the five core areas shown here. Molecules at Engineered Interfaces will investigate the hypoth-esis that molecular interactions at interfaces are different than those that take place homogeneously or in bulk, and that these interactions depend not only on the structural dynamics of the molecules involved, but also on the physical characteristics of the surface/ interface, affecting diffusivity and inter-action kinetics. New Materials are needed to overcome intrinsic limitations of molecular recognition and to achieve simple, cost-effective, high-fidelity amplification and transduced signal for these recognition events. A hypothetical route to obtain molecules optimized for interactions with surface bound receptors uses genetic engineering and combinatorial molecular evolution/high-throughput screening methods. To obtain accurate, highly sensitive, quantifiable Detection results on small sensor arrays, more than one detecting method may need to be implemented. The broad objective of this focus area is to extend and integrate the nanoscale readout capabilities of spintronics-based magnetic sensors with nanoparticle labeling strategies to enable the rapid and sensitive interrogation of densely populated diagnostic array architectures. The core hypothesis addressed in Integration and Manufacture and Validation and Application is that the specimen and analyte transport method and geometry of the detecting element are critical determinants of sensor sensitivity and, potentially, selectivity. The development of experimental protocols that recognize and incorporate the complexities of real world issues early in the method development improves the probability for success and the translation of the technology from research to practice.

The Program

IGERT is a multidisciplinary program that teams trainees with expert faculty members in the sciences and engineering. Students may apply to the IGERT program as entering students or in their first year of graduate school and are eligible for up to 2 years of support. Trainees will have opportunities to select from a broad range of vibrant interdisciplinary research projects that fall within one or more of the five core areas described above. An individual IGERT student will not be expert in all of these areas, but can expect to receive expert level training in one or more of these areas during his/her educational experience. Trainees will work with a minimum of two participating IGERT faculty, at least one of whom will be in their home department. Trainees will select an interdisciplinary project; they will also select at least one co-advisor from the sciences (chemistry, biology, pathology, and/or pharmacology) and one co-advisor from engineering (mechanical, bio, chemical, electrical and computer, and/or materials science) Through interactions among IGERT trainees, joint activities, and working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers in shared facilities, students will also receive a broad exposure to all of the areas related to nanobiosensors, nanomaterials, and microfluidics.

IGERT trainees will remain in the program throughout their academic career. All trainees will also remain members of, and graduate from, their home departments. To maintain good standing and to be eligible for continued funding, IGERT students will participate in a uniquely designed course sequence that complements trainee research activities and broadens their understanding of nanobiosensors, nanomaterials, and microfluidics, including a course emphasizing complementary social science elements of research and development (Creativity, Communication, Cooperation (teamwork), and Conscience (ethics); C4). Participating students will have access to training in research techniques, methods, and safety in several world-class research laboratories under the direction of IGERT faculty. As part of this experience students are expected to submit annual reports of their research project, submit a proposal with their advisors to a funding agency based on their work, and attend annual IGERT retreats, an annual Research/Recruitment Symposium and Poster Session, and the Seminar Discussion series. You may contact individual faculty for more information about specific areas in the IGERT program, coursework and other requirements.

Faculty Advisors

You can view a list of Participating Faculty and their Affiliations for more information about the University of Utah IGERT program. You may contact any of these faculty for information about specific projects and admission requirements for the various departments.

For additional information on the National Science Foundation IGERT program, see the IGERT Program Home Page.

Last Updated: 8/18/21