My six weeks interning at the Yonsei IBS Center for Nanomedicine was a whirlwind of new experiences, challenges and incredible science. One of my roles involved reading ground-breaking papers published by the research groups here, discussing and summarising them, and giving PowerPoint presentations to my mentors, fellow interns and professor on what I’d learnt, and under very tight deadlines! It was an intense experience like nothing I’ve experienced before, but incredibly rewarding. It made me realise just how much I could learn and comprehend in a short period of time, and really boosted my confidence and public speaking ability on difficult scientific concepts.
The topic I researched in my first few weeks was on superparamagnetic zinc-doped iron oxide nanoparticles, and their numerous potential applications, including non-invasive hyperthermic treatment of tumours, targeted signalling of cell apoptosis, targeted drug delivery, and use as superior contrast agents in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). After a crash course on this research, I was ready to undertake some experiments myself. I had the privilege of using a world class and highly equipped lab to synthesise, functionalise and characterise my own zinc-doped iron oxide nanoparticles under the guidance of my lovely Korean mentors. I learnt many important lab skills, and got a taste for academic life and research at Yonsei University.
My final two weeks were even more demanding; squeezing in another two projects with more reading, presentations and lab work. However, this time I got to work with local Korean interns that had come either from Yonsei or from other universities around South Korea. The language barrier was a bit tricky to navigate, but they were all very friendly and fun to work with. It helped improve my social and communication skills, and gain more respect for our cultural differences.
My first project of the final two weeks involved using ‘magnetic tweezers’ to manipulate and perform force measurements on strands of DNA. Magnetic tweezers are a powerful new technique for studying the physical and chemical properties of polymers, proteins and biomolecules. By studying the folding and unfolding characteristics of polymers and cellular components such as DNA and proteins in different local environments, we can learn a great deal about polymer physics and the functions and processes occurring within living cells. It is a fascinating research area that has far reaching implications in material science, microbiology and medicine.
My final project was synthesising Transition Metal Dichalcogenides (TMDs); WSe2 and TiS2, and exfoliating them into 2D single layer sheets using a novel intercalation method developed by the research group. Single layer TMDs are promising new materials that may have farther reaching applications than the ‘wonder material’ graphene, due to their incredible range of electronic properties; from metals to semiconductors to insulators. This fact, along with their many other useful properties, make TMDs strong candidates for use in next generation electronic, photovoltaic and battery technology. My personal research passion is the application of nanomaterials to energy capture and storage, so this project was of particular interest to me.
During my internship I also had the opportunity to attend a seminar by a German experimental physicist; Professor Tim Liedl, who taught us about his pioneering research on DNA ‘origami’. His research involved using customised DNA sequences that could self-assemble into practically any shape or nanostructure desired, and then be used to study force interactions on various biopolymers and molecules. It was a fascinating talk, giving me many thought provoking ideas about the future development and applications of such techniques.
The internship experience was very stimulating, informative, and memorable, and I highly recommend it to any students considering applying. I would like to give a big thanks to Professor Jinwoo Cheon, Professor Tae-Young Yoon and Professor Dongwon Yoo for providing this amazing opportunity, to all the patient and lovely students in the labs, to our coordinator Soojin Kim, and to my mentors Seulmi Kim, Jeong-uk Lee, Hyeonkyu Choi, Hyeonwoo Kim and Minji Ahn for their kind and generous guidance, answering my many questions, and for being a pleasure to work with. It has been an exciting step forward for my future career in nanoscience I will never forget!