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Undergraduate Researchers

Adam Mayer

Adam Mayer, Biological Sciences

“Development of Optimized SAM SERS Nanosensors for Intracellular Analyses”

Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) is a highly sensitive vibrational spectroscopic method that can be used to detect target analytes down to the single-molecule level. The analytical power of SERS, which stems from the quality of the substrate on which the measurements are conducted, can be applied to numerous areas, including disease diagnosis and biodefense. The focus of our work has been on the optimization of the SERS substrate for maximum molecular-information acquisition. However, the long-term objective of the project is to effectively incorporate and use the substrate as nanosensors for real-time intracellular monitoring. By optimizing the individual nanosensors and determining the best method by which to introduce them into the cell, accurate intracellular SERS analyses can then be performed. This project will specifically focus on the monitoring of ZAP-70 and Interleukin-2 protein activity in T-lymphocytes upon activation of the immune response in those cells. By monitoring changes in the concentration and activity of these proteins, information about the activation state of the immune system can be easily and non-invasively accessed, allowing for the early detection and subsequent treatment of harmful pathogens in the body.

How did you find your mentor for year research project?

During winter break of freshman year, I searched the biology and chemistry department websites and looked at all of the faculty members’ research profiles to see which projects I would be interested in. I then emailed those professors, stating my interest in their project and my past experiences/credentials as pertinent to an undergraduate research position. I was quickly offered interviews and accepted into a lab within two weeks of sending those emails. That is just an example of how there are many great opportunities that are easily accessible to undergraduates at UMBC.

How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?

The project I am conducting has widespread medical and biological application which sparked my interest as a biology major and pre-med student. Additionally, I knew that the ability to work in a lab where the actual lab techniques are largely based in physics, engineering and analytical chemistry would be a great chance to explore areas outside of my major and thereby expand the horizons of my scientific knowledge and experience.

Is this your first independent research project? Do you get course credit for this work?

This is my first independent project. I have gotten course credit through the PRAC 98 course via the Shriver Center, and through the CHEM 399 course.

How much time do you put into your research?

During the semester when classes and work become more hectic, I devote between three and 12 hours per week on my research work. During winter and summer breaks when my schedule is more open, I generally commit 30-40 hours per week on my project.

How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award (URA) program?

My research mentor, Dr. Brian Cullum, told me about it and encouraged me to apply. I also heard about it from peers who were current URA scholars at the time.

What academic background did you have before you applied for the URA?

Before applying for the URA, I had already completed nearly three years of study at UMBC and had already been conducting research in Dr. Cullum’s lab for two years.

Was the application difficult to do?

As long as you meet with your research mentor to discuss the exact structure of the project prior to filling out the application, it is straightforward to complete. It is very important to convey your information concisely and simply enough that people outside of the particular field in question can comprehend what is going on.

How much did your mentor help you with the application?

I completed the application by myself, however, my mentor was integral is helping define the specific steps I would need to take in completing the proposed project. That, combined with the specifics of the budget for the process, were discussed in detail with my mentor, and significantly simplified and quickened the application process.

What was the most unexpected thing in your research?

Being able to attain a research position at the University of Hawaii this past summer through my UMBC lab was a completely unexpected benefit of my research here. I was able to obtain a 10- week paid undergraduate researcher position at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, HI at a lab which collaborates with ours at UMBC. This was an amazing experience, made possible through my UMBC research mentor, which allowed me to conduct an exciting research project and have fun at the same time! I am extremely grateful for having been given such an opportunity and this only further displays the endless possibilities one has when conducting research at UMBC!

What else are you involved in on campus?

Outside of my research, I have also been a chemistry tutor for the past two years in the UMBC Chemistry Tutorial Center and a TA for Cell Biology (BIOL 303) for the past year. I am also involved in several clubs on campus and hope to start a Disney club within the upcoming year!

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?

My advice to those students is to start early. The earlier in the year you contact professors, the more likely that you can attain a position before they begin to fill up. Additionally, some students may be hesitant about entering research due to the complexity of the topics at hand. However, be assured that the lab members and mentors at UMBC are all very welcoming and helpful; they will be there to guide you as your conceptual understanding and practical proficiency in the lab improve, and eventually you can begin working on your own project.

What are your career goals?

I plan to pursue an MD degree in medical school after graduating from UMBC this May.