Cathryn Conner

PhD, Chemical Engineering, 2020
North Carolina State University

M. S., Chemical Engineering, 2018
North Carolina State University

B.S., Chemical Engineering, 2015
Case Western Reserve University

Research Focus: Environmentally Benign Nanoparticles

Our group is developing a new generation of functionalized environmentally benign nanoparticles for biotechnology. Nanoparticles (NPs) are being increasingly used in industries such as agriculture, but the present nanoparticles are usually inorganic and toxic to the environment. Although they can successfully deliver nutrients and active ingredients, NPs remain in the environment after they have fulfilled their purpose. Unlike these traditional nanoparticles, environmentally benign nanoparticles (EbNPs) made of lignin can degrade after they have been used, so there is no toxic effect. We are currently working to scale up the synthesis of these particles.

The EbNPs were developed in the Velev group by Alexander Richter and have already been investigated as a form of biomedical treatment. Silver ions were infused into the lignin core for use as an antibacterial; this was done to reduce the usage of silver nanoparticles, which remain in the environment causing damage by continuously releasing more silver ions.

An ideal coating would be one made of bioadhesives such as chitosan and cutin. We are currently investigating the properties of chitosan to change the surface charge of the EbNPs from negative to positive to help them adhere to the negatively charged surfaces of leaves. Our model surfaces demonstrate pronounced differences in adhesive properties and spreading patterns between non-functionalized NPs and EbNPs coated with chitosan. We aim to target specific features on leaf surfaces, such as trichomes and stomata, based on customized nanoparticle-leaf component interactions.