Nanoparticles object of student research
Eihab Jaber, Ph.D., is inspiring students of all ages to get excited about science.
An assistant professor of chemistry who joined the WSC faculty in 2006, Jaber engages undergraduate students in meaningful research. This spring, 13 of them presented their research at conferences. He also teaches science in a number of WSC programs for younger kids.
Much of Jaber’s work focuses on the properties and interactions of nanoparticles, chemical compounds so small that 50,000 of them lined up in a row roughly equal the diameter of a human hair.
“One of my students is investigating the interaction of melamine molecule complexes, the chemicals that caused the problems in tainted milk and pet food in the new last year in China,” Jaber says. “When these particles form weak interactions, they become toxic. If we can figure out how to break these interactions, we can minimize this risk.”
His students are also looking into the use of magnetic nanoparticles in treating breast cancer, a treatment method in which polymer-coated iron oxide nanoparticles target tumor cells. These coated nanoparticles are known to break up the tumor structural cell walls by guided magnetic induced movement, leading to tumor cellular death.
“Our research involves determining how well different size polymer chain lengths will stick to the cobalt,” Eihab explains. “It’s important that the polymer-coating doesn’t break down and release cobalt, which is toxic, into the body.”
The research is done through computer modeling, a process that requires high performance computers. Jaber, a computational chemist by training, has invested substantial sums of his own money into acquiring the necessary computer equipment. Donations from Astra Zeneca and IBM, as well as WSC mini-grants, also helped him build a Beowulf cluster—a “super computer” comprised of 22 connected computers powerful enough to handle the complex computations.
“I love doing research with undergraduates,” Jaber says. “I like them to see how science is practiced in the real world. And it does a lot for them when they enter the workplace or apply to graduate school.”
Jaber also enjoys working in Upward Bound, a program for high school students from challenging socio-economic backgrounds. In the summer, he teaches chemistry to high school students enrolled in the College’s Dual Enrollment program, which allows them to earn college credit.
Several times each year, Jaber puts on a “chemistry magic show” for younger kids who visit the campus as part of such programs as Kids to College and Junior Achievement. His routine includes making ice cream using liquid nitrogen, making slime and silly putty, and demonstrating a levitating magnet. “Once I get the kids’ interest, I can explain the properties of the chemicals involved,” says Jaber. “It’s a way of getting them excited about science.”
Jaber’s commitment to students of all ages stems from his own experiences. As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., “college wasn’t really a possibility for me,” he says. “Programs for kids are what showed me I could go to college. I got scholarships that allowed me to follow my dreams.”
He thought he was going to become an accountant, but in his first semester at Hunter College he fell in love with chemistry, thanks to an inspiring professor. “Dr. Tony Nichols saw potential in me and allowed me to do research with him,” he says. “I knew then and there that I wanted to be a chemistry professor. I want to give back.”
President’s Annual Report, 2009