NIH Features ME Student Research

September 29, 2016

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Featured September 29, 2016, on the NIH web site is University of Utah mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate Valentin Romanov’s Research as Art image and research of a water droplet suspended in an emulsion of olive oil (black and purple) and lipids, molecules that serve as the building blocks of cell membranes.

Advised by mechanical engineering professor Bruce Gale, Romanov says, “The ability to synthesize water droplets of specific size and lumenal composition allows for the creation of stable emulsions utilized in the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutics industry. In our research emulsions are the backbone for the formation of liposomes (similar to an artificial cell) which we utilize in studying lipid membrane dynamics.

This droplet is the same diameter as a human hair (100 micrometers). The bright orange/red comes from fluorescent lipids. The hydrophilic head of the lipids align with the water droplet and the hydrophobic tail aligns with the outside, preventing these droplets from coalescing. In this case, the lipids have aggregated together leaving behind what looks like a mini sun. This image was taken using a fluorescent microscope.”

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“Oil and water may not mix, but under the right conditions—like those in the photo above—it can sure produce some interesting science that resembles art. You’re looking at a water droplet suspended in an emulsion of olive oil (black and purple) and lipids, molecules that serve as the building blocks of cell membranes. Each lipid has been tagged with a red fluorescent marker, and what look like red and yellow flames are the markers reacting to a beam of UV light. Their glow shows the lipids sticking to the surface of the water droplet, which will soon engulf the droplet to form a single lipid bilayer, which can later be transformed into a lipid bilayer that closely resembles a cell membrane. Scientists use these bubbles, called liposomes, as artificial cells for a variety of research purposes.” (Full article)