Design and Synthesis of Fluorescent Molecules for Imaging and Detection Applications
When Ryan Walvoord first made a previously unknown molecule, he was an undergraduate researcher. “I was blown away that I’d somehow created matter that previously hadn’t been discovered,” said the assistant professor of chemistry, who now works with a team of students to continue making new discoveries.
“This ability of organic chemistry to construct new matter continues to be a source of fascination,” said Walvoord. “Regarding our work with fluorescent tools, I find it deeply satisfying exploring ways to create molecules with properties that help illuminate—pun intended—other areas of science.”
Simply put, Walvoord and his student researchers use chemistry to make new materials that fluoresce, or glow when illuminated. Specifically, they try to make new compounds that have improved and/or controlled properties, such as color, brightness, and solubility. They also try to make materials that start off dark, but light up when exposed to specific molecules they might want to detect. In this manner, they can make fluorescent tools that are useful in imaging and detection applications.
Walvoord and his group of five to eight students plan and conduct the experiments, isolate their products, and characterize the materials that they make. This entails working in chemical fume hoods for much of the research, in addition to using spectrometers and other instrumentation needed.
“We’ve described and explored a way to create a specific class of fluorescent molecules,” said Walvoord. “We published this research this year in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Omega, and we are continuing to expand the scope of molecules we can make.”