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In Place with David Cliffel

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Tracking down associate professor of chemistry David Cliffel can be a challenge. In addition to teaching, the expert in electrochemistry and analytical chemistry oversees research in six labs in four buildings within the Stevenson Center. This lab on the fifth floor of Building 5 serves as home base for the Cliffel Research Group, his team of post-doctoral associates, graduate students and undergraduates. The group works with specialized instrumentation and processes unfamiliar to most, but its research may one day impact diabetes, vaccines and cancer.

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Graduate student Jennifer McKenzie uses a multianalyte microphysiometer to study the effects of bacterial toxins on cells. The Cliffel group developed multianalyte micro-physiometry, which allows researchers to explore the dynamics of metabolism in living cells occupying microfluidic chambers.
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This incubator holds cell cultures for physiometry experiments to reduce dependence on animal toxicology studies in cancer drug testing. That work recently received a grant from the Alternatives Research & Development Foundation.
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A carbon dioxide tank feeds the temporary storage of cell cultures. Cliffel’s main cell culture and biological toxin research lab is in a Stevenson Center Building 2 laboratory.
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Postdoctoral associate Jeremy Wilburn looks through an optical microscope to evaluate ultramicroelectrodes before they undergo scanning electrochemical microscopy (SECM) in the group’s laboratory on the ninth floor of Stevenson Center Building 7. SECM can determine the electrochemical activity of new materials and living cells with very high spatial resolution.
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Peter Ciesielski, a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Materials Science program, uses a potentiostat to determine the performance of a solar cell that uses plant proteins to convert light into electrical energy. The research is part of a National Science Foundation-supported project.
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The bulletin board serves as a reservation system for the Cliffel group. With 20 team members, it’s necessary to schedule and reserve critical instruments days in advance. The periwinkle-colored syringe pumps are for microfluidic devices designed with help from the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education. Cliffel, who joined the College of Arts and Science in 2000, is also a fellow at the institute.
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Cliffel also serves as director of the Biomolecular Nanostructures Facility for the Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (VINSE). The interdisciplinary facility brings together science and engineering faculty interested in bionanotechnology. In a lab on the sixth floor of Stevenson 7, Cliffel and his team work on the advanced synthesis of gold nanoparticles that mimic biological protein recognition. The project, supported by the National Institute of Health, may lead to the development of nanoparticle-based vaccines.

photo credit: John Russell

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