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CAREER: Multimodal Nanoelectrochemistry to Characterize Nanometer and Microsecond Resolved Transmitter Release: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Mei Shen

[email protected]

Neurotransmitters, as the chemical messengers of nerve and brain communication, are involved in many behaviors and emotional responses, such as learning, memory, and attention. Abnormalities in neurochemical communication are implicated in disorders and diseases of the nervous system, which include drug addiction, dementia, diabetes, cancer, and aging. Dr. Mei Shen of the University of Illinois creates new electrochemical methods and microscopes to detect, measure, and visualize the presence of chemicals that are used as neurotransmitters (neurochemicals) that currently cannot be investigated by other methods. These novel measurement tools enable new discoveries in chemical communications between nerve cells, which result from electrical and chemical signals. The tools and techniques promise to provide an increased understanding of brain function. Professor Shen's program also promotes early-childhood education, and teaching and learning of both college and graduate students through an education project called NANO. Educational efforts with young children in the program help develop positive attitudes toward science and serve as an early intervention to reduce science achievement gaps that are present before kindergarten. The college-level educational activities serve local communities by generating fundamental knowledge to address societal health-care challenges and provide enriching opportunities for students in science. <br/><br/>With this award, the Chemical Measurement and Imaging Program in the Division of Chemistry is funding Dr. Mei Shen at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to develop new neuroanalysis platforms to enable better understanding of brain chemistry. Until now, it has been difficult to concurrently measure two different groups of monoamine and cholinergic neurotransmitters at the location where neurons communicate. This research program seeks to create chemically-sensitive, multimodal, electrochemical platforms that provide fast (microsecond), nanometer-resolution measurements of these two groups of neurotransmitters. This project is interdisciplinary, impacting the fields of electrochemistry, nanoscience, neuroscience, and brain chemistry. In education and outreach, "Nanoelectrochemistry And Neuroscience Outreach (NANO)" education projects are developed to teach nanoscience and brain chemistry to children from preschool age to grade 12 in public schools. The long term education goals include helping children develop positive attitudes toward science through science learning experiences in early childhood and addressing the science achievement gaps that are initially present during preschool and continue to occur as children age. Collaborations with the Child Development Laboratory of Illinois (CDL) and public schools provide opportunities for teaching brain chemistry to diverse groups of children.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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