Rideal Travel Bursary Recipient, Fatima Nasser, reports from Grenoble, France

In 2016, Fatima Nasser was awarded the Rideal Travel Bursary. She travelled to the 4th International Soft Matter Conference held from 12–16 September in Grenoble, France, to present her research poster ‘Protein eco-corona facilitates uptake and impact of ‘next-generation’ nanoparticles on Daphnia magna’. Below, she tells us how discussing her research with a different audience has allowed her to look at her work from a new angle.

‘I am currently in the third year of my PhD in environmental nanoscience at the University of Birmingham. My research aims include investigating how different shaped and charged nanoparticles interact with the sentinel freshwater organism Daphnia magna (D. magna) including their uptake and retention by, and toxicity towards this organism. I also specifically look at how proteins secreted by D. magna cause changes to the stability of the nanoparticles by the creation of a corona and how this influences the toxicity of the nanoparticles. This is an important area of research as nanoparticles are being widely used in numerous consumer applications, from which the nanoparticles will reach the environment, although the implications of these nanoparticles is very much unknown. The results I have obtained thus far aim to bridge the gap between the use of these nanoparticles and the impact they have on environmental organisms and how natural substances such as proteins existing in environmental waters may have an impact on the toxicity of these nanoparticles.

‘I recently attended the ‘International Soft Matter Conference’ in Grenoble France, which had a specific session on colloids and polymers such as proteins which was parallel to my work. As my work is primarily based on environmental toxicology, attending this conference was an excellent opportunity for me to broaden my horizons in areas such as self-assembly and growth of particles at surfaces, and stress and relaxation modules of elastic materials which deal with colloidal particles such as nanoparticles. The poster I presented discussed my findings looking at various shaped and charged gold nanparticles and looked at the effect of mass and number concentration of nanoparticles on the survivorship of D. magna and how this prompted various degrees of reactive oxygen species formation.  It was also determined that charge per surface area was an important factor in nanoparticle toxicity and that an adsorbed protein corona around nanoparticles could influence toxicity by causing agglomeration although this was dependent on the shape of the nanoparticle. My poster was well received and generated fruitful discussions from the other conference attendees who were more from a materials science background rather than environmental which allowed me to share my knowledge as well as to be asked questions from academics from different backgrounds which was extremely useful.

‘Being able to attend this conference allowed me to discuss my work with an audience not typically at environmental science conferences, and allowed me to engage with other academics in related fields of colloid work and look at my work from a new angle. New questions have emerged as a result of these interactions, such as how the influence of adsorbed proteins may be affected by environmental factors such as UV light which could influence the configuration of the proteins causing easier access through phospholipid membranes, which is directly related to my work as biological organism cell membranes are primarily phospholipids. My poster stimulated thought amongst attendees and brought to light how assessing the risk posed by colloids and nanoparticles is necessary and that standard protocol testing may not be an ideal method to characterize nanoparticles and their toxicity as these do not take into account natural macromolecules existing in nature and how these play a major role in nanoparticle interactions with the environment.

‘I am extremely grateful to both my supervisors Professor Iseult Lynch and Professor Eugenia Valsami-Jones for their guidance throughout my project and their support in applying for the Rideal award. I am also thankful for the funding I received from the EU FP7 project ‘FutureNanoNeeds' and also immensely grateful for the Rideal Award for work with colloids from SCI/RSC which allowed me to attend this conference. It really has been a wonderful opportunity for me as a young researcher to present my work to the wider academic community and has helped me develop skills which will be essential to my career.'

Fatima Nasser
PhD Student
University of Birmingham

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