Today, over 1.3 million New Yorkers (almost one in eight) have diabetes. Many of them painfully stick their fingers twice a day for glucose testing, but thanks to developments in nanotechnology, they might one day trade that procedure for waiving a light over a tattoo.
Mentored by science professor Brahmadeo Dewprashad, Andrew Boodhan has completed an Honor’s project in which he immersed himself in the subject.
His paper, “The Use of Nanotechnology to Develop a Tattoo to Test Blood Sugar” placed in the top three out of 127 papers submitted in the category of physical sciences at the 2013 Beacon Conference held this past June at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The tattoo, Boodhan explains, “uses prescription ink composed of nanoparticles, which spread a glucose-polymer complex that is responsive to glucose. The ink then changes the wavelength of a near-infrared light that is shined on the tattoo, indicating the person’s glucose level.”
“Eventually,” he says, “people will even be able to use a phone app to take their glucose, cholesterol or other blood levels.”
“I’ve started doing nanotechnology projects with students because it’s an amazing field with so many applications that will transform our lives,” says Professor Dewprashad, who is introducing nanotechology into his current courses, and developing as part of a long-term plan, BMCC’s first nanotechnology course.
“By training, I’m a medicinal chemist, but I recognize this is the future,” he says. “For example, you can target certain cells, like cancer cells, by using nano-machines comprised of only a few hundred atoms, instead of targeting the whole body, which is a much more toxic process.”
To fully appreciate nanotechnology, it’s important to understand the scale it operates in.
“A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, roughly the width of three or four atoms,” Professor Dewprashad explains. “The average human hair is about 25,000 nanometers wide.”
Nature operates at the nano level, he says, “and that’s why nature is so efficient. Think of a gecko. It can climb a wall, because it has millions of microscopic hairs on the bottom of its feet—and that’s the technology we’re using for adhesive bandages. Or look at the lotus leaf; it has a layer of air that prevents water from actually touching the leaf, so it can float.”
In search of better lives
Both Professor Dewprashad and Andrew Boodhan grew up in Guyana, a small country on the northern coast of South America.
“I moved with my wife, Tamele [who has since earned a degree in nursing from Molloy College], to New York, to Queens, in 2010,” says Boodhan. “My main goal was to go to college and I picked BMCC because I heard it was a good college from my aunt, who was a Liberal Arts major here and went on to earn a degree in psychology.”
Boodhan’s best subject in high school was chemistry, and in his first semester at BMCC, he had the good fortune, he says, to take chemistry with Professor Abel Navarro.
“He kept up my interest in chemistry,” Boodhan says, adding that he also benefited by taking Organic Chemistry with Professor Dewprashad.
“We would go to the board and solve problems with everyone’s input. He told us, ‘We learn from our mistakes’, and I view that as how we should live our lives. Every day we make mistakes, and it can be a learning process.”
Boodhan is also an avid sports fan, and in Guyana, he worked as a jockey in professional horse racing. “Belmont is my favorite track in the New York area,” he says, and enjoys the abundance of racetracks the region offers.
“New York is full of opportunities,” he says, “and I would like to emphasize the opportunities at BMCC. This college gave me a new chance in life.”
Professor Dewprashad also grew up in Guyana.
“Students really struggle there,” he says. “They have shortages of the most basic things in schools, like books and drinking water.”
Boodhan adds that, “there are constant blackouts, and you can’t even study at night,” and Dewprashad recalls that at his high school, “The U.S. Peace Corps provided us with a chemistry teacher. He did experiments and I was fascinated by it. He also built nets for the football field and he built a latrine for the school, actually digging the pit himself.”
While Dewprashad is busy mentoring science students at BMCC—he received the 2007 Louis Stokes Alliance “Keepers of the Alliance Flame” mentoring award—Boodhan gives back, too.
“One of the best experiences I’ve had here at BMCC has been to be a note-taker for two disabled students, through the Office of Accessibility,” he says. “One was in a speech class and the other in a human services class. It was very fulfilling.”
Technology that impacts art, war, medicine—and a new generation of students
Nano-technology’s emergence has inspired a number of science fiction films, including The Hulk, G.I. Joe, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Military applications are being developed for nanobots, which can identify specific targets, and the biomedical applications of nanotechnology are staggering.
“These miniature mechanical devices could turn toxic waste into harmless matter, or they could travel through our blood vessels to mend cells from within,” says City College professor, physicist and string-theory co-founder Michio Kaku in a recent BBC segment.
“The first step toward building these nano-machines,” he says, “is to hijack living systems at the molecular level and engineer them to do what we want.”
Perhaps an even earlier step would be to make students at the community college level aware that nanotechnology even exists.
“It is a cutting-edge technology involving both the biological and physical sciences, and it is important that we educate our students in new developments in science, particularly those likely to have a profound impact on their lives and work in the future,” says Professor Dewprashad.
He adds that “It’s not only important to create academic and career paths that our STEM students might be able to take advantage of, the notion of ‘responsible nanotechology’ provides opportunities for discussions of the ethical and social ramifications of such new technologies, and for students to have a more holistic view of science and how other disciplines such as social sciences complement it.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Professors Jerrold Schoenblum and Carol Wasserman were 2013 Beacon Conference Steering Committee members, and Ms. Ena Jordan in the Office of Academic Affairs coordinated the participation of four BMCC students in the recent Beacon Conference. In addition to Andrew Boodhan’s paper presentation, Ingrid Bilowich, mentored by Professor Dan DePaulo, presented her paper, “The Psychosocial Impact of Gender Role Violations.” Gertrude Amoah, mentored by Professor Brahmadeo Dewprashad, presented her poster, “Antioxidant Activity of Ginger,” and Alan Ridderhof presented his poster, “Phasor Circuits,” mentored by Professor Anthony Creaco.