The University of New Mexico

An NSF Integrative Graduate

Education and Research Traineeship in

Integrating Nanotechnology with Cell Biology and Neuroscience







Debra Cox
Physics & Astronomy

I am a PhD student in Physics. My advisor is James Thomas (Physics & Astronomy), my co-advisor is Philip Heintz (Radiology). My research project involves exploring how lipid coated microbubbles respond to ultrasound, and how this response depends on microbubble diameter.


Ellen Dengler

In my previous career as a physical therapist, I spent many years caring for people with devastating neurological diseases such as ALS (Lou Gerhig's disease) and Multiple Sclerosis. I hope to spend the next half of my career searching for a means to slow or prevent these illnesses. My path has brought me to the University of New Mexico and the lab of my mentor, Erin Milligan, Ph.D., in the Department of Neuroscience. My co-mentor is Jeffrey Brinker, Ph.D., in the Department of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering at UNM and Sandia National Laboratories. We are investigating a means for improving gene delivery to the spinal cord by using nanoparticle platforms. Currently, we are studying the gene for the anti-inflammatory cytokine, interleukin-10, in a rodent model of neuropathic pain. As part of my dissertation project. I plan to explore the use of pDNA-IL-10 loaded nanoparticles as a means to slow or prevent the progression disease in animal models of ALS and possibly MS.  

Annikka Jensen
Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program


Patrick Johnson
Nanoscience & Microsystems

After completing my undergraduate degree in physics at the University of California, San Diego, I accepted a position in the Brinker Nanostructures Goup within the NSMS department at UNM. I currently work with Dr Jeff Brinker performing various lab wizardry including bio-mimicry and bio-nano hybrid systems among other routine (and occasionally unpleasant) grad student duties. My current project involves pairing living cells of different types with fabricated nanostructures, which together form durable, versatile bio/nano-materials. Applications of such devices include biosensors and platforms for the investigation of cellular processes. Outside of the lab, I enjoys normal things such as skiing, brewing beer and art projects in addition to abnormal things like driving Smart cars and wishing to one day become "that crazy old professor".

Zoe Hunter

Pamela Langner

I received my B.S. in Microbiology from The University of Texas at Austin. I am a PhD student in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program. My advisor is Dr. Elaine Bearer in Pathology, and my co-advisor is Dr. Steve Koch in Physics. Dr. Bearer and I are interested in axonal transport. This transport involves cargo attaching to molecular motors that walk along microtubules. Much is known about how the molecular motors walk along the microtubules, but comparatively little is known about how the cargo attaches to the motor. We are interested in elucidating the mechanisms by which these motors attach to their cargo, and describing the biophysical behaviors of these cargos in transport. We engineer organelle sized 100nm fluorescent nanospheres to display a uniform cytoplasmic surface, inject them into squid giant axons, or an equally suitable model system, and observe through confocal microscopy. Sophisticated Metamorph software then allows us to track these particles and describe their behavior. Elucidation of how cargo is 'marked' for transport can potentially lead to better targeted drug delivery to the nuclei of rogue cells, such as cancer cells, as well as reveal insights into neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's.


Michael Malik
Physics & Astronomy

I am a PhD student working in biophysics; my advisors are Dr. Keith Lidke (Physics & Astronomy) and Dr. Diane Lidke (Pathology Department, School of Medicine); my current research project is with laser line-scanning hyperspectral microscopy, using quantum dots with different spectral emissions to tag and observe protein-protein interactions in live cells with nanometer scale localizations. .


John Plumley
Nanoscience & Microsystems

I received my B.S. in chemical engineering at UNM and I am now a Ph.D. student in the Nanoscience and Microsystems (NSMS) department at UNM. My adviser is Dr. Marek Osinski from the department of NSMS and my co-adviser is Dr. Erin Milligan from the department of neuroscience. My research involves the synthesis, characterization and bioconjugation of nanosized semiconductors known as quantum dots (QDs). By bioconjugating antibodies and enzyme substrates to the surface of the QDs, I would like to utilize the surface sensitive fluorescent properties of QDs as a way to detect "in vivo" bio-markers in the cerebral spinal fluid for the progressive neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Due to their high sensitivity, the QDs can act as nanosensors for early detection of ALS.


Melissa Wilson

I finished my B.S. degrees in Biology and Chemistry at UNM in 2010 and am now a graduate student in the Biology department working with Maggie Werner-Washburne. My co-advisor is Heather Canavan in CBME. We study yeast in order to better understand cellular differentiation, specifically the quiescent cells produced in starved yeast cultures and how environmental/internal stimuli contribute to this process as well as what the differences actually are on a genetic/proteomic scale.


Nathan Withers
Electrical & Computer Engineering

I received a BS in Biology and Computer Science from Trinity University, San Antonio Texas in 1997. I also received a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Houston, Houston, TX in 2005, and am currently working for my master's degree at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1997 I was hired by Eureka Software Solutions of Austin, TX as a computer programmer where I worked as a consultant and integrator of accounting databases. Currently I am working at the Center for High Technology Materials at UNM in Albuquerque under a DTRA student research assistant grant. I am a member of the International Society for Optical Engineering, and have won an IEEE/LEOS travel grant in 2007 to present a paper at CLEO 2007 in Baltimore.