Imitating Nature: SUSU’s Postdocs Simulate Biomineralization Process in Laboratory Conditions

Within the frameworks of Project 5-100 Competitiveness Enhancement Program being fulfilled at SUSU, new format researchers – postdocs – are being attracted to work in our university. To find out more about the post-doctoral program being a relatively new concept in Russian science, on the advantages gained by universities which invite postdocs, as well as on the research studies in which postdocs of the SUSU’s Nanotechnologies Research and Education Center are involved, we have interviewed a SUSU postdoc Elena Korina, and a research engineer of Nanotechnologies REC Dmitry Zherebtsov.

– Why is developing the post-doctoral program so important for modern Russian science? What significance does inviting of postdocs have for SUSU?

Dmitry Zherebtsov: If our university wishes to comply with the most recent trends in modern science, it is very important to invite young scientists who already have an experience of working in laboratories of universities in Russia and other countries, and who are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of different systems of science organization around the world.

For postdocs, it is very important to be able to quickly adapt, know how to work in allied fields of science new for theses researchers, and to use new technologies. At SUSU postdocs are hired as research fellows or faculty staff, to perform research work as member of research groups (projects). Meanwhile, postdocs do not necessarily have to come from abroad. Russian universities also feature noteworthy laboratories and interesting styles of working. Furthermore, it is very important that these postodcs have publications indexed in Web of Science and Scopus. This latter fact proves high quality level of their research works.

The international internships experience helps make the postdoc’s work more efficient, allows to learn other methods of organizing scientific activity, and adds to discipline. Postdocs contribute new ideas and methods, which they mastered during internship in other countries, into a university’s laboratory work. That is why these scientific positions in the university laboratories are especially valued.

Under Program 5-100, two postdocs work in our laboratory: a young scientist from Ukraine Elena Korina (who earlier worked at the University of Plovdiv and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), and a PhD from India Chettichipalayam Prabhaharan Sahti Dharan, a research fellow from Anna University Chennai, who took internship at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

– Posdocs working at SUSU is a crucial breakthrough project for our university, and we should keep fulfilling it since it is very important for the postdocs to have an opportunity to successfully complete work they started at Nanotechnologies REC.– Please tell us where your path in science started from. How did you make a decision to devote your life to chemistry?

Elena Korina: While back at school, I liked physics more, but chemistry also attracted me by materially explained complications, unlike some of the humanities. I graduated from the Chemical Faculty of Dnipro National University, where I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree and Specialist’s Diploma. For my Master’s Degree I completed studies at University of Plovdiv in Bulgaria.

After that I graduated from a doctoral program at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and obtained my PhD, what equals Candidate of Sciences Degree in the Russian Federation. And then I worked in the BAS Laboratory of Applied Physics researching the production of superhard coatings.

As a result of online searching for a chemistry-related job, I found a postdoc vacancy by SUSU. I was interested in the offered research themes and working conditions.

My main motivation was to find a job in my scientific speciality field and keep developing in chemistry. SUSU looked promising for me as a scientist.

– The vacancy offered by SUSU attracted you with the theme of research?

– The theme of the postdoc’s vacancy for which I competed was “Peptide Templates for Biomineralization of Titanium Oxide”.

I’m studying several themes in the laboratory, but biomineralization is the most interesting of those. It features among quite promising fields of applied and fundamental science which currently attract attention of researchers around the world with regard to creating new inorganic materials.

Our main task is in laboratory simulation of processes occurring in nature. The natural process of biomineralization (synthesis of nanoparticles by living organisms) happens only in natural environment. At the moment we’re attempting to perform this process in laboratory conditions using soft and eco-compatible “green technologies”, so that afterwards we could use this as a base for creating materials featuring unique functional characteristics.

The certain goal of scientific research in this case is environmentally friendly synthesis of titanium dioxide nanoparticles. This means synthesis without using such aggressive mediums as acids and alkali, and without hazardous emissions.

– Who of the SUSU’s scientists is developing this field?

– The complex of works on biomineralization is generally headed by Candidate of Sciences (Chemistry) Oleg Igorevich Bolshakov – a true field enthusiast, a very dedicated and demanding person, but at the same time always ready to support or give a good advice in a difficult situation. With a supervisor like this everything is working out well, and we’re confident about the results.

Senior research fellow at the Department of Material Science and Physical-and-Chemical Properties of Materials, and Nanotechnologies REC engineer Dmitry Anatolyevich Zherebtsov is also actively participating in the research

All the key experiments which we’re describing are held at Nanotechnologies REC. Students and Master’s students significantly contribute by helping us perform the experiments.

Personally I do not do teaching, but within the frameworks of the scientific work I actively interact with students in the laboratory – when performing experiments, describing them, or working with literature.

I would certainly like to mention the Dean of the Faculty of Chemistry and Director of Nanotechnologies Research and Education Center Vyacheslav Viktorovich Avdin, who deals with a close field – titanium dioxide based photocatalysts. Despite the fact that Vyacheslav Viktorovich is busy round-the-clock, he always helps us with any issues – scientific, and even household ones.

– What is your role in the research?

– The laboratory employees do chromatography analysis of the results of sorption of amino acids by nanoparticles. These results are sometimes quite unexpected. The world literature still has no unambiguous information on this topic. My main tasks, as I see them, include interpreting the results, explaining the physics and chemistry of the processes, searching for answers to questions on why these processes happen the ways they do.

– Besides participating in research, you as the SUSU postdoc have to contribute into the university’s publication activity. Are there any successful results with this regard? Any published articles which will probably be indexed in Scopus and Web of Science in the nearest future?

– My academic advisor Oleg Bolshakov and I are completing the execution of one, we believe, quite formidable article. Once we’ve checked all its English variants, we’ll be sending them to scientific journals, which specialize on publications in physical chemistry.

– How would you explain your research’s main objective to a person not related to science?

– Using biomineralization we’re trying to grow nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, which is a quality, cheap and competitive photocatalyst.

It used for decomposition of organic pollutants in water and in air, for activating various heterophase chemical processes. An important ecological goal of the research is producing titanium dioxide particles without hazardous impact on the environment.

– Do you enjoy working at SUSU? What advantages do you see here?

The work in Nanotechnologies REC is very well organized, there are no non-related to work moments or idle spending of work time. The team is very intelligent and welcoming. My colleagues are always very supportive.

Issues at any level are solved quickly. This is true not only for Nanotechnologies REC, but also for the SUSU International Affairs Division, the specialists of which always promptly help us solve all issues, including those with applying for visa, accommodation at dormitory, and the like. Such help is very important for out-of-towners, and especially for international employees.

– How do you see your future in science?

It’s not in my character to be a science leader. I see myself as quality, pro-active and reliable practitioner. The most important thing is that we have more and more interesting experimental work!

– Are you planning on defending a doctoral thesis? What topic are you thinking over?

– Actually I do not chase degrees. I’m more interested in fascinating work and the obtained scientific results.

Here, at Nanotechnologies REC we’re dealing with a number of interesting topics, that is why it’s quite difficult for me to give an answer to this question. For instance, now we’re planning to start working with carbon nitride in the laboratory. This work is supervised by Igor Vladimirovich Krivtsov with active participation from Oleg Bolshakov. We’re planning to apply various-elements dopants to carbon nitride to enhance its photocatalytic properties. We’re hoping to obtain interesting scientific results. Also our plans include producing titanium dioxide coatings using electrolysis.

– Where can these coatings be applied?

– It is possible to combine anticorrosive and photocatalytic properties of these coatings on solid foundations – elements of process equipment.

Brief information:

Biomineralization phenomenon means the ability of certain biomolecules of different classes (nucleic acids, peptides, proteins, and a number of oligosaccharides), in soft conditions (at neutral pH, room temperature, and normal pressure), to obtain nanoparticles of oxides of metals, in particular of titanium, with a pre-set degree of crystallinity, shapes and sizes.

Yuliya Rudneva, photo by – Oleg Igoshin
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