Senior Christine Schwall, one of Fordham’s Clare Booth Luce Scholars, talks about wafers, disks and polymer coatings the way Martha Stewart talks about glazes, tarts and polyunsaturates.
The two, of course, couldn’t be more different.
Schwall, a Fordham College at Rose Hill biology major, is researching the assembly of nanoparticles and proteins at the Universität Duisburg-Essen in Germany on a DAAD RISE summer internship. Such new macromolecular research on how polymers bind to a particular surface holds promise for many new applications in biomedicine, Schwall said.
“This research is so new that the potential applications are still being researched as well,” said Schwall, a Long Island native who is visiting Germany for the first time while on her first extended stay in Europe. “There is hope that these polymers would decrease the absorption of proteins . . . when biomedical devices come in contact with the blood. If proteins are binding and clumping when they are not supposed to, then the blood is not going to circulate properly.”
During her sophomore year at Fordham, Schwall worked closely with Ipsita Banerjee, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry, researching nanotubes and protein hormones that hopefully will impact drug delivery and the treatment of diabetes. That research, she said, helped prepare her for her internship with DAAD RISE, which stands for Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst Research Internships in Science and Engineering.
She also received support from the dean’s office and from Fordham’s St. Edmund Campion Institute to help cover the costs of studying abroad.
Schwall’s research entails coating small silicon wafers and disks with various polymers to test their binding capacity. If the concentration of polymers that bind is higher, Schwall said, the adsorption of more foreign substances will be blocked. Most of the research is being done on the nanoscale. A nanometer, for example, is one-billionth of a meter, and is roughly the size of a marble as compared to the size of the Earth.
“Some of the machines and programs that I worked with at Fordham I’ve worked with here,” Schwall said. “By having the ability to work at another university, I am able to increase my level of experience with regard to working in a lab.”
Being in Germany has its rewards as well, Schwall said. Even though she does not speak the language, she said she has become adept at “how to communicate with others without words.”
“It has also surprised me how giving the human race can be if you only ask for help,” she said. “People have gone completely out of their way to point me in the right direction, or share with me where I should visit.”
Someday, Schwall hopes to reciprocate the giving, by earning an advanced degree in biochemistry and working in medical research. “One of my major goals is to make a difference in, and improve, someone else’s life substantially,” she said. “If I can accomplish this, then I would feel as if I truly enhanced the world.”
In the meantime, the perks of European life includes the “absolutely phenomenal” experience of seeing Germany’s soccer team perform in the EuroCup playoffs, and sitting at an outdoor café along the Rhine River.
“But I definitely miss being able to walk down the block to pick up a good slice,” Schwall said.