Lauren Austin admits her college experience was a little different: While hurdling the challenges inherent to a chemistry degree, she was also striving to become a world-class runner. But she wouldn’t have had it any other way. “If I had to focus on one or the other, I probably would have gone crazy,” she says.
Current Affiliation: Merck & Co.
Ph.D. Alma Mater: Georgia Institute of Technology
Role Model: Austin chose two. She says Mostafa A. El-Sayed, her Ph.D. adviser, taught her how to follow her scientific creativity and never give up. And she says Petra B. Krauledat, a biochemist and biotech entrepreneur she collaborated with as a postdoc, “showed me how exciting working in industry could be and how to be a strong female scientific figure.”
In A World Without Chemistry, I Would Be: “Never give up and don’t let the day-to-day experimental setbacks discourage you. We learn best from our failures, so in science we learn a lot.”
Austin attended the University of Central Florida (UCF) so she could keep working with her high school track coach—her father. Her goal was to land a spot running the 800-meter event for the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.
It was also at UCF that Austin met Qun Huo, a chemist who became Austin’s undergrad adviser. Working with Huo, Austin discovered a passion for nanoscience that would steer her to the labs of Georgia Institute of Technology’s Mostafa A. El-Sayed as a graduate student.
While working with El-Sayed, Austin helped develop ways to peer inside living cells to unravel complex biological interactions. She and her colleagues designed gold nanoparticles that seek out cell nuclei and, once there, enhance Raman scattering signals.
These signals reveal real-time changes in biomolecules that are characteristic of healthy, diseased, or drug-treated cells. This information could potentially guide efforts to create diagnostics, find drug targets, or understand if a drug candidate is working.
Austin possesses a rare combination of creativity, passion, and intellect, says El-Sayed, adding that these will be useful traits for bolstering the bionanotechnology portfolio of Austin’s new employer, Merck & Co. “I really hope they realize what they have in her,” he says.
Austin just started her career as a senior scientist at Merck, but is eager to bring her expertise to the pharmaceutical pipeline, for instance, by invoking nanoscience to improve drug delivery or drug screening methods.
Austin didn’t make the 2008 Olympic team, but she says that helped prepare her to persevere through the realities of science. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, something doesn’t work out,” she says. “I can handle that.”
As a former track star and now a standout scientist, Lauren Austin has an eye for gold. Her gold nanoparticles can extract more information from living cells than ever before. Learn how that technology could bolster pharmaceutical research in Austin’s talk from the Aug. 22 Talented 12 symposium held at the American Chemical Society national meeting in Philadelphia.
Three Key Papers
“Observing Real-Time Molecular Event Dynamics of Apoptosis in Living Cancer Cells Using Nuclear-Targeted Plasmonically Enhanced Raman Nanoprobes” (ACS Nano 2014, DOI: 10.1021/nn500840x)
“Exploiting the Nanoparticle Plasmon Effect: Observing Drug Delivery Dynamics in Single Cells via Raman/Fluorescence Imaging Spectroscopy” (ACS Nano 2013, DOI: 10.1021/nn403351z)
“Real-Time Molecular Imaging throughout the Entire Cell Cycle by Targeted Plasmonic-Enhanced Rayleigh/Raman Spectroscopy” (Nano Lett. 2012, DOI: 10.1021/nl3027586)
Research At A Glance
Credit: ACS Nano
Austin and her grad school colleagues designed coated gold nanoparticles that congregate at cell nuclei (shown in the optical photograph). There, the particles enhance Raman scattering signals, such as those from the breakdown of DNA or proteins, that can indicate cell health or response to drug treatment.