Superfund Research Program
Elani Fourie is an undergraduate student at the University of Kentucky pursuing a bachelor's degree in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry. She spent her summer in the lab of Bernhard Hennig, Ph.D., studying the cell uptake and toxicity of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) adsorbed onto nanoparticles. Previous research indicates that aluminum oxide nanoparticles have the ability to enter human cells passively due to their size. Because of the large surface areas of nanoparticles, PCBs (which are known to be toxic) may potentially adsorb onto the nanoparticles and more easily enter the human body bound to nanoparticles, causing increased cytotoxicity. Using cell culture model systems, the cytotoxic effects of these PCB-modified nanoparticles were investigated and compared to tissues exposed to only PCBs.
Elani's interest in research started during her high school years. She was part of a small research group that won a Youth Water Prize competition for research dealing with water quality analysis. Elani's research experience ties in very nicely with her overall goal to study toxicology in graduate school. PCBs have been a concern for decades, and nanotechnology has its own concerns that need to be investigated. Delving into how these interact with each other, as well as with biological and environmental systems, not only introduced her to basic and more complex laboratory skills in her field of interest, but also builds a foundation of knowledge for her future Ph.D. work. She had the opportunity to present this research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in Missoula, Montana.