Can we measure the temperature of human cells? A young scientist explains

cells 19

(Hal Gatewood, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Pierre Karam, Assistant Professor, American University of Beirut


What is the big problem you’re trying to solve?

I am trying to develop a tiny thermometer. I know this might not sound very impressive at first, but the technology that we are currently using is almost identical to the thermometer that was assembled by Ferdinand II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, in 1654. Ferdinand II filled a glass tube with alcohol and used it to measure temperature changes.

Science and technology have advanced a lot since then – and much of the work nowadays is being conducted at microscale- and nanoscale levels. These scales are much smaller than the tip of a thermometer itself, which makes it impossible to measure accurately any temperature changes. For example, a human cell is a few microns in diameter. If you want to measure the temperature in the sub-cellular compartments or to understand how potentially a drug might affect cell metabolism, it is impossible to do it with current technology. Our work is trying to solve this pressing question.

What is the big idea you’re trying to use to solve it?

We are trying to exploit the unique fluorescent properties of conjugated polymers. These polymers were initially developed to fabricate flexible and cheap organic solar cells. They have a very poor water solubility – but what was considered an undesirable property has turned out to be ideal for our application. So we use their low solubility at room temperature to our advantage. Any change in temperature affects their solubility, which in turn translates to a change in their colour.

How would you explain that to a 5-year-old?

We are trying to take the thermometer that your parents use when you are sick to measure your body temperature and shrink it using science to the point that you cannot see it anymore with your own eyes. When it becomes really tiny, we use it to measure the temperature of one of the smallest parts of your body. This is important because when we understand what is happening inside those tiny parts of your body, we can develop good medication that can make you get better faster.

What has been the most difficult/challenging part of the journey?

Working in a country with limited resources, like Lebanon, makes it challenging at many levels. We are lucky to be at the American University of Beirut, which makes every conceivable effort to make it easier for us. However, supplies take a considerable amount of time to be shipped, so often we need to be creative, using or modifying whatever we can get our hands on.

What is the most shocking fact that people are unaware of?

It still amazes me to know that people think a molecule that is synthetically produced in a lab is not identical, or is even of lesser value, than the same molecule that is produced ‘naturally’.

Is there an interesting backstory to your work?

Just like many discoveries, developing the nano-thermometer was a pure coincidence. One afternoon, while performing an experiment, I made a random observation that did not mean much at that time. Later that night – like every night – I was analyzing my data in my head and planning for the next day, while dozing into a deep sleep. This is when I recalled reading a manuscript, a few weeks earlier, about an innovative way to measure temperature in solution. I somehow connected the results that I had obtained that day to the published work, and I speculated that what I had might be able to report temperature changes. Excited, I dressed and went to my lab and tried the experiment that night. It was a great success from the first go. Funnily enough, the ratio that I first used turned out to be the optimal one.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Eurozone: Negative statistics bring deflation and recession closer

Bayer’s cross at night (Copyright: Bayer AG)

The EU clears Bayer-Monsanto merger amid wide competition and environmental concerns

‘Negative forces’ at work in DR Congo threaten ‘largely peaceful’ relations across Great Lakes region, says outgoing UN envoy

All sides in Yemen conflict could be guilty of war crimes, UN experts find

EU and China discuss economic and trade relations at the 7th High-level Economic and Trade Dialogue

5 factors driving the Chinese lawtech boom

5 ways to bridge the global health worker shortage

Service and Sacrifice: Ugandan ‘Blue Helmets’ support UN efforts to bring peace to Somalia

100 years on, UN labour agency mission focussed on growing inequality, says Director-General

Groundbreaking cancer-fighting drugs now included in updated UN list of essential medicines

Parliament makes it easier to organise a European Citizens’ Initiative

Large parts of the world are growing more fragile. Here are 5 steps to reverse course

Finnish Prime Minister calls for a more united EU of concrete actions

A new way to teach active citizenship to students?

The four top Americans who flew to Europe perplexed things about Trump’s intentions

This is what the gender pay gap looks like in eight countries

MWC 2016 LIVE: Xiaomi looks to revive growth with flagships

Mobile 360 Africa 11-13 July 2017

‘Virginity testing’: a human rights violation, with no scientific basis – UN

Latest tragedy in the Mediterranean claims over 100 lives – UN refugee agency

Preserving biodiversity vital to reverse tide of climate change, UN stresses on International Day

Korea should adapt its migration programmes to ensure continued success in the face of expected challenges

EU gas market: new rules agreed will also cover gas pipelines entering the EU

Afghanistan: Bring ‘architects’ of latest ‘appalling’ suicide bombing to justice, says deputy UN mission chief

The European Parliament x-rays the troika’s doings

Hiring more female leaders is good for profits. Here’s the evidence

A Valentine’s Special: we can never overdose on love

Russia accepts what the EU has to offer and settles to negotiate with Ukraine

This Netherlands football stadium creates its own energy and stores it in electric car batteries

We probably should go back to the therapy in Primary Healthcare

Global Compact on Refugees: How is this different from the migrants’ pact and how will it help?

European Commission: Does Apple, Starbucks and Fiat really pay their taxes?

Corporate tax remains a key revenue source, despite falling rates worldwide

The megatrend that will shape our working future

Why rich countries are seeing more poverty

So, what is your favourite Sustainable Development Goal?

GradList Launched At TheNextWeb 2014

Here’s why leaders need to care about mental health

Haiti stands ‘at the crossroads’ between peacekeeping, development – Bachelet urges strengthened ‘human rights protection’

Joint UN, OSCE engagement can address crisis in Ukraine, other ‘dark spots of conflict’ in Europe

Basel III rules relaxed: Banks got it all but become more prone to crisis

Two major EU projects falter; the Schengen Agreement now freezes and Eurozone fails to resolve the Greek enigma

What has a year of experiments taught us about basic income?

Who can compel Wallonia to unlock CETA, the EU-Canada free trade pack?

Eurozone: GDP development heads to naught; the expensive euro serves only Germany

Europe, US and Russia haggle over Ukraine’s convulsing body; Russians and Americans press on for an all out civil war

Anti-vaccination movement affecting youth in Europe

Chatterbox Rome Declaration cannot save the EU; Germany has to pay more to do that

Turkey: MEPs cut support by €70m due to no improvement in respect for EU values

Innovating together: connectivity that matters

Future of EU farming: MEPs push for modern common policy with fair funding

France is about to start giving free breakfasts to disadvantaged schoolchildren

Human Rights Council election: 5 things you need to know about it

Why Eurozone needs a bit more inflation

Children in crisis-torn eastern Ukraine ‘too terrified to learn’ amid spike in attacks on schools

US and Mexico child deportations drive extreme violence and trauma: UNICEF

The Commission unsuccessfully pretends to want curbing of tax evasion

Millennials (and Gen X) – Here are the steps you should take to secure your financial future

New Disability Inclusion Strategy is ‘transformative change we need’, says Guterres

Nuclear weapons in Lithuania: defence against Russia or target for terrorists?

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s