Karen Antonio, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry with Prof. Zachary Schultz, is one of four Notre Dame students to receive a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Program (GRFP) Fellowship. The NSF GRFP was created to enhance the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States. The fellowship provides three years of support for the graduate education of students who have demonstrated the potential for significant achievements in science and engineering research. Past NSF Fellows include individuals who have made significant breakthroughs in science and engineering research, as well as some who have been honored as Nobel laureates.
In her research, Antonio investigates molecular interactions and organization within biological cells using optical spectroscopy. She specifically uses Raman scattering, which provides chemical specific information about samples without the need of a dye or stain. The Raman effect is very weak, so to improve the sensitivity of the measurements, nanoparticles are introduced into the cell and bind to a molecule of interest, resulting in enhanced vibrational modes of all of the molecules near the nanoparticle. This technique will be used to study antibody-antigen binding interactions. By comparing the Raman shifts of the antibody in its free and bound states, the chemical interactions pertaining to the antibody recognition can be better understood. The ability to detect, monitor, and analyze behavior at the molecular level may be a powerful tool in addressing current issues in the biomedical field.