Graduate Student Tianyuan (Abby) Cao Receives RISE Professional Scholarship

Author: Rebecca Hicks

Tianyuan Cao

Tianyuan Cao

Tianyuan (Abby) Cao, a fourth-year graduate student in the laboratory of Paul Bohn, Arthur J. Schmitt Professor of Chemistry, has been selected to receive a RISE Professional Scholarship from the Deutscher Akademischer Austrauschdienst (DAAD), funded by the German Federal Foreign Office. The RISE (Research Internships in Science and Engineering) Professional program provides research internships in Germany at companies and non-university research facilities to PhD students from the USA, Canada, Great Britain, and Ireland.

Cao will spend 10 weeks in Germany this summer, working for the biotechnology company New Diagnostics to develop bioassays for the detection of micro-pollutants and hormonally active substances. Her projects will span assay development, method optimization, and data validation. This work is closely related to her research in the Bohn laboratory, where she is focused on the development of chemical imaging tools to analyze the chemical composition of signaling molecules in microbial communities regulated by quorum sensing systems.

At Notre Dame, Cao has combined confocal Raman microscopy (CRM) and statistical methods such as principle component analysis to detect molecular differences in the spatiotemporal distributions of quinolone metabolites between planktonic cells, biofilms, and swarming assays of P. aeruginosa, a bacterial pathogen associated with many hospital-acquired infections. Her results thus far show that the distribution of quinolones can vary greatly in P. aeruginosa biofilms and swarming assays upon exposure to other bacterial species or strains as well as to antibiotics, suggesting that multiple intra- and inter-cellular signaling pathways are employed by bacteria to communicate in response to environmental stress. The overarching goal of Cao’s research is to advance the understanding of spatiotemporal variations in bacterial behaviors that are currently underestimated or entirely missed by traditional biological methods.

Cao is excited for the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in developing bioanalytical solutions in an industrial setting. She is also looking forward to living and working in Germany and using the skills she is honing in her PhD work in an industry where she would ultimately like to work after graduation.