Five Scientists Who Embrace Convergence Research
- Date : 19-06-29
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To solve social problems that are becoming increasingly diverse and complex, researchers are voluntarily teaming up to conduct convergence research. Convergence research isn’t easy - working in different labs makes it challenging to schedule meetings, and researchers are already working long hours on other major projects. But the benefits of taking a lead research role and working on such significant issues make convergence research appealing.
Idea Born During Basketball Match Scores Big
"An idea that came up during a game with KIST basketball club members was the start of it all. Our joking comments took shape. Because we were in charge of everything from ideas to experiments, the process was fun - and that’s why I think we produced good results.” (Dr. Wook Seong LEE)
Dr. Lee and Dr. Choi led a team that last year succeeded in developing an adhesive material that can efficiently remove toxic Cr6+, a heavy metal which is often discharged in high concentrations in industrial wastewater.
Researchers first came together for this interdisciplinary convergence project back in 2015. Researcher Young Jin KO, a member of the KIST basketball club, started talking about a research topic he was interested in while taking a break after a game. Ko said, “Polypyrrole is frequently used to deliver electric signals in artificial muscles. When I was doing research on polypyrrole, I was told that it is also used to remove heavy metal in water.”
Ko and Dr. Lee went on to create an adhesive material using polypyrrole, which is widely used as a conductive polymer, and Dr. Choi’s team then used the material to experiment with heavy metal adhesion. The KIST Computational Science Research Center also joined in and analyzed the adhesion change of Cr6+ according to certain parameters and contributed to schematizing the experiments. As a result, the combined team was able to quantitatively define the adhesion mechanism of Cr6+ in aquatic conditions through its oxidation and deoxidation reaction according to different pH conditions, using a certain nitrogen-carbon structure within polypyrrole.
Researchers really enjoyed conducting research which they planned on their own, but it wouldn’t have been possible to achieve the results without input from experts in various fields. As Dr. Lee explained, “There was a lot of research similar to ours starting in the early 2000s, but none of it quite reached the level of in-depth analysis of related mechanisms. We approached from various fields - material, physics, and chemistry, which made the difference. I also think doing research with a good frame of mind led to good results.”
Convergence Research? It’s What We Do Everyday
“ Convergence research is an everyday activity. You ask an expert if you have questions about an unfamiliar field. Doing research based on the idea created in that process is how I see convergence research.” (Dr. Ki Hoon KIM)
Dr. Ki Hoon KIM and Dr. Hyo Jin LEE recently succeeded in developing a biosensor that diagnoses precocious puberty using urine. 1 mL of urine is enough to detect trace amounts of sex hormone, making this biosensor the most sensitive in the world.
This research was not the first convergence project for the two researchers. While postdoctoral researchers at the same university, they already had experience working？ together on confirming the denaturation of biomaterial using mass spectrometry, so it was easy to join forces once again. It made sense to Dr. Lee, “We had to analyze a specific sample - urine - for hormones. Because this is a specialized area of the KIST Doping Control Center, I suggested to Dr. Kim that we work together on this project.”
To develop the biosensor, Dr. Lee assumed the role of design and synthesis while Dr. Kim worked on signal testing and analysis. A major research challenge was an insufficient amount of sex hormones in urine. To address this issue, researchers assigned a specific barcode to urine sex hormones. First, they made a biosensor composed of a magnet and gold nanoparticles, and then attached an antibody that draws sex hormones to the magnet, while the gold nanoparticles were tied with aptamer and 7 million chemical substances capable of combining with certain sex hormones. When sex hormones inside urine bind to the gold particles, the biosensor sends a strong signal, just like a barcode, to signal the existence of sex hormones.
Dr. Lee said, “I believe that asking an expert about something you don’t know and accepting the challenge to move from a new idea to a result is what convergence research is about. Interacting and having casual conversations with other researchers made this project possible.”