Summer adventure: Lasers and nanotechnology

Junior Karly Casey shares her UAB research journey and her summer at Brookhaven National Lab.
Written by: Matt Windsor
Media contact: Yvonne Taunton

mix summer adventure main imageKarly Casey at UAB, and outside the clean room at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. Images courtesy Krishen Appavoo and Karly Casey.How is this for a job description: step one, build nanoparticles; step two, shoot them with lasers. The results? New advances in green technology and healthcare. Sound good? That’s what Karly Casey thought.

Casey, a junior from Navarre, Florida, chose UAB over schools like Georgia Tech and Florida Tech “because of its affordability, biomedical engineering program, small class sizes and opportunities for research as early as my freshman year,” she says.

Fast start

“You want to get started early so you can find out what you’re interested in, and what doesn’t interest you,” Casey says. She spent her first year studying bacteriophages in the Phage Genomics research lab. In the spring semester, looking for her next adventure, she attended Quick Connections, a event to connect undergraduates with research lab mentors that is hosted by the UAB Honors College Science and Technology Honors Program. It uses a speed-dating format: “Two students sit at a researcher’s table and they have five minutes to enthrall you,” Casey says.

“You want to get started early so you can find out what you’re interested in, and what doesn’t interest you.”

Most of the labs were focused on cell biology, but one researcher stood out: Kannatassen “Krishen” Appavoo, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Physics who uses lasers to study new types of nanomaterials and their optical properties. (Read more about Appavoo’s research in “Weaving new materials with DNA strands.”) “He talked about how his work applied to solar technologies,” Casey recalls. “He was so passionate about it that I was intrigued.”

Casey started in Appavoo’s Optical Studies lab in her sophomore year. “Dr. Appavoo has me working on microfluidics, which are a hot topic in biomedical engineering,” she says, in areas such as “lab-on-a-chip” devices, which Casey and Appavoo are now working on several papers based on the research.

One-on-one research mentoring

At Appavoo’s urging, Casey applied for a prestigious Department of Energy Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York. She was one of only 80 students chosen nationally, and last summer spent 10 weeks working in the lab of Matthew Sfeir, Ph.D., “researching the fabrication of zinc oxide nanolasers for size-dependent optical studies,” she says. Her time was spent alternating between a cleanroom and the laser lab: first she would make the zinc oxide nanomaterials in specific alignments, then take them to the laser lab to see how they reacted. “It was an awesome experience — I worked one-on-one with Dr. Sfeir the entire time,” Casey says. “The preparation I had in the lab at UAB was exactly what I needed for Brookhaven.”

Now, her career goals are focused medical device research, Casey says: “that’s a path I had never considered before working with Dr. Appavoo and at Brookhaven.” 

Karly Casey

Hometown: Navarre, Florida

Class year: Junior

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Member UAB Honors College Science and Technology Honors Program