Hands-on training in the Elettra laboratories for the pupils participating in PaGES2
February-March 2017, Trieste - Italy

Between the end of February and the beginning of March, the pupils taking part in the PaGES 2 project had the chance to attend hands-on training sessions at the laboratories of the Italian CERIC Representing Entity in Trieste, Elettra Sincrotrone, to conduct an experiment with gold nanoparticles.

The senior scientist Loredana Casalis presented the physical and chemical properties of metal nanoparticles, also showing their possible applications and uses in the field of biotechnology. In particular, the optical properties of gold at the nanoscale where shown, by analysing nanoparticles with a UV-Vis spectrophotometer. The students, with the support of Casalis’ group, also studied the absorption properties as a function of the nanoparticle size and the effects induced to the nanoparticles by different environments, changing pH and salt concentration in the solution and monitoring how their absorbtion properties were affected.
Pupils also saw that nanoparticles can be used in solution as well as deposited on solid surfaces, and how to use novel, high resolution microscopy techniques as the Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to characterize them. They learned how to conjugate nanoparticles with a controlled number of short DNA molecules on them, and how to use DNA hybridization to promote the controlled formation of nanoparticle aggregates, by monitoring the variation of the absorption properties of the system. They learned that the system they built was a nano-assay to monitor with high precision, for instance, the kinetics of enzymes which unwind the DNA double helix, and to test drugs that inhibit such unwinding. Finally, the pupils also learned that the same DNA on the nanoparticle can be used to load "functional" molecules able to recognize, for example, another molecule that acts as biomarker of a disease.

PaGES 2 participants had direct experience of these phenomena by interacting with scientists and by preparing the chemical solutions and using the instruments themselves. By being actors of the scientific process, they entered into the daily reality of a researcher, with the aim of evaluating whether this could be a valuable path for their future studies and careers.