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New Mexico State University - All About Discovery
New Mexico State University

 

               Jessica Houston

Chemistry and Biochemistry Department,
College of Arts and Sciences

Fluorescence Lifetime in our Lifetime:  Discovery of Approaches to Measure
Molecular Excited State Kinetics and Fluorescence Decay by Flow Cytometry

(April 19, 2012)  New Mexico State University celebrated at a Research Rally Thursday two faculty members who each have received major project funding through a prestigious National Science Foundation award that supports the efforts of junior faculty. Karen Mabry, assistant professor of biology, received $910,000 to study the dispersal of brush mice through a social landscape, and Jessica Houston was awarded $500,000 to research flow cytometry, the study of the measurement of a cell, such as a skin or blood cell. Both projects are slated to run until 2017.  Vimal Chaitanya, vice president for research at NMSU, said NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award is highly competitive and that Mabry and Houston were competing with the best schools to win the funding.   “In my opinion, the future of the country and the future of NMSU is the hands of the new faculty members like them,” Chaitanya said. “As long as our educational system produces these talents in a nurturing and supportive environment, we will continue to have such success stories.”

Jessica HoustonThe goal of Houston’s work is to discover modern approaches for the detection of molecular excited-state kinetics and fluorescence decay using flow cytometry.  Her program is supported by the NSF’s BIO Directorate and the Division of Biological Infrastructure under the Instrument Development for Biological Research program. 

Houston said her research focus is on the advancement of flow cytometry. She said she is interested in the excited-state dynamics of fluorophores, proteins and particles when combined with cellular analysis. Houston and her team conduct transiently measured fluorescence decay experiments through flow cytometry using time-dependent photonics. She also introduces applications for this technique that involve biomaterials and digital signal processing.  Houston and her team study issues related to in vitro cellular systems and measure intrinsic fluorescence dynamics in order to provide new ways to characterize, separate, sort and analyze populations of cells. This project will answer such questions as: How can one best tailor a time-dependent analysis to better exploit or suppress autofluorescence, extrinsic fluorescence, or Raman signals; will rare events and new fluorescence decay phenomena be revealed with such high-throughput techniques?

Activities developed through this work will combine mentorship of underrepresented minorities, in-state cytometry collaborations, cytometry teaching workshops, cytometry user-friendly development and peer teaching opportunities. There will also be educational outreach to students in fifth grade.  Houston said it is her passion for New Mexico students that is a driving force for the educational opportunities from this project.  “Knowing the types of students who are here and really believing in them and knowing their strengths and their ability and potential to do well, I’m excited to give them an opportunity to do hardcore engineering and work on instrumentation that is really multidisciplinary,” Houston said.

NMSU President Barbara Couture called it a spectacular achievement that two NMSU faculty received this award in the same year.  “The future of our success in this society really lies in young faculty who are here at our research universities doing seminal work that is going to lead to discovery that is going to help us is so many ways in this society,” she said. “We are counting on these young faculty (members) to continue to be successful and we are very delighted that they have this kind of support to pursue their work.”

- Article by Audry Olmsted; photo by Darrell J. Pehr.  See more at newscenter.nmsu.edu

Project funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

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