Dr. Cassandra Fraser is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Virginia, conducting research on responsive materials. Through her research, hybrid materials were created that can function as soluble agents, films, nanoparticles, bulk material and block copolymers that form higher order nanoscale assemblies.  Dr. Fraser and her team are exploring the use of luminescent materials as imaging agents, sensors for oxygen levels and mechanical events.  Dr. Fraser received a B.A. from Kalamazoo College, an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and a NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship from the California Institute of Technology. Dr. Fraser is an undiagnosed but alleged hypergraphic, as well as an amateur photographer, avid letter writer and storyteller who enjoys organizing and running interdisciplinary projects. Currently, she is the director of this semester’s interdisciplinary project-based course, Transduction, which is a Page Barbour interdisciplinary lecture series at the University of Virginia.

Fraser Lecture


Dr. Fraser’s presentation on January 28th took place in two different settings, starting out in WallSpace with a lecture, and moving into her labs for demonstrations of work in progress pertinent to the theme of Transduction, from her particular, chemistry-oriented point of view. The presentation began with an overview of natural and responsive materials, as well as a brief description of organic and inorganic materials. In this introduction, Dr. Fraser clarified and re-focused traditional definitions of topics in chemistry in order to demonstrate their applicability to the wider theme of Transduction – touching upon topics such as the lotus effect, structural color in natural materials, ice plants’ use of mechanochemical processes, and the role of pigment cells in cuttlefish’s ability to camouflage by muscle contractions. Dr. Fraser brought in a practical application viewpoint through her discussion of SLIPS, a bio-inspired material from the Aizenberg group at Harvard. This nanotechnology imitates the surface structure of pitcher plants, created by the combination of a nonporous surface with a layer of liquid formulated to attract each other, resulting in a super-slippery surface to which almost nothing sticks.  The presentation included a video demonstrating the potential usages for SLIPS – showing everything ranging from non-stick coating to anti-graffiti walls. Dr. Fraser went on to speak about diverse fields also related to the subject of materials, encompassing: materials in medicine, with specific implications of nanoparticles in target-specific drug administration; metal geometries and properties in the formation of polymeric metal complexes, pertinent to the fields of design and architecture; and the incorporation of responsive, multifunctional, green/sustainable materials in the field of environmental science.

Lab Tour

Making her lecture tangibly relatable to her particular field of expertise and current work, Dr. Fraser gave the Transduction participants an opportunity to explore these concepts in her laboratory, with guidance from graduate and undergraduate students in her group  After a general introduction to the workings of a chemistry laboratory, participants were able to observe fluorescent nanoparticles with a phosphorescent afterglow, as well as the video-tracking representation of this data through the use of 1920x1080x3x300 matrices with 1,866,240,000 elements, each with an integer between zero and 255. Through this data, these matrices are then able to track the elements based on their particular location and channel. Another graduate student demonstrated mechanochemical properties of dye pigments, showing how rubbing across sheets treated with dye solutions to create thin films causes color changes, with the presence of very coldliquid nitrogen producing more intense colors. Some potential practical applications of these discoveries include tracking of hypoxic tumors with the oxygen nanosensors and self erasing, renewable inks with the mechanosensitive dyes.



This presentation inspired thoughts toward more research on the potential uses of the nanoparticles to create sensors that can be used for art and music.  The particles suspended inwater glowed under the influence of electron-exciting black light, and when the light was turned off, had an after-glow – a very interesting property that can be used to create visuals that follow the beat or flow of music by having a black light turn on and off with the beat, or connecting multiple black lights to a midi controller so that a “light show” can be controlled in real-time with the music. Since color and data can be turned into sound, audio data-mapping can be used to enable a unique aspect of studying nanoparticles through this alternative visualization of data. The next step in the study of nanoparticles florescence and phosphorescence could include a new-age etch-a-sketch, or another such product, easily accessible for a general consumer. While this technology has many uses for medicine, as discussed in the lecture, only a handful of people will be able to see and appreciate the beauty of the creation. By creating consumer products with the specialized scientific data, the general public can enjoy, and perhaps even indirectly further, these studies.

Another way in which this study can be “transduced” stems from its close scientific recording and documentation, provoking thoughts on the issue of publication via various methods, including, but also reaching beyond, the traditional method of publication in science journals. Wider dissemination of this kind of “artistic science” will prove appealing to mass audiences, if presented in approachable and widely-familiar formats: interactive webpages, blog posts, publications directed at non-scientific audiences are all possibilities.  While proper documentation and detailed writing of the process is the first, crucial step to ensure that the study can be read, replicated, understood, and furthered in research, the additional consideration of widespread appeal can have even greater implications across various fields, unexpected connections, and ultimately, new discoveries – not to mention increased appreciation by the public. As with the scientists of Tesla’s time, having good “salesman” tactics of these research advancements and discoveries can create opportunities in the future for research and development across previously-unimagined fields.

Report by Madison Jaehee Lee and Maxwell Tfirn.