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    Rebeca Rodriguez receives Analytical Chemistry Fellowship

Rebeca "Becky" Rodriguez has been awarded a 2020-21 American Chemical Society Division of Analytical Chemistry Fellowship sponsored by Eli Lilly and Company. This competitive fellowship encourages basic research in the field of analytical chemistry, promotes the growth of analytical chemistry in academic institutions and industry, and provides recognition of future leaders in the field of analytical chemistry..

Becky's research is at the interface of analytical, polymer, and materials chemistry. She is working to create inexpensive sensors for biological target detection. Using a polymer affinity agent, which is less specific than traditional affinity agents, provides the potential for multiplex detection, the ability to detect more than one target simultaneously. 

She is currently working on multiplex detection of ochratoxin A and deoxynivalenol, two mycotoxins (toxins derived by fungi) that contaminate food and are deadly to humans. By pairing this work with a sensitive technique like surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS), an attractive analytical technique due to its high enhancement factors and its ability to assign specific vibrational modes to certain molecules at very low concentrations, it is possible to monitor binding occurring between the affinity agent and two small molecules. SERS spectra provides “fingerprints” for the targets and when paired with computational modeling, helps confirm hypotheses on binding and target/polymer interaction. 

Becky's research shows that by using density function theory modeling, it is possible to attribute changes in vibrational spectra to particular interactions between the target and polymer by monitoring computational vibrations in real time. This work demonstrates that optimization of SERS sensing to achieve limits of detection is comparable to current detection methods. However, it provides a simpler and more flexible signal transduction mechanism, opening opportunities for future applications in complex matrices where these toxins are traditionally found.