BioE researchers open door to explore the impact of high-pressure environments


Despite the massive leaps and bounds scientists have made in understanding the natural world around us, some places and forces remain a mystery due to the intense pressure of their environment. However, researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago have unlocked a way to study these harsh environments right here in the lab.

Reza Ghodsi, a recent bioengineering alumnus who worked in Associate Professor Tolou Shokuhfar’s In Situ Nanomedicine Laboratory at UIC, is one of those researchers. He helped author the recently-published article titled “Assessment of Pressure and Density of Confined Water in Graphene Liquid Cells” in Advanced Materials Interfaces.

The article examines the effects that a graphene liquid cell (GLC) technique has on porous water trapped between sheets of graphene. Researchers in the In Situ Nanomedicine Laboratory developed this technique to seal liquid inside a transmission electron microscopy (TEM) in a capsule made of an extremely thin layer of graphene.

This has allowed them to study biological structures in a liquid environment, which was previously impossible because the vacuum inside the TEM causes the liquid to boil.

Ghodsi said the bioengineering department is one of the few U.S. institutes capable of performing high-resolution GLC fabrication and microscopy.

“Interdisciplinary GLC studies combine materials science, physics, and chemistry to deliver unprecedented characterization capabilities on aqueous dispersions of nanoparticles, proteins, and bacteria,” he said.  “At UIC, we have cultivated the art of GLC microscopy, from graphene production to GLC fabrication and high-resolution electron microscopy and spectroscopy through the years.”

Ghodsi said his previous articles demonstrated the unique behavior of water under graphene entrapment stemming from graphene/water interfacial interactions, along with the bulk pressure effects of being confined to such a small area. He wanted to specifically focus on the pressure effects in the remaining time of his PhD.

The researchers noted the findings of this work open new opportunities to explore the local physical state of water and other liquid materials under high pressure with imaging and analytical resolutions never seen before. For example, scientists will be able to better understand the high-pressure environment that exists in deep oceans and its effect on microorganisms.

“I have shown for the first time the magnitude of pressure and density of graphene-encased water using GLC electron microscopy,” Ghodsi said. “This work shows the infinite potential of these graphene nanocapsules to enable experiments never feasible before. For instance, the high-pressure environment of Mars oceans could be replicated under the variety of spectroscopic probes in our laboratories.”

Additional authors on the paper from UIC include Soroosh Sharifi‐Asl, Pavel Rehak, Petr Kral, Constantine M. Megaridis, and Reza Shahbazian‐Yassar.