Current Affiliation: Merck & Co.
Ph.D. alma mater: Georgia Institute of Technology
Role model: Austin chose two. She says Mostafa A. El-Sayed, her Ph.D. adviser, taught her how to follow her scientific creativity and never give up. And she says Petra B. Krauledat, a biochemist and biotech entrepreneur she collaborated with as a postdoc, “showed me how exciting working in industry could be and how to be a strong female scientific figure.”
Advice for young scientists: “Never give up and don’t let the day-to-day experimental setbacks discourage you. We learn best from our failures, so in science we learn a lot.”
Codename: Cellular Surveillant
Lauren Austin admits her college experience was a little different: While hurdling the challenges inherent to a chemistry degree, she was also striving to become a world-class runner. But she wouldn’t have had it any other way. “If I had to focus on one or the other, I probably would have gone crazy,” she says.
Austin attended the University of Central Florida (UCF) so she could keep working with her high school track coach—her father. Her goal was to land a spot running the 800-meter event for the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.
It was also at UCF that Austin met Qun Huo, a chemist who became Austin’s undergrad adviser. Working with Huo, Austin discovered a passion for nanoscience that would steer her to the labs of Georgia Institute of Technology’s Mostafa A. El-Sayed as a graduate student.
While working with El-Sayed, Austin helped develop ways to peer inside living cells to unravel complex biological interactions. She and her colleagues designed gold nanoparticles that seek out cell nuclei and, once there, enhance Raman scattering signals.
These signals reveal real-time changes in biomolecules that are characteristic of healthy, diseased, or drug-treated cells. This information could potentially guide efforts to create diagnostics, find drug targets, or understand if a drug candidate is working.
Austin possesses a rare combination of creativity, passion, and intellect, says El-Sayed, adding that these will be useful traits for bolstering the bionanotechnology portfolio of Austin’s new employer, Merck & Co. “I really hope they realize what they have in her,” he says.
Austin just started her career as a senior scientist at Merck, but is eager to bring her expertise to the pharmaceutical pipeline, for instance, by invoking nanoscience to improve drug delivery or drug screening methods.
Austin didn’t make the 2008 Olympic team, but she says that helped prepare her to persevere through the realities of science. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, something doesn’t work out,” she says. “I can handle that.”
Research at a glance
Three key papers:
“Observing Real-Time Molecular Event Dynamics of Apoptosis in Living Cancer Cells Using Nuclear-Targeted Plasmonically Enhanced Raman Nanoprobes” (ACS Nano 2014, DOI: 10.1021/nn500840x)
“Exploiting the Nanoparticle Plasmon Effect: Observing Drug Delivery Dynamics in Single Cells via Raman/Fluorescence Imaging Spectroscopy” (ACS Nano 2013, DOI: 10.1021/nn403351z)
“Real-Time Molecular Imaging throughout the Entire Cell Cycle by Targeted Plasmonic-Enhanced Rayleigh/Raman Spectroscopy” (Nano Lett. 2012, DOI: 10.1021/nl3027586)
They might be young scientists, but our Talented 12 have already traveled far and wide.
Watch Austin talk about her research during a special Aug. 22 Talented 12 symposium held at the American Chemical Society national meeting in Philadelphia.