Life Science

Chemistry Student Creates Quantum Dots in Lab

Pensacola Aaron Mena, a University of West Florida junior, majoring in chemistry will travel to California for the 252nd American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition. He will make a presentation about quantum dots.

Junior chemistry major Aaron Mena mixes a metal hydroxide and zinc acetate

Quantum dots are semiconducting, nanocrystals, which means they are small particles with the unique ability to convert energy into light of nearly any color in the visible spectrum. The color of light emitted is based on the size of the quantum dot. Such properties give quantum dots applications in medical imaging, LCD displays and solar cells, said Dr. Karen Molek, Mena’s mentor in the chemistry department.

Mena came to the University of West Florida with the intention getting a biology degree and going on to medical school. After a freshman chemistry class, he changed his mind.

“I always wanted to study oncology, specifically because my family, a lot of them have been affected by different types of cancers,” Mena said. “What I didn’t realize until I took chemistry is that it’s not just the doctors who help, but the people behind the scenes, people you never see that synthesize the medicine and produce the instruments necessary to check your blood levels and things like that.”

Mena no longer wants to go to medical school, but his undergraduate research experience led to another aspiration.

“My goal is to go to graduate school to study some form of chemistry – either physical or inorganic nanomaterial chemistry.”

uwf-student-aaron-mena-lab2 Aaron Mena uses a fluorescence table to see if his quantum dot sample is fluorescing.

The chemical society convention is March 13-17 at the San Diego Convention Center. Mena will make a presentation called “Synthesis, Characterization, and Growth Kinetics of Surface Modified Zinc Oxide Quantum Dots.” During a convention in November, Mena did a similar presentation that garnered him a first-place award at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Seattle.

Field Work is a monthly series that highlights research and other scholarly activities being conducted by UWF undergraduate students.