Student Spotlight: Avery England, PhD Chemistry Candidate

Avery England is a Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry. Her thesis advisor, Prof Scott Collins, says “Avery is delightful to work with. She is a dedicated and diligent student with an eclectic curiosity that drives her research with intriguing perspectives.”

Avery shared her path to a Ph.D. program and her interest in nanoscience: 


As a chemistry student, I have always found the properties of matter at a molecular level enticing. However, after taking Dr. Collins’s nanoscience course in the fall of 2021, I began to appreciate how much of an impact something nanosized can make. During that semester, I approached Dr. Collins regarding research opportunities in nanoscience, and not long after, he introduced me to ways we can controllably synthesize nanomaterials using microtechnology. Upon joining the Smith/Collins research group, I began training in microfabrication, nanoparticle synthesis, and various characterization techniques of nanosized materials. As my knowledge of nanoscience grew, I began to appreciate the advantages of a field encompassing various disciplines, such as chemistry, physics, engineering, material science, biology, and medicine, allowing many opportunities for collaboration and expanding my knowledge outside my chosen field. The following semester I would begin working in the Smith/Collins research lab, fabricating microfluidic technology to study lipid nanoparticle synthesis for drug encapsulation and delivery. 

The project I am working on involves implementing a novel microfluidic mixer to synthesize drug-delivering lipid nanoparticles. This microfluidic device consists of a 1mm diameter turbine etched onto a silicon chip that can homogenously mix two reactants within 50 µs using a hydrodynamically driven rotor spinning at approximately 30,000 rpm. Experimental control over parameters has allowed phosphatidylcholine/choline liposomes between 90 nm – 150 nm in diameter to be selectively synthesized. We intend to do a comparative study to determine the efficiency of our lipid nanoparticles synthesized on a chip for drug encapsulation and delivery. While our microfluidic device has been used previously in our research group for the synthesis of ultra-small silver nanoparticles, this is the first work done in our group to investigate how modifications of our device can enhance liposome drug encapsulation and delivery. In the future, I plan to combine the microfluidic turbine used to synthesize lipid nanoparticles with our research group’s cells-on-a-chip microfluidic cell culture platform enabling us to achieve spatiotemporal control of a chemical environment to study the effect of various drug concentrations simultaneously within a single microfluidic device.