Her work into nanotechnology is garnering both state and national attention.
It’s not hard to talk about nanotechnology or science in general without bringing a smile to Letha Sooter’s face.
“I love building things, and creating things, and I think creating things at that tiny level is just an awesome idea,” she said.
“Nanotechnology and nanoscience has been going on for a long time, it’s just recently that we’ve started giving it this special name.”
Nanotechnology is the science of creating devices, from small atoms and molecules.
In the Life Sciences Building at WVU, Sooter is applying nanotechnology to several different projects.
She is studying a nano tube that can be used as a sensor device and glows different colors.
“You can think of an empty paper towel roll, it’s kind of like that,” she said, “if you look at the paper towel roll, it has a winding about it, the way the paper is rolled up.”
“According to the way these things are wound up, they have different properties.”
Sooter says nano tubes are difficult to construct.
“You have to make them, in special clean rooms. When you look at them, a pile of nanotubes is going to look like a pile of pencil shavings,” she said.
“Just black dust, but the black dust is composed of all of those tubes.”
Sooter’s research investigates how the tubes can be used to recognize dangers like the flu virus or cancerous cells in people.
She also works with materials called Molecular Recognition Elements, or MREs.
They are molecules that bind to other materials, called targets. Anything can be a target.
This past summer, Sooter received more than $400,000 from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to see how MREs can help detect explosive devices on the battlefield.
“You read the news, explosives are a big problem for our soldiers,” she said. “Working with the army, we would develop a device that would be given to our soldiers, something easy to use, very cheap, preferably disposable, so that a soldier can do a quick test and say ok, it’s clear for now, or wait, we better find a different way around this.”
Brandi Findley works in the Sooter lab. She is a biology student at WVU.
“In the lab, our ultimate goal is to work on making Molecular Recognition Elements,” she said.
“There’s a lot of preliminary work going on, that’s what I’m doing right now. I’ve learned a lot in the lab, it’s good.”
But it’s not just MREs that are being studied in the lab.
Smita Singh is a graduate student who is researchinghow two types of bacteria can be used as a food source on Mars, including E Coli.
Singh says Souter is a great advisor and teacher.
“She has helped me a lot; she’s very good in technique,” she said.
“I joined as a voluntary worker, and within six months I’ve learned a lot from her.”
Sooter is featured on the cover of the latest edition of The Neuron, West Virginia’s science and research journal.
Sooter and her research were recently recognized by the Higher Education Policy Commission.