Wednesday, August 19, 2020

People: Riannon Smith, graduate fellow pursuing aPhD in chemical engineering 

Mission Area: Biotechnology

Lab: Fiegel Lab

Riannon Smith
Riannon Smith

Riannon Smith isn't a videographer or photographer, per se, but some days she takes 100 pictures or more.

Smith is a graduate fellow in the Fiegel Lab, one of the more than 20 labs and centers making up the University of Iowa Technology Institute. The lab is led by Jennifer Fiegel, associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering and of pharmaceutical sciences and experimental therapeutics.

Recently, Smith was documenting the plume of hydrogel spray. Hundreds of times over she would pump the spray bottle and record pictures or videos, examining how wide and far the spray traveled.

"We are testing three different nozzles," says Smith, who has a fellowship through the Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing at the University of Iowa Research Park in Coralville. "They all spray differently. 

"One is designed to spray more viscous formulations. One spray is more conical, and one is more of a direct stream, like a water gun. We want more of a mist, so the tests are to see which one does best."

These experiments were among the top priorities after being allowed to return to the lab following shutdowns due to COVID-19. 

Here are samples of the experiments:


The Fiegel Lab is working to develop a more effective method to deliver antibiotics to burn wounds.

The hydrogel formulation she is using is liquid at cooler temperatures allowing it to be sprayed and becomes a gel when it gets warmer. Spray is less painful to apply than using Q-tips or an applicator, Smith says. 

The gel also allows medicine to be released over a longer period of time, which means fewer times dressing the wounds and it keeps it more moist than other approaches.

"We are hoping that with the hydrogel release, we'll be able to cut down on the infections with burn wounds," Smith says, adding existing research literature of animal models has found wounds closed faster with hydrogels compared to other treatments. 

Following the spray analysis, the research continues in coordination with the Nicole Brogden Lab in the UI College of Pharmacy where they will test the drug diffusion out of the hydrogels, Smith says.