Fall Convocation 2009

Chestnut Hill College's Fall Convocation was held on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 in Sorgenti Arena, Martino Hall.

Professor of Biology Lakshmi Atchison, Ph.D. delivered this year's convocation address, "Nanotechnology: One Science Fits All."

Dr. Atchison’s speech:


President Sister Carol, Vice President Dr. Soprano, Members of the Administrative staff, my fellow colleagues, students and special guests. I am deeply honored and it is very humbling. I am grateful to all of you for the Lindback award. It is an awesome feeling to receive an award and being recognized, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak to you all during this occasion.

When I was told that I should give a talk at this fall convocation I wondered hmmm… What should I talk about? Am I going to talk about biology? No, that will be boring to some of you. Or, am I going to talk about politics? No, I am not going there! Well, after seriously thinking, I thought of the incoming class of 2009! You are the new generation of students that belong to generation Z! You are also the future generation of Nanotechnology. Because, nanotechnology is the future of global power, global economy and global interest. So I decided I will give a brief talk about nanotechnology. But, before I talk about nanotechnology, I just want to give you a brief background on how I landed my career at CHC, & what this institution means to me. For me the year 1992 was the new beginning and a turning point in my professional career.

Many significant events occurred during 1992. For some of you, this will jog your memory. This was a leap year & I got 1 extra day!

Let’s look at some time-line here!

  • During this time our President. S. Carol was inaugurated as the 6th President of CHC.
  • Jay Leno took over the tonight show from Johny Carson.
  • Bill Clinton was elected to become 42nd Pres of the U.S
  • The Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series (becoming the first Canadian team to win in baseball).
  • The Church of England allowed women to become priests.
  • You may also remember the Rodney King case took place in 1992
  • The first African American woman (Dr. Mae Jemison) went on space shuttle Endeavour.
  • 1992 was almost the end of generation Y & beginning of gen Z.

LakshmiSo, 17 years can be seen either as recent or as a long time depending on how you want to look at it. Where did all that time go? They say when you are having a good time, time flies! It is true for me here at CHC & this is my 2nd home, and there is no place like home! You all know this familiar phrase.

Do you believe in fortune cookies? I do! Because, before I joined CHC, I was in one of my low points or turning point in my professional career, & at that time I opened a fortune cookie, & it read like this; “Happier days are definitely ahead for you, struggle has ended.” At that time, I wondered hmm… what it might be, but I did not think too much about it, but I just tucked my fortune slip away. Also, around the same time, my husband who is a God loving man said “God has plans for you” that I should not worry about my professional future. His words were very comforting, & still resonate in me. Subsequently, I joined CHC. Folks, it is no coincidence that the fortune cookie I got earlier became a reality, & I am at CHC! I have enjoyed this place thoroughly, & have tried to balance my professional career & my personal life. My family & my two boys, Alan & Steven have grown up through these years. Personally for me, this is a significant journey that I will cherish always. So, if you have a fortune cookie, save it! It may come true for you just like it did for me! Now, coming back to Nanotechnology, I will make this simple, short & easy to follow.

Nanotechnology is one science that fits all! How awesome is that? Anyone can join this field. Nanotechnology is an exciting field of global interest. The 3 major areas of nanotechnology that I want to briefly discuss are: first, the medical technology which is taking the new name as nanomedicine, secondly, the information & computer technology which is all time high-speed & third, the communication technology which has reached the pinnacle! The advances made in these 3 areas using nanotechnology are just phenomenal & mind boggling!

So, what is nanotechnology? Nanotechnology is a scientific and engineering method of making new products that are unique & extremely small. How small? Size of a nanoscale that is invisible. Invisible? Yes, Invisible like 100,000X smaller than a width of a human hair!! Something hard to fathom right? Slightly bigger than atoms & molecules. When such nanoparticles bond together, they become unique, special, like a magic, and we call them nanomaterials.
There are many commercial products coming to the market that are made of nanomaterials. Have you heard of nanomaterials to make tennis rackets, baseball bats, bicycles? Nano coatings on fabrics, (awesome to touch), nano coatings on eye glasses (cool to wear with no scratches), nano cars built in India [demonstrate the nano car; Folks look no further; park your car in your office or in your living room! that will solve the parking problem], and almost all electronic devices manufactured recently use some nanomaterials. How about their quality? They are superb! Because, they are stronger, lighter & more durable than the materials we use today in buildings, bridges, automobiles, solar panels, & many more. So, with nanotechnology we will also have more efficient ways to produce energy, better access to clean water; effective ways to reduce pollution, finding ways to purify drinking water, ways to detect infectious food borne pathogens using nanosensor chips, and most important of all, our new products will be lighter, stronger, cleaner, less expensive, greener & more precise. How awesome is that?

This is an exciting field for new generation & it has begun in many sectors but, the major applications for nanotechnology are yet to come. It may still take about 5 -10 years. That is where the generation Z will come in. Nanotechnology has enormous potential, and it is going to change our global society.

1. Let’s see what advances are made in nanomedicine
Nanomedicine is a new way to diagnose & treat the diseases by nano drug delivery without many side effects. As you know our body is made of proteins, DNA & other molecules which are tiny nanoparticles. These nano particles come together and control many systemic functions of our body. What happens if you have blood cancer, leukemia or hidden cancers in the body? How do you detect them? Nanosensor chips can snoop around & detect the cancer biomarkers or nanomarkers left in a small drop of a patient’s blood. With nanomedicine, you can target these cancer sites with nano drug delivery without killing the neighboring cells. That sounds awesome! You don’t have to kill a nano molecule with a bull dozer or a machine gun. You know the familiar phrase; if you want to pick a fight, look for someone your own size! So let the nanomolecules combat, (nano to nano) your body wouldn’t even feel it. Imagine how the cancer patients are treated today! Patients are given sometimes total body radiation! Like a bull dozer running over them, (it is a terrible shot gun approach). How about chemotherapy? (Cancer drug/poison pumped directly into the major blood vessel in the heart) that would debilitate the patient & kill both good cells and bad cells in the body. However, with nano medicine, we can overcome these horrific problems. Nanosensors can smell skin cancers! (nano nose!) We have nanoceramics used in dental implants; Nano particles are used to improve biomedical imaging tools, like MRIs & CAT scans to work efficiently. Gold nanoparticles can be used to detect early stages of Alzheimer’s. Nanotechnology is applied to special gels to stimulate the growth of nerve cells, a major, major step toward repair of spinal cord injuries & brain damage.

So, nanomedicine is a new and powerful scientific approach that is smaller, faster, safer & more reliable to reach within the body. It is also a promising new way of cancer treatment that may one day replace the total body radiation & chemotherapy and it is going to change the way we live. Many nano medicine findings are now in clinical trials & could soon be available to the public. So nanomedicine is a promising future in the field of medical technology and may become a gold standard to eliminate cancer.

#2. Secondly, what advances are made in Inform & computer technology?

You all know that I am not an expert in this field, but will humbly try to address this! 17 years ago, technology was moving slowly! In March 1992, Microsoft released Windows 3.1. Today we have Windows 7, XP, & Windows Vista. Nanotechnology is extensively used today to build new interconnects for the fastest, most advanced, high-speed computing chips. What about the physical size of the computers? In those days, computers were so huge that it took the whole office space! Today’s nanotechnology has reduced the size of the computers with flat screens built all in one!

The www (World Wide Web) became available free only in 1993! Today the internet is growing at an explosive rate. We have many internet based web giants which have brought the world very close. We have America on-line, Net scape, Amazon, Google, Blogger, Wikipedia, Craigslist, Tivo, Netflix, eBay, X-box, u-tube, facebook, MySpace, twitter. We can tweet across the globe. Twitter gives instant stories, real time results, that are easy, quick, efficient & precise! How cool is that! The world is becoming technologically savvy. Globally we are connected with strangers with our finger tips. How? By webbing, surfing, linking, browsing, navigating, finally what happens? We are lost in the cyberspace! The world is moving too fast! Often times, we push the electronic buttons without thinking twice! Are there any down sides? I will come to that shortly.

# 3. Third: How is our telecommunication technology doing?
Some of you will remember the days of rotary & dial telephones, then we moved on to push button phones, then came along battery powered portable phones big as a brick! It looked cool in those days holding the brick next to your head. Then came along Motorola & other fancy gadgets. What do we have today? We have iPod, iphone, palm pilot, palm-pre & black berry bold which gives you more speed, more power, more memory, you can download, edit, email, send attachments, & they are smart. Today, our communication technology is in our palm. Why? Because of nanotechnology, & those fancy chips, we can reach across the globe standing in the side walk holding a wallet sized blackberry bold. My son Alan says: Mom it is freaking cool. I think it is freaky. The messages you get sometimes from strangers are shocking & spooky. One must be mindful that internet is a double edged sword! However, it is very impressive to see how fast the technology is growing, & it is hard to keep pace. Yet, it is not enough for us. The human mind is still searching & pacing for the next innovation. When people said to me, I have blackberry with me; honestly, I had no clue what they were talking about. I thought they are talking about a fruit!! I said I have blueberries. You can call me stupid; it is hard to keep pace with the technology. I do not want to pretend to know it all, that I will expose by ignorance!

There are some downsides ladies & gentlemen, to this fast growing technology. If you pause & think for a moment what this technology is doing to us? We have wrapped ourselves with technology. We do not meet & greet people as in old times. We are abscessed with technology & it’s affecting our health. We can get carpel tunnel syndrome, memory loss, obesity, blurred vision, head aches, improper diet. We don’t have time for our computer to boot. We are impatient to wait for our response from email. We have to text & tweet for instant response. Think of the days when we had to lick the postal stamp & run to the mail box & wait for the response for weeks & months. Think of the days when we had to go to the camera shop to drop off the film roll & wait for weeks to get the prints & not sure of how the prints will turn out? Mine always turned out fuzzy & dark & I had to spin 36 times all over! But I still like those good old days when we got some exercise.

What is the real downside of this fast pace technology? It is affecting our health, causing stress. Especially, kids of today are bogged down with digital electronics & are not getting good exercise, proper diet or good sleep. Kids are born today with a cell phone, a mouse & a keypad in their hand, not to mention chewing gum. Juvenile obesity is an increasing problem in the US. Kids with high cholesterol, soaring BP, elevated sugar, tooth decay & diabetes. Time magazine recently reported that some 1.2 million US kids take adult medications for obesity, diabetes, & sleep apnea. Young people are dying of obesity, heart attacks & stroke because of bad diet and lack of exercise. This is very true, sad and tragic.

Health care is an imp issue in this country. The 5 major health problems we are facing are cancer, cardio vascular disease, diabetes, lung disease and stroke. (Sadly, 1 in 3 people develop cancer across the board, all ages). Many cancers are preventable; cancer should be a mandatory education for all undergraduates just like FYI. If you prevent cancer while you are young, where is the need to look for cure? So, taking better care of our health, and be proactive is very important to lead a normal healthy life. Like President Obama says “Yes we can”.

American jour of Preventive Medicine is an excellent source of information for health, in which Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN says: come up with a simple step for your diet by including 7 colors of fruits and vegetables & program it into your electronic blackberry calendar as a recurring reminder. If you ask me at the same time, If you pop in some blue berries in your mouth you can prevent cancer and blue berries will get rid off those free Nano radicals (bad guys) floating in your blood? Dr. Gupta also emphasized, set your goals and don’t change it. I would like to echo on that. A good diet, a regimented exercise, & a good night sleep. (You can’t go!) What is your bonus at the end of the year? A long & healthy life & you will become a bundle of energized nanocapsules. Imagine that! A lot of nanocapsules running around on the CHC campus. How cool is that! So Generation Z, you are young, smart, the iPod & nano generation. With nanotechnology, you can reach any nook and corner of this globe. With nanomedicine, you can reach any nanoscale part of the body to treat cancer & other hidden diseases. Nanotechnology has the potential to profoundly change the global economy in all sectors. Nanotechnology is a multidisciplinary field. It is one science that fits all. Simply put, it is a United Science! So what‘s the future like? In two words: Very Promising!
So class of 2013 & all students of Chestnut Hill College, here is a news flash: National Science Foundation has estimated that they will need 2 million young people like you to support nanotechnology globally by year 2015. So, you are the future of nanotechnology. But, first you have to start at CHC! You made the right decision! Remember the fortune cookie I said before, which is printed in your program, “Happier days are definitely ahead for you, struggle has ended.” Take it from me, I am the solid example, & CHC is a testament to that phrase. Looking through the lens of history, we can see that Chestnut Hill College has been transformed to all new heights in ways that would have been unimaginable to those who came before us. Truly a remarkable place filled with dedicated staff and faculty that you can feel the pulse of a deeply engaged and loyal community surrounded by love and peace.
So, the word Nano starts for you here at Chestnut Hill that stands firmly on the two hills. So what is Nano? Nano is:
N=New beginning; A= At Chestnut Hill;
N= Nurtured for; O= Outstanding outcome.
God Bless Chestnut Hill College! Thank you all.

Respectfully submitted,
Lakshmi Atchison, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
Biomedical Lecture Series Director
Chestnut Hill College
9601 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19118