Students Earn High Honors at Global Conference

By Ed Moorhouse

Matt Ratti (left) and JJ Naddeo stand in front of their award-winning poster.

Matt Ratti (left) and JJ Naddeo stand in front of their award-winning poster.

Two Rutgers University–Camden students grabbed the attention of some of the world’s foremost experts on laser ablation — a growing technological advancement in science — during an international conference in Australia.

JJ Naddeo of Marlton, and Matthew Ratti of Philadelphia, earned “Most Outstanding Poster” honors for their original research on the antibacterial effects of nanoparticles during the International Conference on Laser Ablation (COLA), held in September in the city of Cairns in Queensland, Australia.

“We were honored to attend COLA this year and be recognized with the award,” says Naddeo, who graduated from Rutgers–Camden with his bachelor’s degree in physics in May and returned this semester to pursue his bachelor’s degree in economics.

Established more than 20 years ago, the COLA serves as a platform to bring together researchers, applied scientists, engineers, and students for exchanging ideas on the fundamentals and applications of laser/matter interactions.

In their research, Naddeo and Ratti create nanoparticles from different materials — such as copper, gold, and silver — through laser ablation, which is removing material from a solid or liquid surface by irradiating it with a laser beam.

“Silver nanoparticles are antibacterial and are used in a lot of medical applications now, but there isn’t a whole lot known about the mechanism behind their antibacterial effectiveness,” says Ratti, who is majoring in biophysics.

The two Rutgers–Camden students say that through experimentation, they discovered that light plays a role in increasing the antibacterial effects of the nanoparticles. They submitted their work to COLA and presented it to conference attendees.

Naddeo and Ratti had been working on their laser ablation project for more than a year. They attended the conference thanks to National Science Foundation funding awarded to Danny Bubb, a professor of physics at Rutgers–Camden.

The two student researchers work well together and they share an enthusiasm for scientific discovery that is palpable even during a short conversation with them.

“We’ve been doing this research for a while, so just talking about it off the cuff now is natural,” Ratti says. “We each have our own specialty. JJ can tell you all you need to know about laser ablation while I’m into sequencing the genomes of these bacteria. He’s more of the theoretical one while I’m the one looking for ways to optimize the experiment,” Ratti says.

“Well, he knows I’m always right,” Naddeo says with a head nod toward Ratti while both laugh.

The pair isn’t shy about infusing a sense of humor into their daily research routine.

“I thought what we had would stand out and it did because, well, our poster was a lot bigger than the others,” Naddeo says with a laugh. “I think we were able to apply our nanoparticles in a way no one else has ever seen and it seems a lot of people were interested in our work.”

After a beat, Naddeo smiles and deadpans, “But look at us, we attract a lot of attention.”

All kidding aside, the students’ work seamlessly comes together to help them find answers to their most pressing research questions. Both are quick to credit their Rutgers–Camden professors with encouraging them to pursue research.

“The professors here are all very supportive of student research,” Ratti says. “Not all experiments work out and it’s not like they’re scrapped right off the bat. Dr. Bubb, for instance, would say to just keep trying.”

In addition to the poster presentation, Naddeo gave a talk at the conference in place of Bubb, who gave up his spot so that Ratti could attend. The talk centered on the laser ablation process, namely the effect of cavitation bubble dynamics and laser energy on the diameter of produced nanoparticles.

They say they are both grateful for the opportunity to do research at Rutgers–Camden under Bubb and Eric Klein, an assistant professor of biology at Rutgers–Camden who oversees much of Ratti’s research.

“We owe a lot to our professors,” Ratti adds. “We have an idea and they allow us to explore it and see where it takes us and in this case, we got to go to Australia.”

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