Nucleic Acid Diagnostics, Instrumentation for Biomolecule Analysis, Chemistry Education
I am fascinated with the creation of instrumentation and associated chemical systems for biochemical sensing. Throughout my years as a researcher, both in academia and the biotechnology industry, I have focussed on the development and commercial implementation of optical biosensor technologies for rapid, reusable, sensitive and selective nucleic acid diagnostics. With equal passion, I enjoy chemistry education and to this end strive to share my knowledge and enthusiasm in the field of analytical and bioanalytical chemistry with our student community.
The overall aim of the research I have been involved in has been the development of chemically-selective surfaces and associated instrumentation that together are suitable for practical application as biosensor devices. A biosensor is a device for the detection of an analyte (i.e. a target molecule of interest) that combines a biological recognition element, typically a protein or nucleic acid that is capable of selectively binding to the analyte, with a transduction element capable of converting selective binding interactions into a measureable analytical signal, as illustrated in the figure above. In particular, my work has focused on the development of fluorimetric nucleic acid biosensors that rely on the use of immobilised nucleic acid probes of well-defined sequence and organisation to detect and identify organisms (e.g. pathogenic bacteria such as Escherichia coli 0157, Salmonella typhimurium and Listeria monocytogenes), viruses (e.g. Human Papillomavirus and Influenza A virus subtype H1N1) and genetic mutations (including those for inherited diseases, such as Spinal Muscular Atrophy) through selective DNA hybridisation reactions.
A substantial subset of my research has concentrated on the exploration of nucleic acid immobilisation methods and interfacial biomolecule organisation. The resultant characterization of the interfacial binding properties of immobilised nucleic acid films has yielded tremendous insight into the physical chemistry of nucleic acid hybridisation occurring at interfaces and how the response characteristics of biosensors can be optimised by design and control of the device interface. I have also explored instrument design and have created devices suitable for routine testing and characterisation of optical biosensors. This includes a high-sensitivity analysis system based on the use of time-correlated single photon counting and a femtosecond laser in efforts to analyse nucleic acids directly from cells (without the requirement for pre-amplification) and an autonomous sensor-array sample processing and analysis instrument which is currently undergoing validation studies for commercial use in the routine analysis of dairy products for pathogens.
My work now focuses on application of my knowledge and multidisciplinary experience in bio-analytical chemistry, the biotechnology industry and sensor development to enhance the undergraduate chemistry learning experience at UTM. This is achieved through lecture and laboratory courses in analytical chemistry and research opportunities in the development of analytical devices, including: chemical sensors and biosensors, sensor-arrays and microarrays, microfluidic based analytical instrumentation and associated instrument control and analysis software.
From my experience in academia and industry, I know well that regardless of career paths, students with a multidisciplinary education and solid development of presentation, time-management and teamwork skills will have the highest probability for success in their careers. This has become more critical in our current economic environment where employers attempting to run businesses with limited financial resources place an increased multidisciplinary expectation on employees; a trend that will most certainly continue. As such, aspects from other disciplines (particularly molecular biology and biotechnology) are blended into the courses I provide and supported with real-world examples to demonstrate the practicality of the material being presented. Opportunities for the development of presentation, time-management and teamwork skills are intrinsic components of the courses and research projects that I am involved with.
CHM211H5, CHM311H5, CHM396H5, CHM397H5, CHM412H5, CHM414H5 CHM416H5, JCB487H5, and UTM290H5 (undergraduate).
Karan Malhotra, David Hrovat, Balmiki Kumar, Grace Qu, Justin Van Houten, Reda Ahmed, Paul A. E. Piunno, Patrick T Gunning, Ulrich J Krull, “Lanthanide-Doped Upconversion Nanoparticles: Exploring A Treasure Trove of NIR-Mediated Emerging Applications”, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 2023, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2499-2528. https://doi.org/10.1021/acsami.2c12370
Karan Malhotra, Richard Fuku, Balmiki Kumar, David Hrovat, Justin Van Houten, Paul A. E. Piunno, Patrick Thomas Gunning, and Ulrich J. Krull, “Unlocking LongTerm Stability of Upconversion Nanoparticles with Biocompatible PhosphonateBased Polymer Coatings”, Nano Letters. 2022, Vol. 22, No. 18, 7285-7293. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.nanolett.2c00437
Balmiki Kumar, Karan Malhotra, Richard Fuku, Justin Van Houten, Grace Y. Qu, Paul A.E. Piunno, Ulrich J. Krull, “Recent Trends in the Developments of Analytical Probes Based on Lanthanide-Doped Upconversion Nanoparticles”, Trends in Analytical Chemistry, 2021, Vol. 139, No. 6, 116256. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trac.2021.116256
Karan Malhotra, Richard Fuku, Tsz Shan Chan, Nicole Kraljevic, Abootaleb Sedighi, Paul A.E. Piunno, and Ulrich J. Krull, “Bis-Phosphonate Polymeric Ligands on Inorganic Nanoparticles”, Chemistry of Materials, 2020, Vol. 32, No. 9, 4002-4012. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.chemmater.0c00547
Paul A.E. Piunno, Michael deBraga, Troy A. Dexter, Marc Laflamme, “Teaching Research Best Practices through Early Career Experiential Learning”, Journal of Chemical Education, 2019, Vol. 96, No. 9, 1891-1898. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b00136
Daniel Gorelik, Faiyza Alam, Joshua N. Milstein, †Paul A.E. Piunno, † “Fabrication and Characterization of a Microfluidic Flow Cytometer for the Advanced Undergraduate Laboratory”, American Journal of Physics, 2019, Vol. 87, No. 3, 214 – 222. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.5084554 †Joint Corresponding Authors
Marc Laflamme, † Ulrich J. Krull, Michael deBraga and Paul A.E. Piunno, † “The Advanced Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory Course: Refinements, Reflections and the Introduction of Earth Sciences”, Journal of College Science Teaching, 2018, Vol. 48, No. 1, 24-29. †Joint First Authors and Joint Corresponding Authors.
Paul A.E. Piunno, “Teaching the Operating Principles of a Diffraction Grating Using a 3D-Printable Demonstration Kit”, Journal of Chemical Education, 2017, Vol. 94, No. 5, 615-620.
Marc Laflamme and Paul Piunno, “Education and Outreach: Innovation in Palaeontological Research Driven by Students and Non-Specialists”, Palaeontology Online, 2015, Volume 5, Article 5, 1 - 7. Available online at http://www.palaeontologyonline.com/articles/2015/education-outreach-innovation-palaeontological-research/
A.J. Tavares, S. Doughan, M.O. Noor, M.V. DaCosta, P.A.E. Piunno, and U.J. Krull, “Novel Lab-On-a-Chip Sensing Systems: Applications of Optical, Electrochemical, and Piezoelectric Transduction in Bioanalysis” in Microfluidics in Detection Science: Lab-on-a-chip Technologies, H.O. Fatoyinbo and F.H. Labeed, eds., Royal Society of Chemistry, London, 2015, pp. 224 - 269. (doi:10.1039/9781849737609-00224)
Paul A.E. Piunno, Cleo Boyd, Virginijus Barzda, Claudiu C. Gradinaru, Ulrich J. Krull, Sasa Stefanovic and Bryan Stewart “The Advanced Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory: A Student Team Approach to the Fourth-Year Research Thesis Project Experience”, Journal of Chemical Education, 2014, Vol. 91, No. 5, 655-661.
Paul A.E. Piunno,† Adrian Zetina, Norman Chu, Anthony J. Tavares, M. Omair Noor, Eleonora Petrayayeva, Uvaraj Uddayasankar and Andrew Veglio, “A Comprehensive Microfluidics Device Construction and Characterisation Module for the Advanced Undergraduate Analytical Chemistry Laboratory”, Journal of Chemical Education, 2014, Vol. 91, 902-907.
† Denotes shared first-authorship.