Dr. Anne-Marie Dowgiallo, Application Scientist
In our series profiling the people of Ocean Optics, we introduce Dr. Anne-Marie (Annie) Dowgiallo, an Application Scientist who focuses on the application of Raman technologies for trace level detection of various substances. Annie is a doctorate-level chemist with significant expertise in nanoparticle science. She has been with Ocean Optics for a little over three years, helping dozens of customers take on different application challenges.
Q: You are an Application Scientist. What does that entail?
AMD: My responsibilities include managing the Ocean Optics surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) product line and being a member of the Lab Services team. In the SERS part of my role, I produce our SERS substrates and design and execute experiments to detect trace levels of chemicals such as explosives, pesticides, and illicit drugs using Ocean Optics Raman instrumentation. As a member of Ocean Lab Services, I work closely with our customers to provide them with solutions tailored to their unique needs. Specifically, we consult with customers, design proposals that target their unique problems, conduct the necessary experimentation, and write professional reports that summarize the results of the testing. We also provide hardware and software recommendations.
Q: That sounds like a role for someone who is both imaginative and technically capable. What’s your background?
AMD: I’m originally from Maryland and received my bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Towson University. I obtained my doctoral degree in physical chemistry from Florida State University under the supervision of Dr. Ken Knappenberger, where I studied electronic energy redistribution in hollow gold nanospheres using ultrafast spectroscopies for solar energy and photovoltaic applications. I then worked at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., as a postdoctoral researcher. My focus was studying electron transfer in photovoltaic devices that incorporated carbon nanostructures and lead-halide perovskites using ultrafast spectroscopic techniques. I decided Colorado was too cold for me and moved back to Florida after I accepted the job at Ocean Optics.
Q: What do you like most about working at Ocean Optics?
AMD: My colleagues. I get to work with intelligent, innovative and creative people from all different backgrounds every day, and I thoroughly enjoy the times when we collaborate on projects. Everyone has been extremely friendly and welcoming since my first day working here, and this has had a huge impact on my impression of the company.
Q: What is your favorite customer project so far?
AMD: My favorite project involved utilizing SERS to detect trace quantities of pesticides on food surfaces. I went to a local grocery store, purchased some apples, spinach and strawberries, swabbed the surfaces of these food items, and used SERS to try to detect pesticide residues. I matched some of the measured SERS peaks to a library of about 30 pesticides that I had previously developed. This was really exciting to me because it showed that I could take a real-world sample and effectively test it and identify residual pesticides, which are harmful to humans, animals and the environment. One of my heroines is Rachel Carson, a writer and scientist, who was one of the first people to point out the dangers of pesticides, and I often think about her for inspiration when I am doing these sorts of tests and writing about them.
Q: You are our resident expert in SERS. What should someone who is unfamiliar with this technique understand about SERS?
AMD: SERS allows us to detect trace quantities of certain chemicals, such as pesticides, illicit drugs and explosives. Raman scattering occurs when incident light excites the vibrational modes in molecules, such as the stretching and bending of chemical bonds between atoms. Every molecule scatters light differently based on its molecular structure, hence Raman spectroscopy is often referred to as a “molecular fingerprinting” technique. The surface enhancement originates from the use of nanoparticles, where molecules in proximity to the nanoparticle surface experience strong electric fields that intensify their Raman scattering. This is due to the unique properties of certain materials that emerge when reduced to the nanometer scale that differ significantly from their bulk counterparts.
Q: In what areas does SERS have the most potential?
AMD: SERS has significant potential to help with identifying food contamination, such as detecting trace quantities of harmful pathogenic bacteria like E. coli. SERS can offer a convenient, fast, portable and non-invasive test to help make our world safer and healthier.
Q: You often work on projects proving the feasibility of SERS and other techniques for certain applications. What’s the best thing about those “Eureka” moments when everything comes together?
AMD: The best part about having a “Eureka” moment and executing a successful experiment is the moment you realize that all your efforts, especially the times when things did not work, were worthwhile. It makes you realize that any mistake or error is not always a negative thing, and can be a valuable learning experience. I think this is a lesson that can be applied to many areas in life, not only the lab bench.
Q: How would you describe Ocean Optics?
AMD: Ocean Optics is a company that specializes in developing custom solutions for customers that are based on miniature and portable scientific instrumentation. We are a knowledge company, where our expertise lies in measuring the interaction of matter with light, and we thrive when we produce unique solutions for our customers’ problems.
Q: What surprises you most about science and technology today?
AMD: I am always amazed at anything I hear or read about outer space. Recently I read an article where researchers revealed the first photographs of a black hole that is millions of light years away from Earth. The vastness of our universe and how we are such a small part of it fascinates me. Also, I am a huge sci-fi nerd, so I naturally gravitate toward this topic. Also, as a scientist, I read journal articles every day on the latest research developments by other scientists all over the world. I am perplexed at the gap that still exists between academic/government research and implementation in industry to develop actual products that could potentially help solve some of the world’s most urgent problems.
Q: You’re both a scientist and a fitness enthusiast. What have you observed in your own life about the mind-body connection?
AMD: I have observed that focusing on which muscles are participating in the movements I make during a certain exercise greatly improves my performance. This type of mind-body connection is imperative to lead to faster and greater muscle gains in the gym, which is my primary goal. I think that body awareness is a topic that is gaining attention in the fitness industry and I am eager to learn more about it.
Q: Maybe we should start a “World’s Fittest Scientist” competition. Ready to sign up?
AMD: I love this idea! I know a lot of scientists and engineers that are fitness enthusiasts like myself. I have always had a competitive drive and thrive in challenging situations. Let’s do it!