Jessica Winter

Jessica Winter

PI, QDot Team

  • Laboratory for Biological and Applied Nanotechnology
  • Ohio State University, Columbus

Imaging in live, whole specimens would be a first.



Jessica is a pioneer in applying nanoparticle-based technologies to biological imaging, medical diagnostics, and research.  She is a Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Ohio State, Associate Director of the NSF-funded Center for Emergent Materials, and Chief Science Officer of Core Quantum Technologies, a company she founded to bring a novel quantum dot based cancer diagnostic technology to the aid of cancer patients and their medical teams. Jessica has received numerous patents, awards and recognitions, and she is an indefatigable explorer, inventor, and teacher.

Jessica met fellow QSTORM PIs Peter Kner and Carol Lynn Alpert at the 2010 NSF Innovations in Biological Imaging and Visualization Ideas Lab held in rural Virginia, and the three launched the original QSTORM quest in collaboration with biologist Beth Brainerd and bioengineer Ge Yang.  (see  Jessica and Carol Lynn’s team at the Museum of Science have also collaborated on an NSF Scalable Nanomanufacturing project, sharing with public audiences the quest to speed up production of a valuable new diagnostic technology.

Q & A with Jessica (2016)

Q.  Where are you at this point in your career?

A.  I would say in the middle. I was promoted to full professor recently, but probably have another 20-30 years in the field


Q. What’s really exciting about getting this award from NSF’s IDBR (Instrument Development for Biological Research) program?

A.  I am very excited to continue to work on imaging technologies. As a graduate student, I was trained under an NSF IGERT program in biomedical optics. My carrier has encompassed many things, but biological imaging continues to be the core.


Q.  How does it build on what we did with the previous QSTORM project?

A.  QSTORM-AO will address a critical issue identified with the (quantum dot fluorescent) probes we designed for QSTORM, namely poor signal strength. Since strength is determined by distance, we will explore methods to bring the probes closer together, and because signal strength is limited by interaction with the environment, we will try methods to better protect the probe against biological fluids.


Q.  What do you hope to accomplish?  

A.  We hope to produce a probe that can provide more signal for a longer period of time, increasing STORM resolution.


Q. What limits will the new instrument overcome?

A.  We hope that this instrument will provide high-resolution imaging in thick specimens, enabling imaging of small whole organisms such as zebrafish, fruit flies, and worms.


Q. Which of these will be firsts in the field?

A. Imaging in live, whole specimens would be a first.


Q. Why hasn’t any other team been able to do this?  What do we have now that make us likely to be the ones to make it happen?

A.  The biggest issues are resolution (which Peter is working on) and signal strength (which we are working on). We are combining some pretty unique technologies in microscopy and probe design to enable these improvements.


Q. What will be the significance for biologists who will have a chance to use the new instrument once it is available? 

A.  Our hope is to provide an instrument that will enable biologists to image molecular level events, as they occur, in live organisms.


Q. Can you provide a couple of specific examples of what will the new instrument may allow biologists or medical researchers to do that they cannot now do?

A.  One big question is, how do objects move along the cytoskeleton and how does the cell use the cytoskeleton to generate force?  We hope to enable biologists to view these events directly, which could provide important insights into nanotechnology, medicine, and mechanics.


Q. What are the most significant challenges the QSTORM-AO team faces – from an engineering point of view and from a biological point of view?

A.  For our part of the project, stability of the probe is a big issue. However, we have spent the last four years working on probe stability and have made substantial progress. We hope that our new ideas will enable enhanced signal. Biologically, delivery will be an issue. Our probes have to be deliverable and be able to move freely throughout biological organisms, which may require design adjustments on the fly.


Q. Roughly, what’s your plan of attack, separately and together?  Are there definable milestones?  If so, what are they?

A. We will try two different methods to improve the probe signal. So initially, we will be working separately. As we develop promising probes, we will send them to Peter for testing.  This will be an iterative process. The first milestone will be successfully synthesizing the probes that we desire.  This will be followed by testing here at OSU to determine how bright and stable they are and whether they can bind targets in solution. If that works, probes would be shipped to Peter for testing in combination with his imaging system.


Q.  Who did you choose to work with you on this project (collaborating PIs, students, colleagues) and why?  

A.  Two students are working on the probes right now. The first, Abhilasha Dehankar, has been working on a similar probe design for a different project, and will train Kil Ho Lee in all the necessary skills to complete this work. Also, I should mention that both students can get assistance from original QSTORM student Qirui Fan, who is now employee #1 at a start-up company to develop probes for biological imaging that came out of our lab [Core Quantum Technologies].  Qirui has been a great resource for this work. Peter was a great partner in the last project and we are excited to work with him. His microscopy resources are vastly superior to those available here, enabling us to test probes in ways that wouldn't be possible with our current set-up.


Q.  What unique or special education and training experiences will your students have working on this project?

A.  Any time students can work on collaborative projects it is a valuable experience. The students gain a different perspective and learn about working in teams, which is how most R&D proceeds in industry and beyond.


Q. Can you tell us a little about your family and your interests outside the lab?

A.  I have two children, a 15-year-old daughter named Ali who is very interested in politics and is even volunteering for a presidential campaign this summer, and a 12-year-old son Max who really likes Legos and wants to be a Mechanical Engineer and build cars. I have a wonderful partner, Aaron, who is a corporate lawyer, and who also has 2 children, CC, 11, who would like to be a surgeon, and Rose, 9, who isn't sure what she wants to do. My primary interests outside the lab are yoga, hiking, cooking, reading, and playing guitar.