Laura received her Ph.D. from the University of Vigo in 2012, under the direction of Professors Luis M. Liz-Marzan and Ramon A. Alvarez-Puebla. As PhD student, she worked on a number of projects that were focused on the optimization of substrates for ultra-sensing applications based in surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS). In fact, she developed, together her colleagues, new methods to fabricate high yield and reproducible SERS substrates. Some of these substrates were used to detect drugs (e.g. cocaine) and cancer biomarkers, or for intracellular SERS imaging within living cells. At the same time, she was also able to learn and appreciate how research is really being conducted. Moreover, she trained undergraduate researchers and helped new graduate students with their projects. These experiences were very helpful for starting her career as an independent researcher. In addition, she served as a laboratory instructor for general chemistry classes which gave her teaching experience and further insights into the interest of undergraduates, particularly those who did not want to stay in science.
She was employed as postdoc research (2012-2015) and group leader (2016-2017) in the Bionanomaterials group at the Adolphe Merkel Institute in Fribourg in Switzerland. In this period, she developed reproducible, robust and stable nanoparticle libraries and new particle characterisation protocols with the goal of understanding the nanomaterial-cell interactions, their nanotoxicity and detecting them in consumer products (e.g. food and cosmetics). Another focus of her research was the design of hybrid composites, involving metal, semiconductor, magnetic and polymeric nanostructures for SERS imaging and sensing – she was awarded a L’Oreal Fellowship “For Woman in Science 2013” for this project.
In 2015, Laura was included in the list of the 100 most influential young people at the francophone Swiss zone, awarded by L'Hebdo journal. Laura has recently joined INL to develop new generation of urban water treatment based on SERS monitoring of CO2 produced during the persistent organic pollutant photocatalytic degradation. Her research goals are focused at the integration of nanotechnology and SERS driven by her interest in improving sustainable management and purification treatments of urban wastewater resources and in particular to monitor the quality of drinking water, minimising human health risks. Until now, she was awarded several funding and recognitions along her career, she have co-authored thirty-six publications and many more are in writing. She has also being involved in start-up programmes in Vigo.
The Cofund project
The 8th implementation Report concerning urban waste water treatment (2016) describes that uncollected and untreated wastewater generated by the European Union’s 500 million inhabitants is a major source of pollution that affects quality of fresh and marine waters and presents a risk to human health and biodiversity. Therefore, improving access to safe drinking water can result in tangible improvements to health and should be a prerequisite for a decent life in the 21st century. The challenge we face now is how to effectively conserve, manage, and distribute the water we have through the development and improving of new generation of water treatment.
Owing urban wastewater effluents contain persistent organic pollutants (POPs e.g. personal care products, pesticides and pharmaceuticals), heterogeneous photocatalysis is considered as the most promising method to purify water. In order to reduce cost in water purification, the real time monitoring of photomineralization is priority. SERS offers an exceptional opportunity for the development of new sensing, efficient strategies amenable of implementation in real time and remote detection devices. Thus, The goal of the COFUND project is to study and improve the high efficiency, eco-friendly and cost saving photocatalytic and monitoring water purification by developing photocatalyst with high near infrared (NIR)-driven photoactivity and recyclability and SERS sensing devices with real-time measurements of CO2 produced during POPs photomineralization.
Ultimately, research actions aim to provide a robust nanotechnology platform with the following end-user benefits: (1) it might treat more amount of urban wastewater whilst maintaining an improved water quality, thus alleviating the need to use chemical additives required in conventional water treatments; (2) This approach might contribute to substantial financial savings by introducing several advantages respect to the conventional treatments: the possibility of energy savings through the use of sun light, recyclable and high-stable catalyst, real time monitoring of the process to stop it after the total conversion of organic pollutants to carbon dioxide, improving of process efficiency due to the utilisation of infrared part of the light, and (3) A highly specific sensor system, which will significantly minimize the number of false alarms; thus significantly improving the performance, reliability, and accuracy of the monitoring systems.