Researcher Spotlight: Sarah Suda Petters, Ph.D., NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Meet Sarah Suda Petters, NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


B.S., Physics 2008
M.S., Atmospheric Science 2011
Ph.D., Atmospheric Science 2015


When Petters entered graduate school, the aerosol research group offered her a stipend for her work, which led her to her current field of study. For over eight years, Petters has been studying atmospheric aerosol particles, which are suspensions of nano-scale particles with diameters of roughly 10 to 1000 nanometers. These ubiquitous particles can exceed concentrations of 10,000 particles per cubic centimeter and impact air quality, visibility of remote landmarks, regional climate systems and human health.

The effect of aerosols on large-scale phenomena depends in part on the physical properties of the particles themselves including solubility in water, their volatility, or the time it takes for them to equilibrate under environmental changes.

Petters’ work specifically addresses the question of aerosol volatility.

“I am generating particles by feeding an aqueous solution of dissolved organic compounds (via tubing and fittings from Component Supply Company) through a 20-micrometer orifice. A jet forms as the liquid is ejected at about 0.2 mL/min through the orifice, and the surface tension around the liquid jet pinches off droplets at a uniform rate. As these droplets evaporate, the organic compound remains in the condensed phase.”

However, Petters’ dissolved samples are slightly volatile and will evaporate with the water. Residual particle size shows how volatile the sample is. Petters hopes to link the volatility and hygroscopic character of aerosol particles to some of the chemical pathways that result in particle formation in the atmosphere. But, as with any research, it is challenging to control the conditions of the experiment.

“Aerosol measurements are made using suspended particles that must be either generated in the lab or captured from the environment and measured in an airstream without impacting them on anything. Thus, conditioning the airstream during all stages of the measurement is critically important. It is also challenging to verify the chemical reaction pathways for even the simplest of reactions. For example, if you oxidize a common atmospheric gas, pinene (it evaporates from pine needles), using ozone, you will end up with over 1000 products. There are a handful of different schools of thought on how to understand the complexity of atmospheric chemical reactions. Some people simplify these into categories of reactions. Others view this process only through the formed chemicals and bypass the complexity of the entire reaction, others study simple systems and make inferences extending to more complex systems.”

Fun Facts Q&A: 

What’s your favorite food? Pasta Primavera

What’s your favorite song or music group? Einsturzende Neubauten

What book do you recommend? Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I do love flying…

What’s the coolest gadget you’ve ever seen?  I don’t like gadgets. The coolest thing is a DMA (differential mobility analyzer), which is a set of shiny steel concentric cylinders that size-segregates particles using an electric field of several thousand volts.

What’s on your bucket list? To create a famous graph.

Who is a person throughout history you’d most like to meet? The trouble is that most famous people throughout history would not be great candidates for a nice friendly chat with a random fan. It would be interesting to talk with my ancestors, scientific or literal.

What is the best trip or vacation you’ve ever taken? I’ve enjoyed my various trips to sample aerosols. Maybe one of the best places was Boulder, Colorado.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not in your lab? Aikido

What is one research discovery you’d like to see? I’d like to know where the extra (unpaired) electrons go on the Criegee radical molecule. What do the bonds look like? How are the energy levels structured? This is likely already discovered but I’d like to know.

Learn More:

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Researcher Spotlight: David A. Brown, PT, Ph.D., FAPTA University of Alabama at Birmingham

David Brown, PT, Ph.D., FAPTA
David Brown, PT, Ph.D., FAPTA

In August, Component Supply attended the FIME show in Miami, Fla., where we were able to see a demonstration of the KineAssist-MX. This month, we had the opportunity to speak with one of the collaborators in its development and hear his insights on multidisciplinary research.

When it comes to research, University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Professor David Brown finds the multidisciplinary, collaborative approach both rewarding and effective.

“There’s some risk involved when someone who is an expert in their field crosses over into another field, but the shared expertise is invaluable,” Brown said.

One of the greatest examples of his multidisciplinary approach is the development of the KineAssist-MX, a device providing unobtrusive support to patients relearning how to balance and walk, particularly after a stroke.

The collaboration on this project started back in 2002 when Brown and two mechanical engineers at Northwestern University, Ed Colgate, Ph.D. and Michael Peshkin, Ph.D., worked on a research proposal for funding that would be given for developing technology considered too risky for investors.

After visiting high-profile clinics in Chicago, observing their practices and trying to determine what technology was needed most, Brown discovered the clinicians preferred co-robotics. They wanted mechanisms that not only move based on the intent of the patient but also the intent of the clinician.

Brown said co-robotics is particularly effective for people recovering from stroke who are basically learning how to walk again.

“The brain learns best when challenged to do tasks slightly higher than ability level,” Brown said.

With the KineAssist-MX, patients can work with physical therapists to challenge themselves in a safe environment.

Unlike typical treadmills, which move at a constant speed, the KineAssist picks up on patients’ intentions, errors and the expected consequences while allowing opportunities to practice movement and retry.

The device not only moves based on the intended movement of the user, it also simulates various environmental factors through variable speeds, disturbed surfaces and force fields.

“It’s a multi-purpose playground where people can try different real-life situations, make mistakes and get right back up and keep trying,” Brown said.

Along with Brown’s work with this device, his continued work in The UAB Locomotor Control and Rehabilitation Robotics Laboratory, better known as the LocoLab, is based on collaboration with scientists and clinicians.

“Our work is very multidisciplinary,” he said.

In Brown’s lab, there are more than 10 students from different backgrounds: Ph.D. candidates, occupational therapy and physical therapy graduate students, an engineering student and even high school students. The variation of backgrounds and ages is beneficial in collaborative work and Brown said he finds joy in inspiring the youngest students.

“We want the high school students to connect and find the aspects of their projects that really excite them,” Brown said. “We want them to come away passionate and more mature in their thinking.”

Brown and his students focus on three aspects of study: basic mechanistic studies, effective exercise-based interventions and development of new technology. They are studying how the brain controls movement, particularly after a stroke, developing clinical interventions and applying the interventions with new technology in a way that gives patients the opportunity to practice movements in a safe environment.

For more information about Brown and his research in the LocoLab at UAB, visit:

Researcher Spotlight: Barry Setlow, Ph.D., University of Florida College of Medicine

Barry Setlow, Ph.D.

As university researchers welcome the start of a new academic year, Component Supply wishes the best of luck to our researchers and product designers as they pursue knowledge and innovations that can change the world.

University of Florida Associate Professor, Barry Setlow is driven by his desire to know the answers.

As a graduate student, Setlow listened to his adviser warn him that much of his daily work in a research lab might seem tedious at times, but it would still bring fulfillment if he maintained interest in the questions.

The idea that his work might be monotonous was deflating for Setlow at first, but now he believes he has the best job in the world.

“As a researcher, you get paid to ask questions and figure out what the answers are,” he said.

For Setlow and the graduate students in his research lab, the broad question they are asking is, “How does chronic drug use affect the brain and render users more prone to impulsive behaviors?”

“We’ve found that often the brain functions of those struggling with addiction look similar to those of people who have experienced brain damage,” Setlow said.

Questions about the long-term effects of chronic exposure to drugs of abuse on cognitive outcomes have sustained Setlow’s research. He is particularly interested in different types of decision-making processes, specifically risky and impulsive decision making.

In the lab, Setlow and his students work with rodent models to determine how drug abuse influences willingness to delay gratification. For example, in one setting rats are given an option between a small, immediate reward and a larger, but delayed reward.

“In our work with the rodents, we’ve found that a history of cocaine use influences them to choose immediate over delayed gratification,” Setlow said. “This history likely makes it more difficult to resist relapse.”

While the rodent models reveal much about the mechanics involved in interactions between drugs and the brain, determining human implications is more difficult because of pre-existing conditions and predispositions.

Nonetheless, Setlow said his bright, motivated students continue to raise questions that keep him excited about pursuing this research. While his lab primarily focuses on cocaine use, the increasing acceptance of marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes has piqued his students’ interests in researching that area, particularly the effects on young users.

In July, Setlow and his colleague, Adriaan Bruijnzeel, Ph.D., were awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH) R21 grant entitled, “Lasting Behavioral and Neuroimaging Consequences of Adolescent Exposure to Cannabis Smoke.”

“Obviously there are concerns about how marijuana affects the adolescent brain,” Setlow said.

However, he admits that research results about the risks of marijuana use often are conflicting.

“While the research goes back and forth, there do seem to be some behavioral consequences related to the long-term use of marijuana,” Setlow said.

Regardless of the drug studied, Setlow said he hopes his lab work will pave the way for more effective treatment options in the future.

“We’re just ramping up our pursuit of potential drug therapies for treatment,” Setlow said. “Rather than targeting drug use directly, we’re stepping back and looking at behaviors that render people more likely to relapse.”

More information about Setlow and his research lab can be found at his UF website at the Center for Addiction and Education.