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Beth Stadler: Magnetic behavior

One of Bethanie Stadler’s most vivid memories happened in high school chemistry class. When her teacher put metals into a flame, it emitted a spectrum of bright reds, greens and many other hues.

“I asked him, ‘Why would metals that look the same give you such different colors?’” Stadler recalls. “My teacher said, ‘You don’t know enough for me to answer that right now.’”

At the time, Stadler was annoyed by this response, but it also inspired her to investigate further. “I took his advice and looked for those answers at increasing levels of complexity. In a way, I'm still looking deeper today.”

Growing up in the small town of Chardon, Ohio, Stadler was a curious child with a penchant for invention. Case in point: her fourth grade marketing contest. The boys competed against the girls in creating the best poster to advertise a new gadget.

“We envision using these nanowires to kill cancer cells, multiplex and automate disease diagnostics, harness energy, or even produce a flash drive in a band aid.”

--Beth Stadler

The girls won the contest that year, in large part because Stadler developed the gadget rather than just promoting it. “It was a toy that flipped when you pushed a button. I figured it was easy enough to make. Why not try it?” she said.

Now, as a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Stadler continues to innovate on a daily basis. Her group specializes in fabricating magnetic and optical materials for novel devices, with one focus being magnetic barcode nanowires.

Imagine a four-inch length of one human hair reduced by a million times. That’s about the size of a barcode nanowire. Although extremely small, these wires have big potential in revolutionizing hard drives, memory and even cancer therapy.

“The code is magnetic, so you can read it like a hard drive or spin it by placing a magnet under your flash drive, beaker or FitBit,” Stadler explains. “We envision using these nanowires to kill cancer cells, multiplex and automate disease diagnostics, harness energy, or even produce a flash drive in a band aid.”

In collaboration with University of Minnesota experts in cell biology, cryotherapy and other disciplines, Stadler and her research partners have already functionalized the magnetic nanowires to detect and separate certain cells. Her group currently conducts this research in vitro, but she believes the real-world applications are right around the corner.

Along with scientific curiosity, Stadler is energized by her faith. An openly devoted Christian, she is as open to questions about her beliefs as about her research.

“A lot of people think that science and faith can’t go together, but I don’t see the two conflicting,” she said. “It’s amazing how complicated everything is, in our bodies, in the universe. I think it’s all out there for us to dig in and figure out.”