Thermodynamics is the study of energy transfer within chemical reactions and changes of state, and its relationship to factors such as temperature and pressure. Though it started as a discipline during the industrial revolution as way to understand the operation of steam engines, researchers now see the effect of thermodynamics in a wide range of engineering fields. Its principles are observed in everything from energy production and large-scale manufacturing systems, to phase changes in the cells of cryogenically preserved human tissue.
Graduate students jointly supervised by Dr. Janet Elliott and Dr. Locksley McGann (Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology) combine nonideal biological solution thermodynamics computer models with biological experiments to solve outstanding questions in cryobiology. In one such project, this approach is used to cryopreserve blood stem cells without the need to add traditional cryoprotectants.
In the picture, TF-1 cell nuclei are stained with red or green fluorescent dies according to whether they have intact membranes. After subjecting cells to a cryopreservation protocol, automated software developed at the University of Alberta counts the number of green (“alive”) and red (“dead”) cells.