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A Research Treasure Trove

The next generation of cutting-edge NC State solutions in forensic science, cancer treatment, solar energy and more may come from a decidedly old-school source: dye.

The Eastman Chemical Company has donated its Max A. Weaver Dye Library — more than 100,000 dye and fabric samples in all — to NC State. After decades as a tool for Eastman scientists and engineers, it will be available to researchers from across the academic spectrum and around the world.

“This priceless collection could contain the dyes for the next generation of solar panels, the next generation of photodynamic cancer therapies, the next generation of environmentally responsible textile dyes,” said NC State textile chemist David Hinks, director of the emerging Forensic Sciences Institute, who will oversee the dye library research.

The dye collection will be a “treasure trove” for NC State’s world-leading faculty and researchers doing innovative, interdisciplinary work in a range of fields, Hinks said.

Textile chemist David Hinks (left), director of the emerging Forensic Sciences Institute, and analytical chemist Nelson Vinueza (right) inspect samples from the Max A. Weaver Dye Library.
Textile chemist David Hinks (left), director of the emerging Forensic Sciences Institute, and analytical chemist Nelson Vinueza (right) inspect samples from the Max A. Weaver Dye Library.

Medical researchers and dye chemists such as NC State Ciba professor Harold Freeman use dyes to develop targeted cancer treatments. “The dyes are designed to dye cancer cells and not healthy cells,” Hinks says. “That allows doctors to identify the cancer but also, by focusing a tunable laser onto that area, the dye will absorb the energy of the laser and ultimately kill the cancer cell. So this is a form of targeted chemotherapy.”

Professor David Muddiman’s research group in chemistry is developing state-of-the-art analytical techniques for forensic analysis of dyed fibers.

Assistant professor Frank Hunte’s group in materials science and engineering is interested in developing new dye applications with improved infrared absorption signatures that can prevent military personnel from being detected by night-vision scopes.

NC State is hiring a cluster of interdisciplinary researchers in forensic science, including analytical chemist Nelson Vinueza, as part of the Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program.

Hinks says the next generation of analytical chemists and forensic scientists will build their skills through experiential education opportunities as undergraduate and graduate researchers who contribute to the forensic science database. Textiles scientists and engineers will study it for ways to create environmentally responsible dyes that can be applied to textiles, paper, packaging, cosmetics, hair coloring and a host of other products and applications.

Thanks to Internet sharing tools, chemists around the world will be ultimately be able to use data such as 3-D crystallographic models of the chemical structures that the late Max Weaver, longtime dye research leader for Eastman, drew by hand on glass vials. NC State will digitize and post the structures along with key cheminformatics data using ChemSpider, a free online resource by the Royal Society of Chemistry, which is partnering with NC State on the dye library. The tool allows users to search for chemical compounds or fragments of compounds.

The donation of the dye collection builds on NC State’s existing partnership with Eastman. Under a 2012 agreement, NC State became an Eastman Chemical Center of Excellence and the recipient of $10 million over six years.