NSF MRI Acquisition Grant to Support Interdisciplinary Research at Union

Award Date: September 2012


Project Title: "MRI: Acquisition of an inverted optical microscope to enable interdisciplinary research that unites five departments within the Union College Nanoscience Program"

An interdisciplinary team of faculty researchers -- Principal Investigator Samuel Amanuel (Assistant Professor, Physics & Astronomy), with Co-PIs Palmyra Catravas (Associate Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering), Brian Cohen (Lecturer, Biology), Rebecca Cortez (Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering), and Michael Hagerman (Associate Professor/Chair, Chemistry) -- have secured an NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant in the amount of $308,323 to acquire an inverted microscope for a shared instrumentation suite (IRIS).  The microscope will be integrated with an existing AFM to enable research across five different departments. While the five PIs and the two Senior Personnel (Joanne Kelbeck, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Seyfollah Maleki, Professor of Physics & Astronomy) will be the major users of the new integrated system, the new system will enable research across the campus and will be accessible to the whole Union community.


The objective is to acquire an inverted optical microscope and integrate the microscope with our atomic force microscope to enable new research and foster interdisciplinary research of seven faculty and their students across five departments including Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. This new instrument offers simultaneous collection of fluorescence and morphological data under controlled environmental conditions (temperature and humidity).

Intellectual Merit
The new integrated system will be used to: 1) study in-situ phase transitions and mechanical properties of soft materials (semi-crystalline polymers and polymer nanocomposites) in order to understand the role of interface in phase transition and reinforcement mechanisms; 2) probe influence of domain heterointerfaces on photocurrents to improve photoefficiences in polymer/CdSe/clay solar films; 3) investigate the influence of controlled environmental conditions on conduction in nanomaterials for sensing applications; 4) study interactions between the human follicle stimulating hormone receptor at the cell membrane with intracellular proteins to better understand receptor dysfunction in infertility; 5) investigate morphological changes during sucrose hydrolysis and fat bloom in chocolates; 6) study depth of penetration of visual markers (Q-dots) for painting and architectural conservation; and, 7) extend a suite of novel graphical techniques for short and long range pattern recognition in integrated optical/AFM images.

Broader Impacts
The acquisition of the integrated optical/AFM system will support Union’s long-standing commitment to incorporate undergraduate research experience as an integral part of the curriculum and develop innovative, multidisciplinary research and teaching opportunities through active learning that includes hands-on experience in instrumentation. The proposed instrument will empower faculty research and programs that feature bridges between courses and research laboratories. Enhanced student expertise with key materials characterization techniques will promote professional development and open career opportunities in science and technology. The personnel (PI, co-PI and SPs) on this proposal have a strong record of involving undergraduate students in their research and encouraging them to pursue graduate studies in the sciences and engineering and careers in research. This underscores NSF goals to educate globally competitive young scientists and engineers through excellence. The personnel have a strong track of research records in their respective fields. Their research work continuously is presented at national and international meetings while their publications appear in peer reviewed journals and proceedings. Union is committed to including students from traditionally underrepresented groups in research and educational projects using the proposed instrument and other major research instrumentation. We offer dynamic outreach programs that use frontiers of science and technology to engage the general public through applications in arts and food science. We also offer recurrent programs to promote science to targeted audiences, such as our “Physical Constants” workshop which is designed for high school students.