August 27, 2015
Eva Rose Balog, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics, is the principal investigator of a recently awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation grant of $374,580 for the purchase of a state-of-the-art environmental atomic force microscope (AFM), an instrument so powerful it can image the double helix structure of DNA.
The AFM is an extremely high-speed, high-resolution, versatile instrument for decoding and manipulating materials, and it processes at the "nanoscale" level. According to Balog, the nanoscale refers to what goes on at the scale of billionths-of-a-meter—about 90,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. This is the scale of atoms and molecules, including molecules like DNA strands and individual protein machines.
The new award was the product of teamwork involving College of Arts and Sciences faculty. In addition to Balog, James Vesenka, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics, and Joseph Kunkel, Ph.D., research professor in the Department of Marine Sciences, partnered with investigators from the University of Maine, Orono (William Gramlich, Ph.D.) and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Boothbay (David Emerson, Ph.D.) to apply for the grant.
They plan to use the new AFM to explore a diverse array of research questions related to microbial biofilm and sheath formation, protein- and polymer-based nanomaterials, self-assembling DNA nanostructures and the architecture and composition of mineralized arthropod cuticle.
Also, in collaboration with Michael Vickery, adjunct professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Cynthia Curry, M.S.Ed., coordinator of Disability Services, the group plans to scale up AFM-imaged nanostructures using 3-D printing, enabling tactual exploration of the relationship between biomaterials structure and function.
The instrument will be housed in the Pickus Center for Biomedical Research on the Biddeford Campus, where it will enhance and complement UNE’s existing Microscopy Core Facility holdings.
Though the microscope will be physically situated at UNE, Balog is confident that the scientific community throughout the entire region will benefit. “The AFM will be a unique resource for materials characterization in northern New England,” said Balog. “The hope is that it will increase collaborative research in the region.”
Initial training on the microscope for UNE faculty, staff and students is scheduled for this winter and will be available online and in person. More training and an open-house style workshop/demonstration will be held in May.