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Saturday, October 1, 2022

Academics & Research

The microscope worth $1 million


Steve Baldelli, a UH chemistry associate professor, has been awarded a grant to work on a collaborative project for the construction of an advanced microscope for surface chemistry.
The awarded $1 million was given by the W. M. Keck Foundation and will go toward new resources and equipment for the construction of the microscope. The microscope development is a collaborative project between UH and Rice University professors that aims to create a scope combining two different visualization techniques.
“We want to identify the chemistry at the local environment, and if we look at organic molecules like polymers, a lot of times they have the ability to act the way they do, it depends on the local chemistry,” Baldelli said.
“There are reactions that happen on nanometer scales so having the microscopy give us a way of identifying these things.”
The laser used for the old microscope was not as fast nor as efficient, but the new microscope will have a laser and utilize compressive sensing, which will improve on models constructed before. Additionally, the microscope will use a technique that takes advantage of the vibrational spectrum of molecules and can identify molecules based on how atoms are bonded. Other devices that were built using this technique involved pricey cameras and lasers, according to Baldelli.
“We’ve built microscopes in the past, but there was always something that wasn’t really good about them,” Baldelli said.
“Our goal was to build an instrument that could do both the imaging capability microscopy, as well as spectroscopy that could identify the molecules around on the surface.”
The new model has faster imaging and will be more sensitive and efficient in identifying smaller levels of chemical activity on surfaces. According to the foundation’s website, the microscope would be useful to anyone studying the surface chemistry for solids or liquids.
While Baldelli will provide the laser and chemical samples, Rice University’s Kevin Kelly, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, will be able to bring compressive sensing and other optical technology to the microscope.
“We came up with a newer model with our collaborators at Rice,” Baldelli said. “It will use a mirror at the end of the imaging device instead of just a camera.”
“We’re helping with the assembly, positioning and algorithms going into the micro-mirror device, we’re going to encode the optical signal and we’re also helping with the software and imagery construction once you acquire the signal,” Kelly said.
“This project will demonstrate the ability and necessity to put a micro mirror device with compressive sensing mathematics on any microscope in the world.”
Baldelli’s work is a large achievement for the Department of Chemistry, said the chair of the department, David Hoffman.
“Steve is known internationally as a superb experimentalist. It is not surprising to his friends in Chemistry that he has successfully competed for a prestigious Keck Foundation grant. We are very proud to have Steve as a colleague,” Hoffman said in an email.
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