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Rice launches Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences

Courtesy Jeff Fitlow

By Wenshi Chen     3/19/24 9:37pm

The Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences, housed within the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, launched at the beginning of March, aiming to improve the capture, analysis and interpretation of images at the nanometer scale. 

George N. Phillips Jr., the associate dean for research at Wiess School of Natural Sciences, said the center will foster interdisciplinary collaboration across academics with diverse backgrounds.

“Interdisciplinary research is often a much more effective way to attack new problems than traditional departmental research,” Phillips said. “For this reason, the Center will help accelerate this research and help Rice compete in the international research arena.” 

Anna-Karin Gustavsson, an assistant professor of chemistry who leads the center, emphasized the team’s initial motivation. 

“Since we started working on establishing the Center, our goal has been to bring together researchers and create a community around imaging, particularly nanoscale imaging,” Gustavsson said. 

Angel Martí, a professor of chemistry who serves as a member of the center, elaborated on the advantages the Center will offer to the research community.

“The Center will be able to unify and bring together different techniques and problems across departments to understand things at the nanoscale. This platform will benefit researchers by allowing them to interact, exchange ideas, collaborate, find common goals and move forward,” Martí said.

Ivana Hsyung, a chemical and biomolecular engineering major who is currently researching within Gustavsson Lab, expressed excitement about the center’s role as a unifying force in the Rice community. 

“Our lab is quite aware of the various types of microscopy utilized across campus, but it’s very scattered,” Hsyung, a senior from Will Rice College, said. “I believe one of the main reasons for constructing the center is to centralize and raise awareness of the microscopy resources available campus-wide. This consolidation should facilitate collaboration, which is incredibly fascinating.”

Highlighting the constraints of conventional microscopy methods, Martí spoke about the center’s strategy to integrate advanced technologies. This integration aims not only to enhance the observation of finer details but also to effectively address existing challenges within the field, he said. Ultimately, their goal is to push the boundaries of research by broadening the scope of exploration. 

“I envision a future where we gain deeper insights into the structure, function and molecular attributes of biological systems,” Martí said. “We aspire to enhance our ability to perceive finer details, potentially leveraging single-molecule techniques to achieve sub-micron-level resolution.”

Dong Yan, a graduate student in applied physics at the Robinson Lab, said he is eager to discuss potential nanophotonic techniques at the center. 

“I’m particularly excited about delving into the Nanoscribe Quantum X, the latest iteration of Heidelberg’s maskless lithography system, and a dicing system capable of cutting substrates with fabricated features as small as 1-2mm post-cut size, if feasible,” Yan said.

Hsyung expressed she is also looking forward to the new equipment at the center. 

“We’re currently employing custom-built optical setups incorporating fluorescence microscopy,” Hsyung said. “However, the prospect of acquiring new machines, such as optical tweezers and Cryo-EM, is truly exciting and could significantly enhance our research.”

Jimin Wu, a graduate student in bioengineering at the Robinson Lab, emphasized the prospective advantages these tools will offer for students.

“One significant advantage of establishing this center is the potential for increased collaboration opportunities among faculty members from various research disciplines,” Wu said. “It would greatly benefit students if the center could provide access to advanced nanofabrication tools.”

When delving into the synergy of advanced techniques and technologies, Gustavsson provided insights into the Center’s strategic utilization of these resources to address critical challenges like big data management and the advancement of smart microscopy.

“We work closely with the Shared Equipment Authority (SEA) and provide our input on what we think is prioritized from the center members' point of view,” Gustavsson said. “When considering instrumentation, the focus isn’t solely on acquiring usable instruments but rather on integrating diverse technologies and expertise to achieve comprehensive functionality.”

In addition to researchers and faculty, the center will extend its support to students, both graduate and undergraduate, who are interested in pursuing related fields of research.

To facilitate this, Gustavsson said that the center will offer a range of events including poster sessions, workshops, open lectures and fellowships aimed at nurturing student participation and broadening their intellectual horizons.

“We welcome new ideas to enhance and enrich the student experience,” she said.

Yiyi Yang, a nanophotonic research assistant at the Robinson Lab interested in the optical properties, applications of nanomaterials and interdisciplinary approach to global challenges, expressed looking forward to potential collaborations with the center, whether as a current student or in future academic pursuits.

“I began my research journey early in my freshman year, during the spring semester,” Yang, now a senior from Lovett College, said. “I believe this Center presents an excellent opportunity, particularly for students interested in pursuing a research career or exploring the possibility of one in the future, to initiate their research endeavors early.” 

Gustavsson said pushing frontiers through collaboration, the Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences is anticipated to position Rice as a hub for nanoscale imaging sciences, fostering a close-knit community to expedite discoveries that can have a global impact. 

“The vision is that this Center will grow and evolve into an externally funded Rice institute,” Gustavsson said. “We’re beginning modestly, but as we gather momentum, we can enhance our visibility within the field. By uniting individuals who share a common goal, we aim to achieve a broader scope of impact and foster continued scientific advancement.”

Editor’s Note: Ivana Hsyung is the Arts and Entertainment designer for the Thresher. 

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