Posted: September 10, 2008

Biomolecular imaging grant of $1.1 million to build optical scanning nanoscope

(Nanowerk News) Researchers at the University of New Mexico were recently awarded a three-year, $1.1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to support a research program within the Department of Physics. The program, titled “A Facility to Perform Bio-molecular Imaging; Real Time Phase Mapping of Biological Dynamics,” is designed to provide real-time images of biological processes at nano and pico scale resolutions, a feat never achieved before.
It is anticipated that this new phase mapping method will have an impact on medical imaging similar to that of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
“We’re building from scratch an instrument for the UNM Cancer Research and Treatment Center that will make an optical image with a resolution of better than one nanometer,” said Physics Professor Jean Claude-Diels, the lead investigator in the program. “This is considerably less than the wavelength of light, which is generally considered to be the resolution limit for imaging.”
Hundreds of potential research questions could be answered with the Scanning Phase Intracavity Nanoscope or SPIN, which will be capable of visualizing the components of living cells. The instrument itself is a breakthrough utilizing properties never exploited before. The novel compact instrument will sample any host material, water or tissue, with no sample preparation required, and with no harmful radiation such as x-rays or high-energy radiation particle beams.
“Seeing is understanding,” says Diels. “Therefore, we want to be able to see with our eyes what happens in the nanoscale in living organisms. For instance, we could see the details in the cell membrane. In the membrane you can see a very important path of the cell activity. We could see how a virus penetrates the membrane.”
In addition to Diels, who has developed the concept of intra-cavity sensors with pulsed lasers critical in the applications of the instrument, Physics Professor Sudhakar Prasad will perform efficient image and data compression for the imaging. His assistance will be invaluable in achieving image reconstruction with the extreme data compression needed for the application. Keith Lidke, an assistant professor in Physics and Astronomy, will provide expertise in high-resolution optical imaging and will manage hardware integration.
The interdisciplinary collaboration also includes researchers in UNM’s Cancer Research and Treatment Center (CRTC), and the Center for High Technology Materials (CHTM). At CRTC, Dr. Janet Oliver has enthusiastically supported the project, and CRTC Director Dr. Cheryl Willman has secured future housing and technician support for the instrument.
Professor and CHTM Director Steve Brueck is supporting the construction, housing of the research with the formidable facilities at the CHTM, as well as participating in the scientific development. Ladan Arissian, a research scientist also at the CHTM, has been instrumental in the development of the various inventions with Diels, and will supervise the students who will be involved in the construction of the nanoscope.
Assistant Professor Diane Lidke, an expert in cell biology and membranes, who will provide the biological samples for testing and validating the instrument, fortifies the bridge between the worlds of biology and physics.
Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The Foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research, science and engineering.
The Foundation also maintains a program to support undergraduate science and humanities education and a Southern California Grant Program that provides support in the areas of health care, civic and community services, education and the arts, with a special emphasis on children and youth.
Source: University of New Mexico
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