Wednesday, August 27, 2014

CaSTL Center wins second, $20 million grant to observe molecules in action.


 The UC Irvine Center for Chemistry at the Space-Time Limit (CaSTL) has received a $20 million renewal award from the National Science Foundation to continue its ground-breaking work in pushing the limits of interrogating chemistry on the ultrafast and ultrasmall scales: Ultimately, to develop the capability to capture chemistry in the act, on the single molecule level.


Headed by V. Ara Apkarian of the Department of Chemistry at UCI, CaSTL is one of only eight NSF-funded “Centers for Chemical Innovation” that are designed to tackle grand challenges in chemistry. A team of twelve faculty members from five different universities and nearly sixty researchers have joined CaSTL to tackle the grand challenge of building the “Chemiscope” – the chemist’s microscope, designed to visualize chemical transformations on atomic scales and in real-time. 


“Seeing is understanding”, says Apkarian, and the rubric of the Chemiscope was invented to emphasize the potential impact of CaSTL research on chemistry, “What the microscope did to revolutionize biology, the Chemiscope will do to revolutionize chemistry,” explains Apkarian. He goes on to say that “if you can see and follow individual atoms inside a molecule, you can manipulate them and redesign their functionality." Custom-designed catalysts, solar cells with optimized energy conversion efficiency, atom-by-atom engineered molecular electronics, are among the targeted applications by the Center, but Apkarian acknowledges that “The sky is the limit” once you can “see” chemistry in real space-time.


The renewal grant of $20 million over the next five years is at the same level of support from NSF as in the prior five years of operation of the Center. In the time since its inception CaSTL researchers have compiled an impressive set of scientific achievements: The first movie of a vibrating single molecule; the recording of the quantum mechanical motion of the chemical bond; the demonstration of a single electron conductivity switch; visualizing the motion of one electron in one molecule; selectively “cleaving” and re-attaching individual bonds of a single molecule; detection of forces exerted by a molecule upon exposure to light, are among the notable accomplishments.


CaSTL is headquartered at UC Irvine. Its membership consists of leading scientists in the fields of Microscopy, Spectroscopy, Synthesis, and Theory from several campuses in the country. The current faculty members are: E. Potma, N. Ge, M. Law, R. Wu, W. Ho, K. Wickramasinghe from UCI, G. C. Schatz and R. P. Van Duyne from Northwestern, J. Schumaker-Parry from U. Utah, L. Jensen from U Penn, H. Petek from U. Pittsburgh. The Center currently employs some 60 researchers: students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members. Beyond its scientific mission, CaSTL is actively engaged in education, outreach, and technology transfer to the market place.