|By Jen A. Miller|
University of the Sciences is now home to an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), a powerful tool that will not only enable researchers to conduct cutting edge research on campus but will also create new cross-disciplinary projects and initiatives that will benefit student education.
“This instrument will catalyze the research work from different disciplines,” said Elia Eschenazi, PhD, chair and professor of the Department of Mathematics, Physics, and Statistics, and principal investigator of the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that brought the microscope to campus.
The AFM, which came to campus last summer, is a modern tool for imaging nanostructures. But what makes this an even more powerful instrument is that it measures the delicate interactions between molecules. “The machine can measure single molecule interaction forces,” explained Dr. Eschenazi.
These forces play an important role in fundamental processes occurring in physical and biological systems. Researchers will be able to investigate the physical properties of patterned nanostructures as a step toward developing the computer, biomedical, and pharmaceutical technologies. It will also help investigators unravel the mechanisms by which molecules of various types interact with each other and how viruses responsible for diseases such as hepatitis C, influenza, and polio replicate.
These studies will also help in the comprehension of how small particles, such as contaminates in groundwater systems, move and assemble themselves into aggregates. AFM studies of the structures of microbial enzymes involved in antibiotic resistance will help the design and development of novel antibiotics against anthrax and other lethal infections.
“It is a very powerful instrument to look at the level of the microscopy because it’s really not the conventional type of microscope that depends on either a radiation light or an electron beam,” said Ruy Tchao, PhD, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, who used an AFM while on sabbatical with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “One of the interests, of course, is to look at objects at that level because if you want to study materials that are going to be in our body, such as the surface of drugs or interaction between protein and DNA, you have to have this kind of instrument of study.”
Tilman Baumstark, PhD, associate professor of biology, was also involved in the effort to bring the AFM to campus and will use it in his study of viruses. “Think about protein and an RNA virus. There are certain locations where it could interact and form structures, and we try to understand those so we can design strategies to inhibit these interactions. Atomic force is a way of looking at those single molecules and their shape and structure,” he said.
“The AFM community is growing all around the world,” said Zhiyu Li, PhD, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, who will use the microscope to study key targets for designing antibiotics and cancer drugs. “We have the ability and faculty to use the microscope and do work at the nanototech level. It’s a powerful tool for the future development of the nano program and nanotech study.”
It will also help prepare students for careers in science that are increasingly cross-disciplinary.
“The instrument is the seed for a bigger endeavor. I strongly feel that the world of research is changing,” said Dr. Eschenazi. “We see less pure chemistry, pure biology, and pure physics and more scientists actively involved in cross-disciplinary research. We want to train students to become the scientists of tomorrow, and this is a very important tool that could facilitate their training and prepare them for their careers.”