2005 seed grants launch new collaborations between Argonne National Laboratory, University of Chicago
The University of Chicago News Office
August 9, 2005 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
(773) 702-8366

2005 seed grants launch new collaborations between Argonne National Laboratory, University of Chicago

The University of Chicago’s Board of Governors for Argonne National Laboratory has selected seven proposals for 2005 Collaborative Research Seed Grants of $80,000 to $100,000 each. The grants are renewable for a second year.

The awardees come from three divisions of the University and its medical school and six divisions at Argonne. Five of the awards involve researchers in more than one discipline, such as chemistry and biosciences, or anthropology and energy technology. They are the most recent beneficiaries of a program that began in 1996 to enhance the intellectual relationship between the University and Argonne, which have been research partners since the latter was established as the nation’s first national laboratory in 1946.

“There were 62 proposals, all very strong, so the Board of Governors had a very difficult time narrowing the list to the final seven,” said Thomas Rosenbaum, the University’s Vice President for Research and for Argonne National Laboratory. “The awards and the proposals are a strong indication of the opportunities for mutually beneficial interactions between our two institutions.”

Argonne is operated by the University of Chicago for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science and has been the University’s research partner throughout its history. Argonne was formed in 1946 as an outgrowth of the Manhattan Project’s Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago, which in 1942 produced the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

The 2005 awardees and their projects are:

  • Rustem Ismagilov, University of Chicago Chemistry Department, and Philip Laible, Argonne’s Biosciences Division, “Microfluidic strategies for high-throughput crystallization of membrane proteins.”
  • Lin Chen, Argonne’s Chemistry Division, and Luping Yu, University of Chicago Chemistry Department, “Fundamental electronic processes and rational design of novel organic photovoltaic materials for future generation of solar cells.”
  • Henry Frisch, University of Chicago Physics Department, and Carlos Wagner, Argonne’s High Energy Physics Division, “Joint institute on high energy collider physics.”
  • Melina Hale, University of Chicago’s Organismal Biology & Anatomy Department, and Wah-Keat Lee, Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source, “Use of the Advanced Photon Source to identify physiological and functional anomalies in Drosophila models of disease and development.”
  • William Ellingson, Argonne’s Energy Technology Division, Adam T. Smith, University of Chicago’s Anthropology Department, “The making of ancient Eurasia: Objects within and between the social worlds of the Caucasus, the Steppe and China.”
  • Chin-tu Chen, the University of Chicago’s Radiology Department, and Liaohai Chen, Argonne’s Biosciences Division, “Radiophage: A new generation of radiotracer and molecular imaging.”
  • Andrew Davis, the University of Chicago’s Geophysical Sciences Department, and Zheng-Tian Lu, Argonne’s Physics Division, “Proposal to develop a novel atom counter for applications in cosmochemistry and geochemistry.”

The seed grant to Ismagilov and Laible will combine two unique technologies, microfluidics from the University and membrane protein expression from Argonne, to expedite the study of important biological processes at the molecular level.

The team is especially interested in determining the three-dimensional structure of membrane proteins, which help regulate what goes into or out of a cell, using the high-brilliance X-rays of the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne. Once the sample materials are obtained using Argonne’s membrane protein expression techniques, it takes weeks or months to produce crystals suitable for structural analysis.

Ismagilov and Laible aim to cut down crystal-production time to days using microfluidics, a technology that enables researchers to precisely control the flow of fluids through channels thinner than a human hair.

“The main impact of the grant is making the University of Chicago-Argonne relationship stronger and bringing together two new technologies for something that’s more than the sum of the parts,” Ismagilov said.

Hale and Lee will use the Advanced Photon Source to learn how genetic mutations affect the biomechanics and physiology of fruit flies. This study will be done in collaboration with Urs Schmidt-Ott in the University’s Department of Organismal Biology & Anatomy, Kamel Fezzaa at the Advanced Photon Source, and of the Field Museum and the University’s Committee on Evolutionary Biology.

In earlier research involving beetles and ants, Lee and Westneat demonstrated that the Advanced Photon Source can produce detailed X-ray images of the internal structures of living insects. In its follow-up studies, the team will focus on Drosophila, the fruit fly, a genetic and developmental model organism.

“There are a number of diseases and disorders that have to do with degeneration of motor systems, for example, problems that affect neural control of feeding,” Hale said. “We believe that imaging Drosophila models for such disorders with the Advanced Photon Source will provide insight into the basic relationship between form and function in such systems.”

The researchers also will examine how tracheae that have mutated into odd forms in fruit flies affect their breathing.

The grant to Ellingson and Smith will enable the duo to analyze ancient artifacts with a variety of innovative scientific instruments at Argonne to gain new insights into how the artifacts were manufactured and used. Which instruments to be used will depend upon the material in question.

This technology will include an X-ray CAT scanner built at Argonne that generates three-dimensional images. The research team also may use some of Argonne’s patented laser-based analysis systems, or its advanced ultrasound systems. “Really, every technique that we will be using has a medical analog,” Ellingson said.

Ellingson and Smith also will use the high-brilliance X-rays of the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne to analyze large assemblages of materials. “Previously, archaeologists have been restricted to analyzing one or two artifacts,” Smith said. “Through our collaboration with Argonne, we will be able to examine, for example, the contents of a room” and define the composition and structure of its ceramic, stone and metal remains.

The seed grant program has awarded $6.6 million in research funding since the 1996 and has helped bring about several ongoing collaborations. These include the Center for Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes (involving Argonne’s Mathematics and Computer Science Division, the University’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, and other departments); the Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases (three Argonne divisions, three University departments and 19 other upper-Midwest institutions); and a project for modeling ancient settlement systems (Argonne’s Decision and Information Systems Division and the University’s Oriental Institute).


Last modified at 03:48 PM CST on Saturday, August 13, 2005.

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