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April 26, 2006 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
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New research building housing new scientific instruments

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View of the Ellen and Melvin Gordon Center for Integrative Science at the University of Chicago.

Ellen and Melvin Gordon

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Three new high-tech facilities in the Gordon Center for Integrative Science will augment the University of Chicago’s research in a range of projects that include the fabrication of nanostructures, studying how catalysts drive chemical reactions and probing conditions inside various parts of a cell.

The facilities will be equipped with an array of new research instruments: a scanning electron microscope, an electron paramagnetic resonance instrument, and a time-resolved luminescence spectrometer and microscope.

The Gordon Center’s new $600,000 SEM has a resolution of 1.8 nanometers, giving it a magnification at least five times better than the aging instrument it replaces. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, approximately twice the width of a double strand of DNA. Biologists, chemists and materials scientists all work at approximately this scale when manipulating or inspecting large molecules.

In materials science, “It will allow nanofabrication at levels and precision that we can’t do right now,” said Heinrich Jaeger, Director of the University’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.

The $270,000 EPR instrument, meanwhile, will scrutinize atoms and molecules with highly reactive unpaired electrons. Called free radicals, these types of atoms and molecules perpetuate a wide range of chemical reactions. Some cause disease by damaging cell membranes and DNA in the human body, while others create ozone and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“It is not the first or only EPR on campus. However, it is the first general-user EPR facility, at least in my memory,” said James Norris Jr., the Robert Millikan Distinguished Service Professor in Chemistry.

Norris applies EPR to his own research in photosynthesis. Among the other specialists employing EPR: synthetic chemists who create molecules with useful new properties, and materials scientists who probe the structure and dynamics of novel compounds. “There’ll be a lot of applications for synthetic chemistry, biological chemistry and materials science from this new EPR facility,” said Richard Jordan, Professor in Chemistry.

The $208,000 time-resolved luminescence instrument will permit scientists to measure on campus for the first time the short-lived light emissions associated with a variety of biological and technological phenomena. Biologists, for example, will be able to track the lifetime of glowing dye molecules they insert into cells. “You can actually determine something about the local environment inside of a cell on the basis of whether the dye molecule has a long or short lifetime in the various environments,” said Norbert Scherer, Professor in Chemistry.

A dye molecule might retain its glow longer in a cell’s nucleus than in the surrounding fluid because of its sensitivity to calcium, for example.

A chemist, meanwhile, might describe the characteristics of an exotic compound by observing the flicker of fluorescent molecules that may be visible for only a billionth of a second. “There’s a huge gamut of possible measurements that can be done,” Scherer said.

Related stories:

Ellen and Melvin Gordon donate $25 million for University of Chicago’s largest-ever science building

University of Chicago to celebrate opening of the new Ellen and Melvin Gordon Center for Integrative Science April 26

The quest for answers in the Ellen and Melvin Gordon Center for Integrative Science

Schedule of events for April 26 opening of Gordon Center for Integrative Science
Last modified at 08:33 PM CST on Tuesday, April 25, 2006.

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