The University Record, September 21, 1992

Scientists will be able to watch chemical reactions, biological processes

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

Using a new research facility that will generate the brightest beams of high-energy X-rays ever produced, a team of scientists from the U-M and AT&T Bell Laboratories will be able to watch chemical reactions and biological processes as they occur.

The U-M/AT&T team is one of the first research groups nationwide chosen to conduct experiments at Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source (APS). Scheduled for completion in 1995, APS will be the largest user facility for materials research in the United States.

APS will generate beams of focused X-rays from a 3/4-mile-circumference positron accelerator. Functioning like a high-speed strobe light, these X-ray beams will allow scientists to see molecular and atomic changes taking place within all types of materials from semiconductors to living cells.

According to physics Prof. Roy Clarke, co-director of the APS research effort, the U-M/AT&T team plans to use APS to observe high-temperature superconducting compounds as they become superconducting, watch proteins fold and change within living cells, and see what happens when materials transform from one state (solid, liquid or gas) to another.

“APS will produce intense X-ray beams much brighter than scientists can generate with existing technology,” Clarke says. “It’s like the difference between a table lamp and a laser beam. We can focus all the beam’s energy on a very small point in the material we are studying, allowing us to probe its molecular and atomic structure.

“None of us have ever used anything like an X-ray laser before, so we can’t predict exactly what types of work it will lead to,” Clarke adds. “The potential for advances in many fields of science is exciting.”

The U-M/AT&T team has been awarded $2 million in National Science Foundation funding to develop specialized equipment that will be needed for its experiments. In addition, $1 million has been contributed by the U-M and $1 million from AT&T Bell Laboratories.

Clarke, who also heads the Applied Physics Program, and the project’s co-director, Walter Lowe of AT&T Bell Laboratories, say the initiative was planned to bring faculty and students from many disciplines together with industrial research staff.

“Once APS begins operation, we envision the group broadening into a center of excellence in the field of real-time materials research,” Lowe says. “We hope to provide a base that will attract visitors and collaborators from many different institutions with an interest in understanding the structural kinetics of materials.”

U-M members of the research team, in addition to Clarke, include: James W. Allen, professor of physics; Meigan Aronson, assistant professor of physics; Michael Bretz, professor of physics; Steven B. Dierker, associate professor of physics and applied physics; John L. Gland, professor of chemistry and applied physics; and James E. Penner-Hahn, associate professor of chemistry.