Science and Engineering

Grant Abstracts 2014

Grant Abstracts 2014

Carnegie Institution of Washington

Robert Hazen
Washington, DC
$1,400,000
December 2014

Earth’s living and non-living components have co-evolved for 4 billion years through numerous positive and negative feedbacks.  Earth and life scientists have amassed vast amounts of data in diverse fields related to planetary evolution through deep time-mineralogy and petrology, paleobiology and paleontology, paleotectonics and paleomagnetism, geochemistry and geochronology, genomics and proteomics, and more.  Yet the ability to document, model, and explore these complex, intertwined changes has been hampered by a lack of data integration from these complementary disciplines.  A team based at the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington proposes a new program of data-driven discovery in the Earth and life sciences.  They will develop, curate, and integrate diverse data resources to focus on our planet’s changing near-surface oxidation state and the rise of oxygen through deep time – a critical problem that exemplifies this co-evolution and underscores the opportunities and challenges of deciphering transient characteristics of Earth’s history.  Using abductive reasoning applied to their newly developed “Deep-Time Data Infrastructure” to discover patterns in the evolution of our planet’s environment, the team will create and merge the integrated data sets, statistical methods, and visualization tools that inspire and test hypotheses applicable to modeling Earth’s past and today’s changing environment.

Oregon State University

Jack Barth, Kelly Benoit-Bird, Geoffrey Hollinger
Corvallis, OR
$1,000,000
December 2014

Marine ecosystems are complex, driven by processes that are patchy, dynamic, and ephemeral.  Gaining insight into how these ecosystems work requires a different approach.  A team of engineers and scientists from Oregon State University (OSU) aims to significantly advance the observation and understanding of complex, under-sampled marine ecosystems.  They will (1) unify two cutting edge technologies – low-power bioacoustic sensors and long-endurance underwater gliders; (2) develop onboard control algorithms that guide the gliders to respond dynamically to complex ocean food webs; and (3) demonstrate the strength of this approach in a series of ocean experiments.  Creating a persistent smart sensor platform that allows “seeing” underwater ocean features will enable finding the transient biological “hot spots” that drive ecosystem processes over scales relevant to fisheries management, endangered species protection, climate change response, and new ocean uses such as renewable energy.  This project combines the talents of three leading researchers at OSU working on underwater gliders, multi frequency bioacoustics, and robotic control.  The approach builds on a series of laboratory and field tests of a new, integrated approach, and culminates in a study of ocean “hot spots” by an underwater glider with biologically inspired behavior and control.

Purdue University

Ji-Xin Cheng
West Lafayette, IN
$1,000,000
December 2014

Most knowledge about cellular content comes from in vitro analysis of cell homogenates.  Fluorescence imaging is the tool of choice for monitoring live cells in real time.  However, the fluorescent labels are too bulky for small molecules and thus “muddy” their biological functions.  Raman-scattering based vibrational spectroscopy, which pinpoints a molecule based on its fingerprint spectrum, provides more accuracy.  Yet, real-time vibrational imaging of living systems requires microsecond spectral acquisition speed for each pixel, which is not reachable by current Raman microscopy techniques.  The Purdue team proposes to tackle this challenge by developing a new imaging platform called modulation-multiplexed stimulated Raman scattering microscopy.  The approach will allow real-time spectroscopic imaging of an intact organism by spectrally coded excitation and efficient detection of scattered photons using a single, large-area detector placed close to the specimen.  In tandem with the new platform, the team will design and synthesize Raman probes of extremely large cross sections to further enhance the ability to detect specific molecules.  They will pursue vibrational spectroscopic imaging of membrane dynamics and metabolism in living cells to highlight the potential of the platform for real-time visualization of cellular functions.

University of California, Irvine

Filippo Capolino
Irvine, CA
$2,000,000
December 2014

A team at UC Irvine proposes to construct a novel atomic force microscope with an optical frequency magnetic scanning nanoprobe that will enable the study and manipulation of magnetism at optical frequencies with nanoscale precision – a range inaccessible by current technologies.  Through amplification of the high-frequency magnetic field they will bring previously undetected optical processes into view, such as the direct excitation of dark triplet states and the Raman optical activity of individual molecules, and lay the groundwork for controlling them.  The magnetic nanoprobe will consist of resonant plasmonic nanoantennas stimulated to generate strong local magnetic fields.  This plasmon-enhanced magnetic interaction with matter is substantially different from standard electric dipolar interactions, on which virtually all optical technology for communications and sensors is based.  The nanoprobe will be designed and sculpted on the scanning tip of an atomic force microscope and is expected to trigger a whole new class of spectroscopic studies of nanoscale matter.  The proposed system can provide critical insight into the behavior and control of material processes at electron scales, with implications ranging from magnetic storage down to single molecular spins, to improved efficiency of solar energy harvesting, tomographic characterization of the structure of single proteins, and the creation of new biologically inspired technologies.

University of Colorado, Boulder

Prashant Nagpal, Anushree Chatterjee
Boulder, CO
$1,000,000
December 2014

This project will develop a novel, single-molecule quantum sequencing technique, using unique electronic and optical fingerprints, to directly determine the sequence of single molecules of RNA, DNA and other biomolecules.  It will also determine molecular structure and relate it to biological activity, simultaneously detecting any single nucleotide modifications that can result in gene silencing.  The sequences and structure of nucleic acids in bio-macromolecules such as DNA and RNA define biological function and control the downstream expression of genes, proteins, and other cell-regulatory functions.  Small variations in this genetic coding in individual cells may lead to mutations, which can play a key role in physiology.  Current DNA sequencing techniques rely on enzymatic amplification of samples and provide a statistically significant ensemble-averaged sequence, which lacks both information vital to understanding their function and critical insights for medical intervention.  The proposed method will enable sequencing rare biomolecule species (such as circulating tumor cells, free DNA in blood, and drug- resistant pathogens); answering important biological questions on genetic encoding (such as the role of telomerase in aging and cancer); identifying the molecular markers responsible for diseases, and developing a versatile tool for studies in personalized medicine and gene therapy.

Yale University

Jack Harris
New Haven, CT
$1,000,000
December 2014

An outstanding issue in physics is how the classical behavior of macroscopic objects emerges from microscopic constituents that obey the laws of quantum mechanics.  Two hypotheses dominate the field: (1) this emergence is consistent with conventional quantum theory, and reflects the tendency of large objects to interact dissipatively with their environment; and (2) this emergence is inconsistent with conventional quantum theory, and reflects the influence of gravity on the quantum behavior of massive objects.  Experiments to date have been unable to test the latter hypothesis, owing to the challenge of reducing dissipation to the point that the relevant gravitational effects can be observed.  To address this challenge, the team will build a new device consisting of a drop of superfluid liquid helium that is levitated in vacuum.  Photons trapped inside the drop will provide the control and detection needed to study quantum effects in the drop’s motion.  The device will be the most massive object in which quantum effects have been observed (by five orders of magnitude), and will provide access to quantum effects never before studied at the macroscale.  This system will enable the first experimental tests of leading models of gravity at the quantum level and as such stands to re-shape the understanding of the emergence of classical behavior at the macroscale.

Rice University

Daniel Mittleman
Houston, TX
$1,000,000
June 2014

The past decade has seen significant growth in wireless communications.  As a result, existing wireless network infrastructures are reaching their maximum capacity, and with the accelerating trends in smart phone usage and in machine-to-machine wireless links, this problem will soon reach a crisis point.  To address this challenge, the only viable solution is to increase the carrier frequency in order to access more bandwidth.  However, this scaling poses serious scientific and technical challenges.  A team at Rice University will solve the most serious of these challenges, enabling the creation of multi-node mobile wireless networks operating in the terahertz range, at a frequency about 100 times higher than that of the existing 4G infrastructure.  Many of these same challenges, such as the low power of practical sources and the lack of electronic beam steering capabilities, also inhibit the development of high-speed terahertz imaging systems.  Such systems could provide unprecedented capabilities for sensing and chemical identification in applications as diverse as security screening, manufacturing quality control and navigation for autonomous vehicles.  This research will lay the ground work for future needs in wireless communications and will also create new possibilities for imaging and sensing systems.

Stanford University

Mark Kasevich
Stanford, CA
$1,000,000
June 2014

Gravitational waves have yet to be directly detected.  The direct observation of these waves, when it occurs, is expected to initiate new avenues for understanding our universe.  For example, detection of gravitational waves is the only known method for directly observing the early universe.  A team at Stanford University proposes to build a prototype gravitational wave detector based on recent advances in atom interferometry and atomic clock technology.  This approach is uniquely capable of detecting gravity waves in the 0.1 Hz to 10 Hz frequency band, which is ideally suited for studies of the early universe, and which is currently not addressed by any of the major existing detectors (LIGO, Advanced LIGO and the proposed LISA detector).  The team will develop the required advanced laser/atom technologies and a 10 m test-bed apparatus to realize a proof-of-concept demonstration of a prototype detector.  Theoretical work will pursue improved understanding of the science reach of the proposed detectors and their constraints on new physics.  A technological byproduct of this work will be demonstration of a new class of geophysical sensors suited to study of, for example, the Earth’s water table.  The work will also result in new tests of quantum mechanics by probing quantum states where interfering particles separate by meter-scale distances and enable new tests of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

University of California, Los Angeles

Rob N. Candler
Los Angeles, CA
$1,000,000
June 2014

X-ray lasers are poised to create a revolution in high-speed, high-resolution imaging.  With wavelengths smaller than atoms and ultrafast time scales (10-15 seconds), X-ray laser pulses give the entirely new possibility of taking real-time snapshots of the atomic motion dictating material behavior.  This new imaging capability now provides exceptional insights into fundamental processes in chemistry, biology, material science and condensed matter physics, but only in billion-dollar class national lab facilities.  The proposed project will miniaturize free electron lasers by incorporating nanofabrication, enabling access to new physical regimes of operation that are inherently more efficient.  This project will lay the groundwork for X-ray free electron lasers (XFELS) capable of producing high brightness X-rays that produce ultrafast, high-resolution images in the X-ray water window.  These miniature XFELS will spread the powerful functionality of the short wavelength free electron laser to a much broader user community, a community that currently must wait for access to the one XFEL in the USA.

University of Oklahoma

Alberto Marino
Norman, OK
$1,000,000
June 2014

A team at the University of Oklahoma seeks to combine quantum optics with devices based on collective electronic excitations in a metal, or plasmons, in order to develop ultra-precise sensors that go beyond the ultimate sensitivity possible with classical resources.  The combination of these two fields, known as quantum plasmonics, is an emerging area of research that has been identified as a key enabling technology for sensing applications.  Traditional plasmonic sensors are currently used to detect local changes in air pressure or traces of biomolecules and chemicals and have begun to approach their ultimate sensitivity.  This team will go beyond the current state of the art by combining quantum states of light with novel plasmonic sensors to obtain a sensitivity enhancement of several orders of magnitude.  Among other things, this enhancement will allow earlier detection of diseases and advanced warning of dangerous pollutants or chemicals in the atmosphere.  The team will also take advantage of recent advances in both quantum states of light and plasmonic devices that allow them to address the spatial degree of freedom to extend the enhancement to imaging applications to achieve higher resolution than currently possible.

University of Washington

Andrea Stocco, Chantel Prat, Rajesh Rao
Seattle, WA
$1,000,000
June 2014

A team at the University of Washington recently demonstrated the world’s first brain-to-brain interface in humans.  This demonstration involved the transfer of the intention to move the right hand from a sender brain to a receiver brain located across campus.  The goal of the current proposal is to advance the methods and science that made this first brain to brain interface possible, with the goal of systematically increasing the complexity of thoughts, intentions, and mental states that can reliably be transferred from one human brain to another.  To do so, advances in computer science and neuroscience must be made to enhance the “neural bridge” connecting the brains to one another.  The team has organized its efforts in building this bridge into four aims: (1) to reverse-engineer the neural code for representing complex thoughts, (2) to improve thought decoding capabilities, (3) to advance brain stimulation protocols, and (4) to characterize the unique and invariant features of information representation necessary for translating a meaningful code from one brain to another.  Advancing these capabilities will have major implications for transmitting nonverbal information from one mind to another, with possible applications in neuroscience, education and health care.

Yale University

Corey O'Hern
New Haven, CT
$1,000,000
June 2014

The objective of this project is to establish the first comprehensive and predictive theoretical framework for assemblies of macroscopic objects.  The physical properties of all materials emerge from the collective behavior of their constituents.  At the atomic and molecular levels, thermal fluctuations dominate and free energy minimization determines collective behavior.  However, for collections of macroscopic objects, thermal motion is absent and the underlying physical concepts that control material properties are unknown.  To address this question, a team from Yale University, Brandeis University and Duke University will use theoretical, experimental and simulation approaches to generate statistical descriptions of particle configurations, measurements of contacts and stresses within granular packings, and advanced simulations for complex particles.  Specifically, they aim to characterize the jamming transition, measure the nonlinear responses of jammed configurations, and develop assembly protocols for novel granular structures.  Their efforts stand to create a theoretical framework analogous to that provided by quantum and classical statistical mechanics for atomic and molecular systems, and hold potential to create new capabilities to engineer novel materials with highly tunable properties.

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