Temple science team earns major NSF grant to build advanced microscope

Hai-lung Dai and Eric Borguet

A group of Temple University faculty members, led by Chemistry Professor Eric Borguet and Laura H. Carnell Professor of Chemistry Hai-Lung Dai, were awarded more than $1 million through the National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation competition to build an advanced nonlinear optical microscope

While the optical microscope has been a widely used tool in studying biology, “what makes the Temple project special is unlike conventional microscopes which operate on principles of ‘linear’ light scattering—one photon in and one photon out—this microscope employs the ‘nonlinear’ light scattering concept—two photons in and one photon out,” explains Dai, “The latter makes this microscope particularly sensitive for seeing molecules at surfaces and interfaces such as cell membranes.”

According to Borguet, the Temple project was the only one among this year’s NSF Chemistry Division grants to surpass $1 million. “That demonstrates how strong our team’s proposal was this year,” says Borguet.

Borguet, who is also a deputy director of Temple’s Center for the Computational Design of Functional Layered Materials, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, is a leader in the application of nonlinear light spectroscopy for studying material interfaces. Dai has developed nonlinear light scattering into a widely used tool for studying biological systems. Dai’s recent research on how the century old Gram-classification of bacteria works was an American Chemical Society Chemical Biology journal cover article.

Both Borguet and Dai have received prior NSF grants for major research instrumentation. “By teaming up, this is the first either of us has received a grant in the more-than $1 million category,” says Borguet. “We anticipate the instrumentation will be ready by 2020, and researchers from across the sciences at Temple and beyond will be able to use it to image single biological cells, and nano- and micro-structures of new materials.”

In addition to this grant, Borguet is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund. Dai, who is also Temple University’s vice president for International Affairs, receives funding from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation.

The Temple research team includes Associate Professor Katherine A. Willets, Department of Chemistry, Assistant Professor Darius H. Torchinsky, Department of Physics, Professor Weidong Yang, Department of Biology and Professor Nancy Pleshko and Professor Mohammad Kiani, College of Engineering.

-Greg Fornia