Research

Kristin Gustafson

U.S. Department of Defense officials have taken interest in two University research projects, funding state-of-the-art equipment to help them along.
The department awards, announced earlier this month, will aid a University research project attempting to store energy at the molecular level and another project attempting to take advantage of electron magnetism.
The government money — which totals between $162,000 and $212,000 for both projects — is important because it allows faculty members to buy equipment to support their research, an expense not always included in the original research grants, said Christine Maziar, vice president of research and dean of the Graduate School.
“In many kinds of research-program competitions, adding the cost of an expensive piece of equipment … could make the research proposals not competitive with other research proposals,” she said.
The Defense Department awards funding to support faculty’s research careers at both early and late stages, Maziar said.
The awards, made under the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program, support the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment that augments cutting-edge defense research. The awards enable researchers, supported by the Defense Department grants, to purchase scientific equipment costing $50,000 or more.
The department will divide $40.2 million among 100 academic institutions for 221 projects. The awards, ranging from $50,000 to $1 million, average $182,000.
Michael Ward, director of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, received a $112,000 grant from the U.S. Navy for an atomic force microscopy system.
The equipment will help determine where the molecules are on a surface and measure the movement of electrons on that surface, Ward said.
He added the project is at the basic-concept stage, with a 30- to 50-year timeline. “It is hard to determine what the needs might be in that time frame.”
However, one possibility of the research is making an energy-storage system at a molecular scale that will “self-assemble,” or make itself. This could be useful for small devices such as microchips “but not automobiles or torpedoes,” Ward said.
Paul Crowell, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, received a grant for a device to assist with magneto-electronic research. The amount of the award is yet to be determined but will range from $50,000 to $100,000.
Crowell said his work, and that of Chris Palmstrom, professor of chemical engineering and material sciences, is a part of the Spins research program. This program addresses the possibilities of electronically and photonically controlled magnetism and semiconductors.
“This is a small thing to support a rather large program,” Crowell said.
The instrument purchased with the Defense Department’s award will allow for manipulations of light, magnetism and temperature to add to the load electrons carry.
For instance, Crowell said standard computer chips do a fine job of moving electrons around with voltage. But the magnetic electrons might be able to carry more — expanding the possibilities of materials it could carry as it moves.
Palmstrom’s research compliments Crowell’s and focuses on growing the materials that can be used for the magnetic experiments.

Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and federal government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3211.