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Team of 9 Professors Will Get $650k Laser System

August 27, 2008

MERCED- Nine professors from the University of California,
Merced, have teamed up to win a $650,000 grant from the National
Science Foundation that will fund a high-tech, flexible laser
system that can be custom-configured to serve all their varying
avenues of research.

“Instrumentation grants such as this one from NSF are vital for
the growth of our research programs,” said Dean Maria Pallavicini
of the

School of Natural Sciences.
“We are very proud of the
interdisciplinary teamwork and innovative scientific ideas these
nine professors put together in their proposal to bring such an
advanced, versatile laser system to UC Merced.”

The equipment comprises a collection of four lasers as well as
detection and imaging components that can be set up for different
research projects in fields like
physics, chemistry,



“It’s a very sophisticated system, but considering its capacity,
surprisingly simple to operate,” said

Professor Sayantani Ghosh,
who led the grant-writing team. “It’s
one of the most versatile and useful systems available. There is
tremendous interest within the science and engineering communities
to exploit this technology, but the cost of the laser source alone
is about $450,000. That’s typically too much for one new professor
to fund, so we worked together to achieve a common goal.”

The team of professors includes the following faculty members
from UC Merced (alphabetically):

  • Sayantani Ghosh,
    who plans to use the equipment for quantum
    physics studies in semiconductors and insulators

  • Ajay Gopinathan,
    who is preparing to examine how the protein
    actin behaves during phagocytosis (how cells absorb their food)

  • Boaz Ilan,
    an applied mathematician, who intends to study how
    pulsed light travels through new types of optical fibers

  • David F. Kelley,
    planning to study organic-semiconductor liquid
    crystal composites

  • Anne Myers Kelley,
    who plans to use the equipment for
    experiments with organic chromophores (the parts of molecules
    responsible for color)
  • Michelle Khine, a bioengineer who plans to collaborate with
    Gopinathan on the actin study

  • Jennifer Lu,
    a materials engineer planning to use the laser
    system to study carbon nanotubes

  • Jay Sharping,
    who will collaborate with Ilan on optics research

  • Tao Ye,
    who will work on problems related to developing
    molecular-scale devices

UC Merced anticipates the new equipment will be a draw for new
faculty members in the next few years.

“When people see that we have this system available, they will
recognize it’s a huge resource,” Ghosh explained. “If you work with
a laser system, it’s likely this one will be able to accomplish the
kind of tasks you need to do.”

The system will also directly benefit students. A nanotechnology
minor is planned to launch in the Fall 2009 semester, and Ghosh and
Lu are planning to schedule two weeks each semester for
nanotechnology students to explore the capabilities of the laser
system. Upper-division physics students may also use the equipment
as part of their coursework starting in Spring 2009. Aside from
that, undergraduates involved in research, particularly with Ghosh,
Lu, Sharping and Khine, will receive training at par with graduate
students to learn to operate it.

“They can get that hands-on experience on an expensive and
intricate system, something that’s very hard to come by at other
universities,” Ghosh said. “Everybody knows about laser pointers
and weapons in movies, but it’s great for science students to
realize that we use lasers to investigate fundamental scientific
processes, sometimes on energy and time scales that almost no other
tool can access.”

The new system has already been assigned space in the Science
and Engineering Building at UC Merced. The School of Natural
Sciences will help support maintenance of the system for its first
few years. Ghosh said she anticipates getting started on ordering
and setting up the system as soon as funding begins in September.