IME researchers receive $12 million grant for NSF’s ChemMatCARS

Matthew Tirrell, dean of the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago, Mark Schlossman of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Ka Yee C. Lee of the University of Chicago, Theodore Betley of Harvard University, and Jason Benedict of the University at Buffalo, SUNY received a five-year grant for $12 million to operate and develop the National Science Foundation’s (NSF's) ChemMatCARS.

NSF’s ChemMatCARS is a facility where scientists use powerful x-rays created from fast-moving, high-energy electrons at the Advanced Photon Source of Argonne National Laboratory to study matter at atomic and molecular levels. Research made possible by the facility could lead to the development of new energy sources, new materials for a wide range of industries, new ways to care for the environment, and new understanding of how life works.

Facility capabilities

The study of crystallography at NSF’s ChemMatCARS facility allows scientists to measure the structure of small molecules of crystals, revealing the shape of their chemical bonds at atomic and subatomic levels. Research also shows electron transfer in clusters of bound atoms and molecules, giving scientists an atomic-level understanding of what drives chemical reactions and allowing them to design new compounds with atomic-level precision. In addition, scientists explore ways to measure light-initiated, subatomic chemical reactions in crystals, as well as develop 3-D ways to look at atomic-scale defects and disorder in otherwise perfect crystals.

The study of liquid interfaces at the facility reveals the confined interactions of molecules and nanoparticles. The synchrotron x-rays can examine these structures at liquid/liquid and liquid/vapor boundaries, which helps scientists understand how macromolecules, like proteins, interact with cell membranes. A new initiative in this area will look at how radiation is absorbed when it comes in contact with the liquid interface, which will transform our understanding of how molecules interact with each other. These interactions underlie many life processes, and research provides information to determine the rules of life.

Extended capabilities of the facility utilize anomalous small angle scattering, a technique that measures how elements are distributed within an environment. It is used to study how metal ions affect RNA and DNA, and to improve ways to process nuclear waste, clean the environment, and produce rare earth metals.

Located at the Advanced Photon Source, Argonne National Laboratory, the NSF’s ChemMatCARS also serves as a training ground for national and international researchers at all levels, including STEM-focused students and future scientists.

The National Science Foundation Division of Chemistry, Division of Materials Research, and Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences Office of Multidisciplinary Activities awarded the grant (#CHE-1834750).