Daniel A. Anderson / UC Irvine The UC Irvine Center for Chemistry at the Space-Time Limit has received a second $20 million renewal award from the National Science Foundation to continue its ground-breaking work in pushing the limits of interrogating chemistry on ultrafast and ultrasmall scales. Ultimately, the goal is capture chemistry in the act on the single-molecule level. Download image

UC Irvine Center for Chemical Innovation wins second, $20 million grant to observe molecules in action

Irvine, Calif., August 28, 2014 — The UC Irvine Center for Chemistry at the Space-Time Limit has received a $20 million renewal award from the National Science Foundation to continue its groundbreaking work in pushing the limits of interrogating chemistry on ultrafast and ultrasmall scales. Ultimately, the goal is capture chemistry in the act on the single-molecule level.

Headed by V. Ara Apkarian of UCI’s Department of Chemistry, CaSTL is one of eight NSF-funded “Centers for Chemical Innovation” that are designed to tackle grand challenges in the field. A team of 12 faculty members from five different universities and nearly 60 researchers have joined CaSTL to build the “Chemiscope” – the chemist’s microscope – designed to visualize chemical transformations on atomic scales and in real time.

“Seeing is understanding,” Apkarian said. “What the microscope did to revolutionize biology, the Chemiscope will do to revolutionize chemistry. If you can see and follow individual atoms inside a molecule, you can manipulate them and redesign their functionality.”

Custom-designed catalysts, solar cells with optimized energy conversion efficiency, atom-by-atom engineered molecular electronics, are among CaSTL’s targeted applications, but Apkarian acknowledged, the sky is the limit once you can see chemistry in real space-time.

The $20 million renewal grant for use over five years equals NSF’s initial support of the center. In the prior five years, CaSTL researchers compiled an impressive set of scientific achievements: The first movie of a vibrating single molecule; the recording of the quantum mechanical motion of the chemical bond; the demonstration of a single-electron conductivity switch; visualizing the motion of one electron in one molecule; selectively “cleaving” and re-attaching individual bonds of a single molecule; detection of forces exerted by a molecule upon exposure to light, are among the notable accomplishments.

CaSTL, headquartered at UCI, counts among its membership leading scientists in the fields of microscopy, spectroscopy, synthesis and theory from campuses across the country. The current faculty members are: Eric Potma, Nien-Hui Ge, Matthew Law, Ruqian Wu, Wilson Ho, Kumar Wickramasinghe, UCI; George Schatz and Richard Van Duyne, Northwestern University;  Jennifer Schumaker-Parry, University of Utah; Lasse Jensen, The Pennsylvania State University; Hrvoje Petek from University of Pittsburgh. The center currently employs some 60 researchers: students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members. Beyond its scientific mission, CaSTL is engaged in education, outreach, and technology transfer to the market place.

Note: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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