Pitt Gets $1 Million Grant for Nano Science Research

Issue Date: 
February 11, 2008

The University of Pittsburgh received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to develop a groundbreaking method that will significantly advance nanoscale science and technology by allowing scientists to observe, probe, and control molecules.

The revolutionary technique involves probing a molecular structure with femtosecond—a billionth of a millionth of a second—temporal and atomic spatial resolution, leading to new knowledge on activating and harnessing matter at its most fundamental level.

The principal investigator for this research is Hrvoje Petek, a professor of physics and chemistry in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences and codirector of the Petersen Institute of NanoScience and Engineering. Petek is an expert in the fields of surface femtochemistry and ultrafast microscopy. He invented time-resolved photoemission electron microscopy, the enabling technique for this study.

“In pursuit of this grail, several leading physics and chemistry research groups around the world are exploring different ways to combine the spatial resolution of electron microscopy with temporal resolution of femtosecond laser spectroscopy,” Petek said. “Our goal is to develop methods for interacting with single molecules in order to observe and control how they respond to stimulation by light or electrons to undergo chemical reactions or specific mechanical motion.”

Based in Los Angeles, the W.M. Keck Foundation is one of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations. It was established in 1954 by the late William Myron Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Co.

Since 1988, the W.M. Keck Foundation has donated more than $4 million to support research in medicine, engineering, and science at Pitt. The latest grant is part of the University’s Building Our Future Together campaign, the most successful fundraising campaign in the history of both the University and Southwestern Pennsylvania. To date, the campaign has raised more than $1.2 billion.