May 12, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 18

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    University scientists help usher in new era of research

    University scientists and their colleagues will help usher in a new era of research in biology and materials science, thanks to an agreement they signed last month to build two groups of experiment stations at the Advanced Photon Source (APS) now under construction at Argonne National Laboratory. The APS, a circular accelerator ring about two-thirds of a mile in circumference, will be the world's most powerful source of X-rays.

    A memorandum of understanding, signed April 27 in the State Capitol office of Illinois House Minority Leader Lee Daniels, will establish research facilities for the largest single group of scientists that will have access to the APS, the 140-member Consortium for Advanced Radiation Sources (CARS), managed by the University of Chicago. The University's partners in CARS are Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University and a large group of scientists from across the United States.

    The brilliant X-rays from the APS will reveal atomic and molecular structures in greater detail than ever before, opening new vistas of research in materials science, chemistry, physics, biotechnology, medicine and the geosciences. For the first time, scientists will be able to image chemical and biological molecules as reactions take place. Research at the APS is expected to enhance America's high-technology competitiveness in such areas as semiconductors, polymers, pharmaceuticals and catalysts.

    "The APS will open a new window on the physical and biological sciences," said Keith Moffat, Executive Director of CARS and Professor in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. "As the largest and most diverse of all the APS user groups, CARS will bring unique insights to the study of biology, geology, soil and environmental science, and chemistry and materials science."

    Moffat explained that CARS is unusual among the scientific groups that will use the APS in that it is intensely focused on interdisciplinary work.

    "It is a great advantage to have scientists from very different disciplines working together," Moffat said. "We each bring our own scientific knowledge and experience, and we are able to attack the novel technological and design problems in a cooperative manner."

    CARS will eventually consist of three experiment teams. The two teams using the facilities just established will focus on problems in the biological sciences and on problems in geophysics, soil science and the environment. Facilities for a third group, which will focus on problems in chemistry and materials science, will be established later this year, Moffat said.

    The CARS team called BioCARS will use the APS to study the structure of viruses and large biological molecules in an effort to understand basic biological processes that are of interest both to science and to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. The Geo/SoilEnviroCARS team will study materials under the very high pressures and temperatures found deep within the earth's interior. Its goal is to understand better the composition, structure and properties of the earth's materials and the geological processes they control. The ChemMatCARS team will study solid and liquid materials and the way they interact under ordinary conditions and in extreme environments and industrial processes.

    The APS will accelerate positrons (elementary particles like electrons, but positively charged) to energies of seven billion electron-volts and higher. As the positrons are accelerated by special magnets within the APS, they will emit powerful X-rays for use at each experiment station. Before the end of the century, more than 1,200 scientists and engineers will be conducting as many as 100 different experimental programs annually at the facility.

    "None of this science would have been possible without the very generous support of the state of Illinois through its Technology Challenge Grant Program and its APS Project," Moffat said. "The state's support and that of the Keck Foundation and such federal agencies as the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, along with the financial, scientific and organizational contributions of the three universities, are creating what we believe will be an especially productive team."