Two University of California, Berkeley, research projects that push the boundaries of their fields have each received $1 million grants from the W.M. Keck Foundation. One grant will fund research on limb and organ regeneration, while the other will support a laser laboratory that probes the movement of electrons on the attosecond timescale.
The Keck grants target unconventional, high-risk research that has the potential to transform the fields of bioengineering and ultrafast laser chemistry.
One of the projects, headed by Lydia Sohn, associate professor of mechanical engineering, will use innovative microtechnologies to explore what stops mammals from re-growing functional tissue after birth. Sohn will work with Irina Conboy and Amy Herr, both assistant professors of bioengineering, to investigate the cellular and molecular determinants that govern the regeneration of limbs and organs, aiming to gain insights that could lead to important new medical therapies.
“There is still no clear understanding as to why mammalian cells are able to develop into limbs during the embryonic stage, but then lose that regenerative capacity after birth,” said Sohn. “We will be inventing new tools to isolate and study, at the single cell level, the few cells that are important for tissue regeneration in mammals, and then creating 3-D models to synthetically recreate the regenerative process. It’s an approach that has never been tried before and, if successful, would mark a major milestone in biomedicine and engineering.”
The other Keck grant will help researchers peek into the dynamics of electron motion by developing a laser laboratory capable of producing pulses on the attosecond time scale. One attosecond is one quintillionth of a second. It takes about 24 attoseconds for an electron to circulate in a hydrogen atom.
Principal investigator Stephen Leone, professor of chemistry and physics, and Daniel Neumark, professor of chemistry, will use the award to establish an attosecond science laboratory in the College of Chemistry. They will apply isolated attosecond pulses for the first time to elucidate the movement of electrons in solid-state materials, with potential applications in the development of more efficient solar photovoltaic and semiconductor materials.
“We are pushing the limits of high-speed dynamics,” said Leone, who recently received a national security fellowship for similar work from the U.S. Department of Defense. “Electrons are one of our modern workhorses, and for many applications, we need to understand how they move. The results will form a fundamental basis for chemical and physical transformations.”
The Keck Foundation was established in 1954 in Los Angeles by William Myron Keck, founder of The Superior Oil Company. The foundation’s grant-making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of science, engineering and medical research, in addition to undergraduate education and community service projects in Southern California.
• Related story: College of Chemistry article on attosecond science grant