Texas A&M invests $10.8 million in biophotonics research

A three-year, $10.8 million investment by Texas A&M University (College Station, TX) is set to provide a major boost to multidisciplinary quantum biophotonics research across the campus.Researchers will draw on quantum laser technology developed by the Texas A&M Institute for Quantum Science and Engineering (IQSE) and apply it to an eclectic range of research, from human and crop health to anthrax and cancer detection.

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The funding will allow the campus to invest in cutting-edge laser-based technology and equipment, such as building a Raman spectrometer for cancer detection. In addition, the funding is helping to recruit internationally renowned and interdisciplinary faculty members. Scientists who already have signed on include Roy Glauber, a Harvard University (Cambridge, MA) professor who received the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics, and Wolfgang Schleich, a University of Ulm (Germany) theoretical physicist whose accolades include membership in the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Vienna, Austria). Both researchers are 2013-14 Fellows with the Texas A&M Institute for Advanced Study (TIAS).

IQSE director and Texas A&M University quantum physicist Marlan Scully, a distinguished professor since 1996 and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, says that the research conducted at the IQSE is a prime example of Texas A&M's growing "One Health" movement, which strives for an interdisciplinary approach across departments and colleges to uniting the health of humans, animals, plants, and the environment. The institute fuses faculty members from several Texas A&M units and colleges, including science, engineering, liberal arts, agriculture, and veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences.

Funding for this effort came from the Chancellor's Research Initiative (CRI), which provides one-time funds to Texas A&M and Prairie View A&M University (Prairie View, TX) to recruit and hire faculty members with a track record of developing large federally funded research programs. The $33 million in annual funds for the CRI, which comes from the Available University Fund, is distributed in a process that includes input from Texas A&M's deans, Provost Karan Watson, President R. Bowen Loftin, and A&M System Chancellor John Sharp.

Some of the biophotonics research goals for the IQSE award include:

1. Increasing the speed and reliability of cancer diagnosis techniques. Raman spectroscopy uses lasers to excite the tumor and create scattered light that carries molecular information, a technique that has shown promise in cancer detection and determining tumor boundaries. This technology will be extended to a new technique created at Texas A&M to increase the sensitivity of Raman signals.

2. Developing a new technology that will revolutionize biological and chemical sensing—a process long dominated by dogs as the best sensors of explosives and drugs. Texas A&M is creating a prototype device capable of unprecedented, one-part-per-trillion sensitivity for many chemicals under normal atmospheric conditions that could have major implications for homeland security, agriculture, healthcare, and environmental sensing.

3. Using laser technology developed at Texas A&M to detect crop infection. Cotton, for instance, is affected by several diseases characterized by airborne spores that could be identified spectroscopically by scanning the air directly above crops to pinpoint the infected areas. This technology had previously been used at the IQSE to monitor the atmosphere for traces of gases and pathogens, with broad application in environmental science and national security.

4. Building on technology developed at Texas A&M to detect anthrax in the air and in the mail. A team at Texas A&M was the first and only group to detect anthrax in real time. Now, IQSE researchers are proposing to use a technique called coherent anti-Stokes Raman spectroscopy (CARS) to make the process of detecting endospores easier and more efficient. In addition to anthrax detection, the researchers expect the work to find many applications in chemical sensing and biomedical imaging.

For more information, please visit http://iqse.tamu.edu/.


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