Northern Illinois University

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Susan Mini
Susan Mini

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News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

September 27, 2007

NIU physicist Susan Mini lands
$1.4 million NSF award

DeKalb, Ill. — The National Science Foundation has awarded Susan Mini, chair of Northern Illinois University’s Department of Physics, a grant of nearly $1.4 million to make upgrades to a section of the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

The APS is an Argonne research facility that produces the most powerful X-ray beams in the Western Hemisphere, able to capture nano-scale wonders, such as still photographs of proteins or moving pictures of molecules at the atomic level. The circular-shaped APS is large enough to hold a baseball park in its center and houses a complex of machines and devices that produce, accelerate and store a beam of electrons. Scientists apply for beam time at the APS through a competitive peer-review process.

The APS upgrades will be made to the University of Chicago’s chemistry and materials science beamline of the Consortium for Advanced Radiation Science, known as ChemMatCARS.

NSF will disperse the grant over three years, during which time Mini will lead a team that will design, build and install upgraded X-ray optics for the APS. She and her collaborators, P. James Viccaro of the University of Chicago and Mark Schlossman of the University of Illinois at Chicago, have strong records of accomplishment in the field of synchrotron radiation research.

The APS is used by researchers from across the world, including NIU scientists and students. The powerful X-rays allow scientists to better understand the structure and function of materials, from characterizing the properties and potential functions of newly created nano-materials to identifying the composition of fragile archaeological artifacts.

Mini, an expert in spectroscopy and the application of synchrotron radiation techniques, has conducted research at the APS since the facility opened in the early 1990s.Her grant comes through NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI), designed to improve the condition of scientific equipment for research and training in U.S. research facilities.

“This is a significant award in terms of the dollar amount and the impact it will have on a wide array of interdisciplinary research projects at Argonne,” said Rathindra Bose, NIU vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School.

“Top research institutions from across the country compete for these MRI grants,” Bose added. “This award demonstrates that NIU has come into its own as a major research university. And the fact that this is the second such award for Dr. Mini definitely speaks to her expertise and considerable talents.”

Mini also received an NSF award in 1998 to construct a high energy-resolution monochromator currently in use at the APS.

“Scientists often need to design and build new devices or make custom upgrades to existing instrumentation in order to conduct experiments and remain on the cutting edge of science,” Mini said. “The new upgrades will represent one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art equipment.”

The equipment is expected to extend the energy range of the beamline, increase X-ray resolution and brilliance and result in more efficient use of beam time.

“This beamline has a productive history of facilitating cutting-edge research,” Mini said. “In addition to facilitating existing experiments, the new optics could potentially result in new research directions. The proposed instrumentation will enable the chemistry and materials group to remain at the forefront of materials research.”

The field of nanoscience is among the areas expected to reap benefits from the improvements. NIU’s Department of Physics, in collaboration with the university’s Institute of Nanoscience & Engineering Technology, now offers a specialization in nanoscience, a new field that is developing materials, electronics and machines so small they approach atomic scale.