Tanya Prozorov, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, will take an unprecedented look at how magnetic nanocrystals grow thanks to a DOE Office of Science Early Career Research award. Prozorov was one of just 65 researchers (21 from the National Laboratories) selected from about 1,150 applications to the program, which is designed to bolster the nation's scientific workforce by supporting "exceptional researchers during the crucial early years of their scientific careers when many scientists do their most formative work."
Prozorov's project, "Real—Time Studies of Nucleation, Growth and Development of Ferromagnetism in Individual Protein—emplated Magnetic Nanocrystals," will focus on isolating individual bio-templated magnetic nanocrystals in an attempt to identify mechanisms that control how these crystals form and develop their magnetic properties. The award will provide a total of $2.5 million over a five-year period.
"With the majority of current characterization techniques, what you see is a static picture—a snapshot—of multiple nanocrystals," Prozorov said. "These particles interact with each other and it masks what's really taking place."
"Also, we normally observe them after they've formed," she continued. "I want to try to isolate and view individual particles as they grow, in situ, to see what's taking place. There's nothing like actually seeing it to help you understand how they form. And understanding this will ultimately allow controlling the emergent magnetism."
Building her expertise in specialized electron microscopy techniques is the first step, according to Prozorov, who describes herself as "just a materials chemist with a passion for electron microscopy." For example, to study growing, bio-inspired samples requires that they be suspended in liquid, which presents a particular set of problems.
"It takes a specialized piece of equipment—a continuous flow liquid cell TEM (transmission electron microscope) holder—to be able to view the nanocrystal formation in liquid," she said. Additionally, a "molecular printer"—called a Nano Enabler is necessary to dispense the requisite nano-scale quantities of the biological templating material. Cryo-electron microscopy techniques will be used to literally freeze the particles in various stages of development.
"I'm thrilled to have been selected and anxious to get started," Prozorov said of the prospect of assembling her own research team and the responsibility to produce results. "It's also a positive reflection on Ames Laboratory that the peer reviewers felt we have the equipment and support network here to make that kind of investment.â"
Prozorov said she will collaborate with Ames Lab scientist and electron microscopy expert Matt Kramer and his group. She'll also continue to work closely with faculty scientist Surya Mallapragada, whose research group focuses on the bio-inspired magnetic nanocrystals that led to Prozorov's proposal for the Early Career Award program.
Along with intensive training, Prozorov will be equipping a lab space in Wilhelm Hall to conduct part of the work. She'll also be hiring a postdoctoral associate and graduate students to form her team.
"I am excited about Tanya's project because it promises to answer some really intriguing questions about materials at the nanoscale," said Ames Laboratory Director Alex King. "Winning the funding against steep odds reflects DOE's sense of the importance of the work, and confidence that she can overcome its challenges to get the job done."
The Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. The Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.