Transformative equipment fund awards more than $5M in new research capabilities

Written by
Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research
Jan. 24, 2023

The initiative supports the ability to answer new questions in research through the purchase of new equipment and replacement of aging instrumentation.

Six new grants to enable Princeton researchers to acquire state-of-the-art equipment or replace aging scientific instruments have been awarded through the Provost and Dean for Research Transformative Equipment Initiative. The funding aims to enhance and revitalize the ability of researchers to conduct new investigations and address frontier questions across the sciences and engineering.

“This investment in research equipment illustrates the University’s commitment to enable the exploration of big questions and new research directions,” said Dean for Research Pablo G. Debenedetti, Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science and professor of chemical and biological engineering. “These machines will provide new, exquisitely detailed insights on the world around us, with the potential to benefit human health and lead to the development of new materials and technologies that can improve our lives and protect our planet.”

Under the initiative, faculty members were invited to apply for the purchase of equipment costing at least $500,000. One aspect of the initiative supports new opportunities through the purchase of transformative equipment by individual faculty members, enabling new research directions and the ability to address new questions. The second aspect supports replacement of equipment by departments or units that manage shared core facilities, which enable access to state-of-the-art instrumentation for Princeton researchers as well as scientists from surrounding universities and companies. Proposals were evaluated based on the potential for innovative science, a well-formulated plan for maintaining state-of-the-art capabilities in shared facilities, and plans for broad use across units and departments.

The following equipment will be funded:

New opportunities:

Solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) instrument with dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP)

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is a powerful tool for exploring the structure of molecules, but Princeton’s existing instruments required that samples be in a liquid state. This new solid-state NMR tool will make possible atomic-scale explorations of solid materials for use in batteries, solar cells, semiconductors, new plastics, cements, and many other applications. The addition of a technique known as dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP) will increase sensitivity 100-fold. More than 30 faculty members and their teams will benefit from adding solid-state NMR with DNP to their research investigations. Facility users will include researchers from the Princeton Institute of Materials and the departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Chemistry, and Geosciences.

The proposal for this new equipment was submitted by: Craig Arnold, vice dean for innovation and the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Marcella Lusardi, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials; and István Pelczer, director of the NMR Facility in the Department of Chemistry.

The instrument will be located in Princeton’s NMR core facility in Frick Chemistry Laboratory.

Multiphoton microscope system

A new microscope system will provide in-depth explorations of biological tissues. Multiphoton microscopes enable researchers to visualize very small structures deep within living tissues or organisms. The instrument will provide real-time 3D imaging of early lung development, bacterial infection, wound repair, heart and other organ development, and other biomaterials. The instrument will aid in evaluating gene expression during embryonic development, and can turn on genes on demand in a technique called optogenetics. The equipment will be available to researchers from departments across the campus.

The proposal for this system was submitted by: Bonnie Bassler, Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology and chair of the Department of Molecular Biology.

The microscope will be housed at the Confocal Imaging Facility in the Department of Molecular Biology.

Light-bead microscope

A new type of microscope will aid investigations of brain function, including how the interactions of neurons give rise to behaviors. Known as a light-bead microscope, the instrument was invented by researchers in the laboratory of Alipasha Vaziri at Rockefeller University and will provide more than a ten-fold increase in the number of neurons being monitored simultaneously compared to other techniques. Current approaches rely on a single beam that scans over a reach of the brain, but this new microscope uses a set of mirrors and beam-splitters to generate multiple light beams and ensure they hit the tissue at controlled times. Researchers in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute as well as others studying the brain will be able to use the microscope. 

The proposal was submitted by: Stephan Thiberge, director of the Bezos Center Imaging Facility in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, and David Tank, the Henry L. Hillman Professor of Neuroscience and director of the Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics. 

In collaboration with the Vaziri lab, the microscope will be assembled at the imaging center located at the Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

Transforming mass spectrometry

A new instrument will unlock deeper levels of exploration of proteins and their expression regulation. The acquisition of a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer will address the need for increased experimental throughput and improved data accuracy, precision and sensitivity. The new equipment will enable a variety of research investigations in biology, ranging from studying photosynthesis to the renewal or replacement of proteins in the body. Users will include researchers from the departments of Molecular Biology, Chemistry, Chemical and Biological Engineering and Computer Science.

The proposal was submitted by: Martin Wϋhr, assistant professor of molecular biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.

The next-generation mass spectrometer will be housed in the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.

Replacement of existing equipment:

Transmission-electron microscope

A new-generation microscope will replace two multi-decades-old machines in Princeton’s Imaging and Analysis Center. The transmission-electron microscope fires a beam of electrons through a material surface to characterize the structure of solid materials as well as biological specimens. The instrument will be available for teaching as well as research. Users include researchers in the School of Engineering and Applied Science as well as the departments of Chemistry, Geosciences, Molecular Biology, Neuroscience and many other departments and institutes.

The proposal was submitted by: Craig Arnold, vice dean for innovation and the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Nan Yao, director of the Imaging and Analysis Center, and a professor of the practice and senior research scholar in the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials.

The new instrument will be installed at the Imaging and Analysis Center in the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.

Modern nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) facility

Princeton’s nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) core facility will get a major upgrade through the replacement of three of its seven instruments. The new NMR machines will enable the study of structural and chemical properties of molecules, answering questions in areas such as battery research, nanoparticles, diffusion in porous materials, surface chemistry and more. Princeton’s NMR facility is crucial to the work of over three hundred users from across the sciences and engineering at Princeton, as well as from several outside companies that are members of chemistry’s industrial associates program.

The proposal was submitted by: John T. Groves, the Hugh Stott Taylor Chair of Chemistry, and Gregory Scholes, the William S. Tod Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry.

The equipment will be installed at the NMR facility in the Department of Chemistry.