Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
May 1, 1998

Big grant funds tiny items

by Skip Derra

The W.M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles has awarded a $1.2 million grant to Iowa State for a laboratory devoted to making scientific instruments incredibly small.

The grant will be used for the Laboratory for the Fabrication of Micro-miniaturized Analytical Instrumentation. The new lab will be part of ISU's Microanalytical Instrumentation Center, directed by chemistry professor Marc Porter. Faculty from several departments and research centers will collaborate on projects there.

"We are extremely delighted to have the backing of the Keck Foundation for the new microminiaturization lab," said President Martin Jischke. "The Keck Foundation has chosen to support one of the most advanced scientific groups at Iowa State."

In the lab, researchers will transform analytical instruments, such as table-top-sized chemical separation devices, into very small devices. Miniaturizing them allows researchers to explore environments not easily accessible to humans.

For example, one group is developing a micropump, potentially no thicker than a human hair, that would assist in long-term space flight. The pump could become a key element in shrinking a chromatograph (chemical separation) system from the size of a microwave oven to that of a silver dollar. The tiny chromatograph system would play a vital role in recycling water from cabin humidity and bodily wastes, an essential step for long-term space flight.

Porter said other projects at the new lab include further development of an atomic force microscope that one day could require only a single molecular pair for disease detection, research into how cells communicate with each other and new methods to determine the relative health of a person from a single blood cell.

Since its founding in 1954, the Keck Foundation has awarded about $550 million in grants for projects that lead to scientific advances and new technology.

The Keck gift is part of the ISU Foundation's fund-raising effort, Campaign Destiny: To Become the Best.

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