<p>Brown University has obtained two state-of-the-art instruments that will fundamentally widen its scope of research activities. The University will also receive funding for a new CAVE, the three-dimensional, interactive space used by researchers across disciplines. The latest awards bring Brown’s total of federal stimulus money for research to roughly $20 million.</p>

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University has obtained two state-of-the-art instruments that will fundamentally widen the scope of research activities and will receive funding for a new CAVE, the three-dimensional, interactive space used by researchers from biology to the literary arts.

In all, the university succeeded in obtaining roughly $3 million in funding from the National Science Foundation through the NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation Grants program. Two of the awards will be funded through stimulus money approved by Congress as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The latest awards bring Brown’s total of stimulus money for research to roughly $20 million.

The two instruments Brown acquired are a multicollector inductively-coupled mass spectrometer ($677,890) and a transmission electron microscope ($1 million through NSF and a Brown match). Both are the only ones of their kind in Rhode Island. They will be available to scientists at universities throughout the state and at select research centers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The new CAVE, for which Brown will receive about $2 million, is expected to be a world-class facility.

“In order to perform the research at Brown that we want to do, it is imperative that we have a state-of-the-art infrastructure to support that research,” said Clyde Briant, Brown’s vice president for research. “It is wonderful for our faculty and students to be able to obtain this equipment and take their research to new levels. It is also exciting that stimulus funds will have a direct impact on Brown and in Rhode Island.”

Transmission electron microscope

The instrument promises to open the doors to new research in nanotechnology, a burgeoning field in which scientists create synthetic objects with nearly unlimited potential applications, from personalized drug delivery to cleaning environmental contaminants. Brown has two scanning electron microscopes that allow scientists to peer at objects at the nanoscale (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter). What makes the transmission electron microscope unique, said David Paine, professor of engineering and principal investigator on the grant, is that researchers for the first time will be able to peer inside objects at the nanoscale.

“Previously, we could see things on the nanoscale but not their internal structures,” said Paine, who directs the electron microscopy central facility. “Now we can see the atomic features. We can see the columns of atoms.”

The microscope has yet to be purchased, Paine said.

Mass spectrometer

The instrument, located in the Department of Geological Sciences, will be used to address cutting-edge questions related to solid earth, ocean, planetary, environmental, biological, medical and archaeological sciences. It can analyze precise isotope ratios on dissolved sample solutions and allows lab analysis of almost any solid material with a spatial resolution of 10 microns, as well as submicron depth-profiling resolution.

The instrument also will be available to researchers at Bryant University, Roger Williams University, the University of Rhode Island and theMarine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.

Alberto Saal, associate geology professor, is principal investigator on the grant.


The main idea behind the new CAVE is to enhance the three-dimensional, immersive experience offered by the current facility, located at 180 George St. — in other words, to bring the CAVE into the 21st century, said David Laidlaw, professor of computer science and principal investigator on the grant.

“For many, [the current CAVE] is too dark and not high enough resolution to do science,” Laidlaw said. “We want to get something that’s brighter and more high resolution, so we can do the current sciences better and encourage other sciences to join in.”

To do that, Laidlaw and the Brown team that will design and build the new facility want to expand the field of view and project images that would be as crisp and brighter than those seen on a desktop computer — all in 3-D space, of course, which is what makes the facility, and the research potential, so exciting, Laidlaw said.

The upgrade is expected to take about two years. Laidlaw's goal is to have the facility ready for the IEEE visualization conference, which will take place in Providence in October 2011.