Campus Formally Opens New Materials Research Institute and TEM Facility

IMRI Director Pan, UCI Chancellor Gillman and Provost Lavernia formally inaugurate the new center while invited speakers join in the celebration.June 13, 2018 - Campus officials, faculty members, corporate partners and materials scientists from around the world joined last week in the grand opening ceremony for UC Irvine’s newest research center. The Irvine Material Research Institute and the JEOL Center for Nanoscale Solutions, a facility half a decade in the making, was unveiled at the mid-point of the campus’s first International Symposium on Advanced Microscopy and Spectroscopy.

IMRI offers powerful tools for examining the structure of matter, from millimeter to subatomic scales, and for revealing the functional properties of materials. It houses a wide variety of state-of-the-art open-access tools, offers advanced techniques and services, and includes professional staff support. The interdisciplinary facility will serve university, industry and non-profit researchers in a variety of disciplines from biology and chemistry to engineering and medicine.

IMRI director Xiaoqing Pan, professor and Henry Samueli Endowed Chair in Engineering, helmed the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony. Held in front of Engineering Hall on June 7, the event featured remarks by UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Enrique Lavernia and National Science Foundation program director Charles Ying, as well as industry representatives and equipment vendors.

Pan told the crowd how IMRI evolved from a proposal about six years ago, written by chemistry professors Reg Penner and Matt Law, to purchase a state-of-the-art transmission electron microscope (TEM) for the campus. UCI committed $15 million to that initiative, with the goal of transforming the campus into a hub for materials science research. Since 2014, the campus has invested more than $25 million on new instruments and lab renovations for IMRI. Today, the institute provides a variety of tools that enable the exploration of atomic-scale structures, chemical bonding and dynamic behaviors in both hard and soft materials, complex molecules and nanoengineered devices, including the ability to see single atoms, measure vibrations and probe crystals at the nanoscale.

“Our mission is to build UCI into a world-renowned institution in materials research. We aim to provide an innovative environment for future talent by offering state-of-the-art tools for solving today’s challenges,” Pan said. “Furthermore, as an interdisciplinary institute, IMRI provides a perfect platform for the collaboration of researchers in different fields. It will not only lead to the discovery of chemical bonds between elements, it will also create bonds between people.”

Pan added that two young stars in the field of TEM recently joined UCI, and offers have been extended to three other candidates. “This collaborative effort leverages the establishment of a Center of Excellence with the intellectual firepower and diverse research activities needed to establish UCI as a world leader in materials research and engineering.”

Chancellor Gillman, in his remarks, reflected on the evolution of the center, and spoke of the university’s commitment to making an investment that would contribute to knowledge production in a wide range of fields. “The instrumentation and expertise available through IMRI will support a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary research, including the synthesis of molecules and materials, structural characterization, device engineering, environmental science, energy materials and nanotechnology, all aimed at improving the quality of human life,” Gillman said. “And there are great opportunities to grow in so many directions affecting many different disciplines such as advanced CryoTEM for structural biology, quantum measurements and state-of-the-art nanofabrication.

I am looking forward to all that will be accomplished by the distinguished scientists and researchers at IMRI.”

Lavernia spoke of UCI’s commitment to research, saying that it is one of the campus’s strategic pillars for future growth. “We’re in the process of adding over 500 faculty across campus, particularly in areas like engineering, computer science and biological science,” he said. “The platform that IMRI will provide will allow us to make important progress in the environment, cancer, molecular and systems biology, and the health enterprise across campus.”

He said, “I’d like to thank you for being here and invite you back to visit often,” adding, to audience laughter, “And, yes, the weather here is always this perfect.”

Charles Ying, NSF program director of the Materials Innovation Platforms and National Facilities and Instrumentations materials research divisions, said that support for midscale infrastructure investment in the U.S. has been facing challenges recently, with more demand than available resources. “I want to congratulate the UC Irvine leadership for its vision and support of this important endeavor,” he said. “It was an easy decision for me to come here. I wanted to see how a university took this leadership and this vision and created this entity even without federal support,” he added.

Corporate partner JEOL, a global supplier of electron microscopes, ion beam instruments, mass spectrometers and nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, supports the JEOL Center for Nanoscale Solutions at IMRI. Home to several high-performance TEMS, including the first installation of the JEOL GRAND ARM TEM developed for advanced atomic resolution characterization, the center also houses a high-throughput nanoanalysis TEM/STEM and a cryogenic and atomic level structural analysis TEM.

JEOL USA President Peter Genovese told the audience his company has been working with Pan and IMRI for several years. “This is a very proud moment for JEOL, a company that had its beginnings in transmission electron microscopy almost 70 years ago,” he said. “We are very appreciative of the opportunity to be a part of this vision of the future, of advanced research in materials science. One can only imagine what milestones, achievements and new developments will come from this lab and from this university, and what new discoveries that haven’t been realized yet but certainly will be.”

Representatives from several other equipment vendors – including Gatan, Nion and Tescan – also spoke at the ceremony, congratulating UCI and conveying good wishes for the new institute. Following formal remarks, guests toured the new facility, before returning to the symposium for another day-and-a-half of informational sessions focused on the advancement and challenges of atomic-scale imaging and spectroscopy.

-- Anna Lynn Spitzer