Three Engineering Researchers Earn DOD Instrumentation Awards

From left, Stacy Copp, Alon Gorodetsky and David Kisailus will acquire major research instrumentation in 2022 with support from the Department of Defense.

Nov. 18, 2021 – Three engineering faculty – Stacy Copp, Alon Gorodetsky and David Kisailus– have won Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) grants from the U.S. Department of Defense. The annual award is administered through a merit competition run by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Army Research Office and Office of Naval Research. Annually, the department seeks specific proposals from university investigators conducting foundational science and engineering research relevant to national defense.

Copp, an assistant professor in materials science and engineering, will receive $113,000 from the AFOSR for a next-generation circular dichroism (CD) spectrometer for the study of self-assembling bioinspired materials. CD spectroscopy measures the difference in how a molecule or material absorbs left and right circularly polarized light. Many molecules have inherent chirality, meaning that a molecule is distinct from its mirror image, and this chirality can influence the molecule's interaction with light.

“CD spectroscopy is an especially sensitive measure of the structure and assembly of biomolecules and can also provide critical thermodynamic information about these systems,” said Copp, who investigates how certain metal cations can rearrange the ways that DNA molecules bind together, enhancing applications of DNA nanotechnology in electronics, photonics and sensing. “This CD spectrometer will enable extremely sensitive detection of the chiroptical properties of functional biomolecular materials being developed in my lab and that of my co-PI Allon Hochbaum.”
With $441,620 from ONR, Gorodetsky will acquire an integrated microscopy system designed for the optical, scanning probe and electrochemical characterization of proteinaceous conductive materials. Gorodetsky, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, investigates the materials properties and biomedical applications of cephalopod proteins called reflectins.

“The system will enable improved characterization of reflectin-based materials in diverse environments and under varied conditions,” explained Gorodetsky, who has been at the forefront of developing adaptive systems inspired by cephalopods.

Kisailus, professor of materials science and engineering, will receive $388,390 from AFOSR for a multimodal high-speed atomic force microscope (AFM). Kisailus’ research focuses on the investigation of biological materials with extreme mechanical, thermal and optical properties and translating design elements to engineered materials. His ultimate goal is to be able to leverage lessons from nature to develop next-generation materials for energy conversion and storage as well as for environmental applications.

“As our Biomimetics and Nanostructured Materials Lab focuses on both synthesis-structure and structure-function relationships in both biological and synthetic nanomaterials, understanding fundamental interactions during self-assembly and crystallization, as well as probing various functions at the atomic scale, is critical,” said Kisailus, who currently directs an $8 million multi-university research initiative investigating impact-resistant multiscale biological architected materials. “I am very grateful for the support from AFOSR, as this new AFM will be one of our primary analytical tools that will enable more fundamental science to be uncovered.”

The DOD gave DURIP grants to 144 university researchers at 81 institutions for fiscal year 2022. Through the program, the DOD supports purchases of major research equipment to augment current and develop new capabilities.

– Lori Brandt