Jianwei "John" Miao

UCLA is helping to lead the new, cutting-edge Science and Technology Center on Real-Time Functional Imaging. The center is funded by a five-year, $24 million award from the National Science Foundation, and includes renowned scientists from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and UC Berkeley. It will tackle major scientific challenges in the physical sciences, life sciences and engineering.

The project addresses a critical national need for imaging science to enable scientific breakthroughs and technological advances at an important time for the United States to remain competitive in science and technology, Miao said.Seven UCLA professors are participating, including deputy director and co-principal investigator Jianwei “John” Miao, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and member of UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute. CU Boulder physics professor Margaret Murnane is the director and principal investigator.

Miao said that the work of the center, known as Strobe because of its use of stroboscopes for imaging, will integrate several approaches and technologies — including photon and electron-based imaging, advanced algorithms, big data analysis and adaptive imaging — to deal with issues that have the potential to transform imaging science and technology.

Recent major advances by the participating scientists in electron, X-ray and optical nano-imaging have paved the way for achieving the project’s multidisciplinary goals.

“We will push each imaging technique to its limits, as well as develop improved new approaches,” Miao said. “Physicists, mathematicians, chemists and biologists from UCLA will work closely with leading experts from University of Colorado, Boulder, and UC Berkeley to establish Strobe as a world-class imaging center.”

UCLA undergraduate and graduate students will have an opportunity to participate in the research, he said, adding that students trained in imaging science are needed in all areas of science and advanced technology.

The center also plans to develop world-class engineers, scientists and leaders of industry; educate a diverse group of students for STEM careers; develop STEM programs to educate high school science teachers and students; and engage in knowledge transfer with industry.

Additional UCLA faculty members participating in the project are Pietro Musumeci and Chris Regan (physics and astronomy), Stanley Osher (mathematics), Jose Rodriguez (chemistry and biochemistry), Shimon Weiss (chemistry and biochemistry, and physiology) and Z. Hong Zhou (microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics).

UC Irvine, Fort Lewis College in Colorado and Florida International University will also participate. Industrial partners are Intel, IBM, Semiconductor Research Corporation, GlobalFoundries, Anasys, Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre, ASML and KMLabs.

“UCLA is an international leader in state-of-the-art imaging, which will greatly benefit California and the United States,” said Miguel García-Garibay, dean of the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences. “Under the leadership and remarkable scientific achievements of John Miao, UCLA will continue to set the highest standards of research, education and the transfer of major advances from the laboratory to industry, where they will benefit the public.”

NSF science and technology centers conduct “innovative, potentially transformative, complex research and education projects” involving world-class research through partnerships among academic universities and industrial organizations in important areas of basic research, the NSF stated. “They have catalyzed breakthroughs, built bridges of exchange with industry, spun off new technologies and businesses, and trained young scientists and engineers.”

“From deepening our understanding of intelligence to developing energy-efficient electronics and next-generation polymers, NSF’s Science and Technology Centers have stood at the forefront of discovery and innovation,” said Suzi Iacono, head of the NSF Office of Integrative Activities.

Miao’s research work includes development of a powerful tomography method to image three-dimensional positions of individual atoms. In a new article, published Sept. 23 in the journal Science, Miao and colleagues review recent advances produced by interdisciplinary science that make it possible to determine the three-dimensional atomic structure of crystal defects and non-crystalline materials with high precision. The work, Miao said, offers clues on how to modify and engineer materials that will improve performance of technological devices and likely lead to breakthroughs in fields ranging from electronics to energy conversion.

► Watch a Nature video about Miao’s research.