The Science and Technology Center on Real-Time Functional Imaging, which UCLA helps to lead and which is tackling major challenges in the sciences and engineering using cutting-edge imaging technologies, has been awarded a five-year grant renewal from the National Science Foundation for approximately $22.5 million. 

Launched in 2006 with NSF funding, the center, commonly known as STROBE, hosts top scientists from seven institutions, including UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and the University of Colorado, Boulder, where it is headquartered.

In partnership with national laboratories and industry, STROBE is developing new high-powered microscopes that allow researchers to observe and characterize, for the first time, structures and phenomena at the nano- and atomic scale. Their approach integrates photon, electron and X-ray imaging with algorithms, fast detectors, big data analysis, machine learning and other advanced technologies.

“The vision of STROBE is to transform nanoscale imaging science and technology by developing the microscopes of tomorrow,” said the center’s deputy director and co-principal investigator, Jianwei “John” Miao, a professor of physics and member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

Innovations in imaging science, Miao said, are critical for driving scientific discoveries and technological advances that enable the United States to maintain its global competitiveness.

Working closely with center director Margaret Murnane of CU Boulder, Miao and the full team of STROBE scientists are using their breakthrough imaging technologies to make new discoveries in the areas of energy, quantum science, and disordered and biological materials, among others.

A major area of investigation for center scientists is determining how the three-dimensional structure of materials at the atomic scale determines materials’ function, as well as understanding how atoms rearrange themselves during transitions from liquid to glass — knowledge that could lead to dramatic advances in technology.

“Microscopy is critical for discovery and innovation in science and technology, accelerating advances in materials, bio-, nano- and energy sciences, as well as nano-electronics, data storage and medicine,” Murnane said.

The techniques, algorithms and instrumentation developed at STROBE are in high demand, and the center is engaging in multiple routes for knowledge transfer with the community, national laboratories and industry, Miao said.

In addition to its cutting-edge research activities, STROBE actively educates future scientists and researchers, from the K–12 to the postdoctoral level, with the goal of creating a diverse workforce for 21st-century careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The center offers coordinated projects with leading universities, national labs and industry partners; multidisciplinary degree programs; professional development opportunities; and long-term programs aimed at increasing participation in STEM.

As part of these programs, UCLA undergraduate and graduate students have the opportunity to participate in STROBE’s imaging research. Students trained in imaging science are needed in all areas of science and advanced technology, Miao said.

UCLA faculty members participating in the STROBE project include Pietro Musumeci and Chris Regan (physics and astronomy), Stanley Osher (mathematics), Jose Rodriguez (chemistry and biochemistry) and Z. Hong Zhou (microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics). Participating UCLA staff members are Francoise Quéval (associate director for education), Rita Blaik (associate director for knowledge transfer) and Nickie Ng (administrator).

Learn more about NSF science and technology centers like STROBE that conduct innovative, potentially transformative research and education projects.

►Watch a Nature video about Miao’s research.