Huber Receives Grant from National Science Foundation

Posted on March 10th, 2009 by

Tom Huber at his research laboratory.

Tom Huber at his research laboratory.

Tom Huber, associate professor of physics at Gustavus Adolphus College, has been awarded a grant of nearly $220,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award will allow Huber and two Gustavus students to study ultrasound excitation of microcantilevers during the next three summers.

Microcantilevers are tiny devices that are less than a third the width of a single strand of hair. These devices can be used in atomic force microscopes to detect single atoms, or they can act as physical, chemical, or biological sensors.

“This project may have a broad impact because of the important role that the vibration of microcantilevers plays in an ever increasing number of applications,” Huber said. “By monitoring changes in the vibrational state of a microcantilever, it is possible to detect the minute change in mass when single cells, viruses, or certain molecules attach to the microcantilever.”

Huber has been working with a group from the Mayo Clinic during the past four years to develop an ultrasonic technique for vibrating small objects such as microcantilevers. By using two ultrasound beams focused onto the microcantilever, they can vibrate it without any physical contact. Compared to conventional techniques, this ultrasound excitation method may offer significant increases in resolution and improve the sensitivity for mass sensing. Huber and his students will be working on campus, as well as traveling to the Mayo Clinic and Purdue University, where the microcantilever samples are being fabricated

Huber’s project was one of about 2,300 proposals submitted to the Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Division of the NSF. Typically, the NSF chooses to fund about 10-15% of the proposals it receives.

This is the second grant Huber has received from the NSF to support this faculty-student research program. In 2005, he received a $149,000 grant to develop this technique. While Huber has been the driving force behind this project, he stresses that students have been and will continue to be an integral part of the process.

“The undergraduate students involved in this project get the extraordinary opportunity to perform cutting-edge, on-campus research and also collaborate with well-known research groups at other institutions,” Huber said. “The students gain experience in a wide range of fields, including acoustics, optics, computer-controlled data acquisition, signal processing, modal analysis, and computer modeling.”

The NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense…” With an annual budget of about $6.06 billion, it is the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.

Huber earned a bachelor’s of science degree from St. John’s University in 1983 and his Ph.D. from the University of Wyoming in 1989. He began teaching at Gustavus in the fall of 1989. Today he teaches classes on electronics and instrumentation as well as nuclear physics.


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