The FEL is also proving its worth in the emerging field of proteomics. Now that the human genome has been sequenced, researchers are beginning the task to characterize all of the millions of proteins that build, power, regulate and protect living organisms. But to do so new methods must be developed for rapidly identifying and characterizing these microscopic machines. One method under development relies on the FEL beam. By tuning the beam to the right frequency, researchers have shown that they can identify proteins that have been roughly separated in an electrophoresis gel. It works by selectively heating the gel molecules enough to release the proteins without breaking them. Once the molecules are freed, an electric field pushes them into a mass spectrometer, a conventional instrument that provides a precise measurement of the protein's mass, an important key to its identity.
Laser surgery, monochromatic X-rays, and protein characterization are three areas where research at the Vanderbilt FEL is showing particularly promising results. There are a number of other worthwhile research projects also being conducted there. The center currently receives about $3 million in external support from the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and several foundations. Center management has identified four areas for growth: materials science, particularly the use of the FEL in nanotechnology research; laser surgery; proteomics, identification of the structure and function of proteins; and, in vivo imaging, using the FEL and monochromatic X-ray beams to image individual molecules in l
Contact: David F. Salisbury