A traditional optical microscopy, even with the best possible spatial resolution that can be achieved, is not sufficient to study very small structures, such as the ones often found in nature, nanotechnology and small-scale engineering. In this project, an advanced scanning probe microscopy system allows scientists and engineers to overcome this limitation. Light is reflected off a nanoscale tip of the microscope to explore fine structures and discern composition of complex materials. The ability to span multiple length scales, from bulk to a scale approaching that of molecules, offers new understanding of the heterogeneities contributing to properties in complex natural and engineered systems. The project significantly enhances research and education capabilities across the boundaries of STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) disciplines, while providing new opportunities in graduate and undergraduate research training and education. These activities serve a diverse population at the University of Central Florida (UCF), a Hispanic Serving Institution, and the Southern US.
The project involves the acquisition of an integrated confocal, tip-enhanced Raman system (TERS) and tip-enhanced photoluminescence (TEPL) microscope at UCF. The platform implements the principle of tip-enhanced near-field optics on an atomic force microscope to surpass the diffraction limit of conventional Raman confocal microscopy. The TERS configuration achieves a lateral resolution of approximately 10 nm. The microscope is equipped with several excitation lasers, covering most of the visible wavelengths plus near infrared , to accommodate a wide range of research projects. The system enables interdisciplinary research to understand the structure-property relationships of a broad range of emerging materials including two-dimensional materials, perovskites, nanoparticles, biomaterials, pesticides, composites, soft tissues (e.g., plant cells), meteorites and asteroids for applications in electronics, optoelectronics, catalysis, biosensing, nanomedicine, nano-agriculture and planetary sciences.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.