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Gavin King

Innovation Award For First 3-D Force Microscope

Store by Stevie Myers

An MU faculty was among a team that received the Innovation Award from the Microscopy Society of America for work in developing the first 3-D microscope that allows scientists to study cell membrane proteins.

After three years of work, Gavin King, associate professor of physics and astronomy, and his team received the award. The team created an atomic force microscope, which uses a sharp needle to make a "topographic map" of a molecule by dragging it across the surface.

King compares this needle to the way a blind person would read Braille.

“A blind person would put their finger on a paper and read the bumps as they scan their finger across,” King said. “Basically, we do the same thing, except instead of using our finger, we use a really sharp needle. We take that needle and we put it on a surface with molecules of interest and as the needle goes over the molecule, we see the deflection on the needle go up and down — then we can measure that.”

Conventionally, a force microscope can only read one-dimensional motion by bouncing a laser off the back of the needle. King’s lab has built a microscope that is capable of “watching the lateral dimensions at the same time as the vertical to encapsulate the full three-dimensional space that the needle could be potentially reflected into,” he said.

The microscope isn’t just a mechanical device, but also a set of electronics and software, built from scratch.

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