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Berrah gets DOE funding for nanosystems research

Feb. 20, 2005

KALAMAZOO--A Western Michigan University physics professor will continue her research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory using a new $564,000 federal grant that will help her unravel the mysteries of nanosystems that are the bridge between gas-phase matter and solid-state matter.

Dr. Nora Berrah will use the U.S. Department of Energy funding to conduct her research over the next three years at the Advanced Light Source, a research facility located at the Berkeley laboratory in California. Berrah has been working at that facility for a number of years and led a team of international scientists who developed a sophisticated experimental research center there.

Her new funding will allow her to lead a WMU-centered team of postdoctoral and graduate students as they use the Advanced Light Source photon beam as a probing agent in an effort to understand the electronic and magnetic properties present in a relatively new area of study-metal clusters and their ions. The properties of those clusters change as a function of cluster size, she says, and little is currently known about them.

"A fundamental understanding of those clusters," she says, "will ultimately allow us to manipulate their properties and make systems that can be tailored to our needs."

The clusters she is studying are aggregates of a few or several hundred atoms that form a system with a nanometer dimension. Understanding them, she says, will impact the development of molecular electronics that may use clusters to create highly functional miniature devices.

Berrah, a faculty member at WMU since 1991, has garnered more than $4.3 million in external research funding during her time at the University and has attracted significant international acclaim. In addition to her current work at the Berkeley Advanced Light Source, she has been named to the scientific advisory committee for a new $500 million research facility being built at Stanford University.

She is the co-team leader for all atomic and molecular research at that new accelerator facility, which she characterizes as a fourth generation light source in the form of a free electron laser. When the Stanford facility opens in 2008, she plans to continue her cluster research there, because the new light source will allow her to measure in real time how clusters fragment, ionize and change properties.

"To understand nature, we have to understand it at nature's time scale," she says. "The new facility will offer the opportunity to make huge breakthroughs in science. We'll be able to understand how things assemble and disassemble and do science with a real time resolution."

Berrah, a fellow of the American Physical Society since 1999, was named a WMU Distinguished Faculty Scholar in 2000. In 2002 at Berkeley, she received the David A. Shirley Award for Outstanding Achievement at the ALS. In addition to her research, Berrah serves her discipline as a member of subcommittees of the national Committee on the Status of Women in Physics, an advisory group that counsels physics departments at universities around the nation on how to create and sustain a working environment that is welcoming to women scientists.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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