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3D Force Microscope
Fibrin And Blood Clotting
Gene Therapy and Viruses
Systems for Microscopy
; Nanoscale Education
Center for Nanoscale
Main Page of the Nanoscale Science Research Group
Welcome to the Nanoscale Science Research Group
(NSRG). We are a conglomoration of various groups studying nanoscale science
primarily associated with the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. To the left you'll find a list of
the various Research Topics associated with
our group, as well as a number of Project Groups either a part of or associated
The world now stands at the threshold of the age of nanotechnology, and biologists have been exploring here for years. As a nation, our imagination has already leapt ahead to the day when it will be possible to touch proteins within living cells, to tug on DNA as it is transcribed and to unfold an adenovirus to expose the DNA within.
Scientists need, and we are building, instruments and interfaces that enable scientists to extend their eyes and hands into this new nano-world. We are building visualization systems that intuitively map the additional sensing made available by these microscopes into the human senses, and control systems that project human actions directly into this world. Such systems enable new types of exploration and whole new classes of experiments in the biological and physical sciences. These experiments' needs in turn drive the development of ever-improved interfaces and instrumentation.
Our Resource aims to provide tools that are, like a lens, transparent and easy to use, yet as powerful and as versatile as contemporary computing technology can make them - tools that enable direct viewing of, and interaction with, real and simulated macromolecules, viruses, and cells. Virtual filters enable the transformation and overlay of multiple data sets in order to map them from the raw instrument data formats onto more natural and useful views. Computer graphics enables direct visual comparisons between a scientist's conception of an object (as seen in the mind's eye) and the object of study - either a model stored within a computer or a real, physical object scanned by a probe microscope. Haptic (force-feedback) display coupled to the microscope's tip enables real-time exploration of the properties of real and simulated objects, touching and moving them to feel how they respond. Our goal is to enable the scientist to pay great attention to the experiment and little to the tools, rapidly and easily chasing down "what if" scenarios as they present themselves.
Our fundamental modes of operation are to provide direct and natural visualization and control between biologists and their tools, and to create new tools. Our Resource aggressively pursues new and emerging technologies in interactive computer graphics, bringing them to bear in bio-science. We focus on solving real driving problems in the life sciences, which push our core research and development efforts. This solution-oriented approach ensures that our results are relevant to our collaborators' research, rather than only of academic interest in computer science.
The search for solutions to real-world problems constantly pushes us to expand the current state-of-the-art in computer science (display devices, rendering techniques, haptic feedback, collaborative systems, user interaction techniques, volume visualization, ). This driving-problem approach keeps us doing forefront work in our own discipline. We use the best available computer technology to develop effective systems for use by scientists at our Resource, which then become cost-effective and can be deployed on widely-available hardware as technology marches on.
IBM's Peter Fagg said, in the 1960's, "There are three great scientific adventures in our lifetime: going to the Moon, conquering disease, and the computer revolution. Isn't it great to be working in one of them?" This Resource has the immense privilege of bridging two of them.Our unique approach
From our department's beginning we have chosen to explore interactive 3-D graphics for scientific and decision-making applications. Our vision has been to serve as a bridge between computer science and the application disciplines, bringing the latest CS tools and techniques to bear, and influencing CS research and product development to respond to the needs of the scientific applications.
Two major philosophies have guided our research. The first is the "driving problem" method of doing computer science research. We believe that excellent computer science research arises from tackling some real-world problem and addressing it on its own terms, as a total system problem, and aiming to satisfy not just ourselves but professional practitioners in the problem domain. This keeps us honest and forces us to face all aspects of a problem, not merely the tractable or publishable aspects.
Our second major research philosophy is that human-machine systems can address more difficult problems than can machines alone, an idea we cast as "Intelligence Amplification is better than Artificial Intelligence." So we build human-computer shared-work systems.
In response to emerging opportunities and strong encouragement from our Advisory Board, we have shifted our focus over the current grant period from probing simulated molecules to probing real biomolecules and structures - enabling our collaborators to interact directly with them and to manipulate them and to measure their properties. Our long experience with the simulation and visualization of macromolecules positions us well to merge this capability with our new direct manipulation capabilities to enable direct comparisons between theory and experiment.
Our Resource has a long history of adapting to the changing needs of our collaborators, driven by their real-world problems. Our shift to a focus on interaction with real (in addition to simulated) macromolecules and larger structures responds both to the maturing of molecular graphics and to an eagerness to embrace a great emerging opportunity. Desktop simulation power has reached the point where our pioneering work on direct interaction with simulated macromolecules has been taken up by commercial and open-source offerings (some spun off directly from our work or developed by collaborators). The NIH Resource at the University of California at San Francisco under Thomas Ferrin continues to provide the needed advancement in molecular graphics, providing for those needs not met by the commercial offerings. At the same time, new microscopy techniques have emerged, which are capable of imaging and interacting with individual macromolecules. We work both to provide understanding-enhancing interfaces to these instruments and to extend their capabilities.
We continue in our trailblazer role to investigate the usefulness of new instrumentation and techniques to biological scientists, inviting them to use our leading-edge facilities (both providing new capabilities for the scientists and honing the usefulness of our tools on actual problems). The winning ideas are then developed more fully, either spun off to obtain their own funding or made available commercially.