Researchers earn 3M Nontenured Faculty Grants

ECE News

Bridget Maiellaro, ECE Illinois

Story Highlights

  • ECE Professors Brian Cunningham and Michael Oelze were recently awarded 3M Nontenured Faculty Grants.
  • Cunningham’s group, the Nano Sensors Group, researches the development of photonic crystal biosensors and working on sensor designs.
  • Oelze’s research group is working to build high-frequency ultrasound computed tomography devices.

Brian T. Cunningham
Brian T. Cunningham

ECE Professors Brian Cunningham and Michael Oelze were recently awarded 3M Nontenured Faculty Grants (NTFG), giving them both an unrestricted $15,000 that they will use to conduct scientific research.

Cunningham’s research group, the Nano Sensors Group, is comprised of 11 graduate students and four undergraduate students from ECE, bioengineering, material science and engineering, and computer science. The group’s projects include the development of photonic crystal biosensors for detection of proteins, DNA, cells, bacteria, and viruses; working on sensor designs; making optical devices that behave as switches and valves for light; and researching new applications for photonic crystal biosensors for drug discovery research, gene expression profiling, and disease diagnostic testing.

The group collaborates with ECE Professor Gary Eden and post-doctoral researcher Sung-Jin Park, as well as Dominique Griffon, a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine. 

The Nano Sensors Group is funded by the National Science Foundation, National Cancer Institute, Army, and various industry partners. 

Oelze’s research group is currently working to build high-frequency ultrasound computed tomography devices.

Michael L. Oelze
Michael L. Oelze

“Our ultimate goal is to construct a device that can image objects a half centimeter in size with resolution down to a few micrometers, rivaling optical imaging devices like [Optical Coherence Tomography],” Oelze said.

Through 3M's NTFG program, grant proposals may be resubmitted for renewal consideration for up to three years. While this is Cunningham’s first time receiving the grant, Oelze was a recipient in 2006.

“I re-applied based on the progress from the previous year, and, fortunately, 3M was pleased with the progress and promise of the project,” Oelze said.

Cunningham said he is unsure how he will use the grant, but is trying a new idea that does not have another source of funding.

“The money can be used to buy materials, equipment, or to cover other research expenses related to such a project,” Cunningham said.

The professors are invited to use a portion of the grant to visit 3M headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., and meet with the company’s researchers and engineers sometime during the year. Oelze said he visited the company in June 2006 for a faculty day and presented some of his work and plans to revisit over the summer to show them his group’s progress. Cunningham also plans on visiting.

“I believe the goals of the research project can be successfully completed within a few years and 3M has been a big part of getting this project off the ground…” Oelze said. “The funding from 3M has allowed my research team to gather exciting, preliminary results for the project so that we are in a position now to seek additional funds.”

3M, a diversified technology company serving customers and communities with innovative products and services, received 191 proposals for the grants and selected only 47 winners.

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