Professor working to make faster matter scanner

Earlier this year, Ozan Akkus, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, received a $280,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to create a new piece of imaging equipment, to be called FastRAM, that will be able to analyze materials over 100 times faster than current instruments can. Now, he is in the “initial stages of integrating components” to make this idea a reality.

Applications for FastRAM will vary from materials science and chemistry to forensics, arts and pharmacology.

The new device builds on the technology used in Raman microscopes. Raman spectroscopy enables the analysis of chemical bonds within a material. Traditionally the imaging is done point by point—each individual point in a sample is analyzed and then compiled into a distribution of chemical species (imagine constructing a picture by adding one pixel at a time).

Akkus and his colleagues developed the idea of sending a hundred focal points into the sample at once rather than just one. With this modification alone the process is expedited 100 fold. In addition, they are manipulating the way the reflected light is captured to further streamline the process.

Akkus will be working with co-principle investigators Dan Scherson, chemistry; Hatsuo Ishida, macromolecular science; and Andrew Rollins, biomedical engineering. They have also received $60,000 in funding from both the Case School of Engineering and the Ohio Board of Regents.

Part of the challenge of securing this grant was demonstrating a wide variety of applications for a device that did not yet exist. The idea for the FastRAM stemmed from Akkus’s own research in analyzing tooth decay, and he then had to implore other faculty to envision using this device in their own research. Applications of the device uncovered in the grant proposal process include studying meteorites found in Antarctica, deciphering between real and forged artwork, identifying contraband material and analyzing the chemical changes in lithium ion batteries.

Within the next year and a half, Akkus and his colleagues not only have to build the device, but also run applications of the machine and assess the performance. In addition, they will be developing user manuals or video guides to allow accessibility to a wide variety of users.

Akkus also has plans to incorporate the device into the undergraduate curriculum.

“One of our plans is to include this device as a lab session in one of our undergraduate measurements lab,” said Akkus. “Particularly for imaging the flame to study combustion, to see different phases of gas forming at different locations within a candle flame for instance. It wouldn’t be one cool device locked up in a lab.”

Akkus sees a future direction for his research with this device in the realm of histology, or the study of cells, especially in relation to cancer diagnosis. He hopes specific chemical signatures of cancer can be identified for early detection of disease.