Indiana University      Research & Creative Activity      April 1998 Volume XXI Number 2



A New Standard of Measure

for Instrumentation Research


by Aaron Conley

Listening to Jack Gill describe how scientific instrumentation has evolved over the past thirty years is like opening a passageway back in time. Before his current vocation as a venture capitalist, the Indiana University Bloomington alumnus (Ph.D. 1962) worked a hands-on career in science with instruments like gas and liquid chromatographs, infrared/UV spectrophotometers, and magnetic resonance spectrometers. For those who aren't scientifically inclined, the terminology alone can conjure frightening images of massive instruments from a 1950s science fiction movie. Gill implies this isn't too far from the truth. "These were big, complex instruments costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since it was before computer automation, it was an incredible experience to operate these things," he recalls. "You'd literally sit at a console and turn knobs for three or four hours just to get an instrument ready to make some measurements. Finally, you could make a few."

Gills
Linda and Jack Gill. Jack Gill graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1962. Their generous gift establishes the Linda and Jack Gill Center for Instrumentation and Measurement Science.

Measurement science has made tremendous advances through the development of increasingly sophisticated instrumentation. But the costs associated with advanced instrumentation are extremely high, and there's great demand for people who know how to use instruments, or to make them even better. To help keep Indiana University ahead of the curve in scientific instrumentation, Jack Gill, and his spouse, Linda, gave $5 million to the IUB College of Arts and Sciences (the College) last fall to establish the Linda and Jack Gill Center for Instrumentation and Measurement Science.

The $5 million endowment will fund five faculty chairs, two in chemistry, one in biology, and one in computer science. The fifth chair is not reserved for any particular field, allowing some flexibility in meeting the center's broad disciplinary needs. The endowment also creates five graduate fellowships and five undergraduate scholarships.


Both Gill and the center's interim director, Gary Hieftje, distinguished professor of chemistry and chairperson of the Department of Chemistry at IUB, expect the center's interdisciplinary approach to aid several other departments at IUB besides chemistry, biology, and computer science. Also figuring prominently in the center's plans are physics, cognitive sciences, geological sciences, astronomy, and other fields that rely on precise measurements and instrumentation.

These departments, Hieftje suggests, can anticipate many benefits. Foremost among them, he says, will be interaction across departmental and disciplinary lines.

"A big problem that exists on campuses is that we haven't been forced to work together as they (scientists) have in national laboratories and in industry," Hieftje says. "Chemists are probably the worst culprits, but most scientists, I think, in universities tend to be isolationists. There's too little incentive to interact." While Hieftje doesn't question the value of individual research, he suggests interaction through the Gill Center could elevate people's work to a new level of discovery and innovation. "If you look at the big things that are happening, and the things for which people are getting Nobel prizes, what you find is that those awards are being given to people who are working at the interfaces of traditional disciplines. They have to understand a lot about two or three different areas so they can make unique contributions by making connections where connections didn't seem to exist before. The Gill Center will provide a vehicle for that kind of interaction to occur."

Hieftje
Gary Hieftje, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Chairperson of the Department of Chemistry at Indiana University Bloomington, sits next to an on-axis time-of-flight mass spectrometer connected to inductively coupled plasma. This instrument, invented in the Hieftje Laboratory, is used to determine what chemical elements are present in a sample and what their concentrations are. The sample is converted into an aerosol, which is then heated in an inductively coupled plasma to a temperature close to that of the surface of the sun. At this high temperature, the sample is effectively decomposed into its constituent atoms. The spectrometer can then measure all the elements simultaneously and at concentration levels below one part per trillion. It is expected to be important in a wide range of fields, from clinical analysis to quality control, and from environmental measurements to geological prospecting. This technology has been patented and licensed; a commercial instrument is now available from Leco Corporation in St. Joseph, Michigan. --credit

Several chairs of other science departments expected to contribute to the Gill Center's agenda agree with Hieftje. For Jeffrey Palmer, distinguished professor and chairperson of the biology department, the Gill Center represents opportunities to strengthen the existing ties between his department and chemistry. He already plans to hire a biochemist to fill the endowed chair allocated to biology. Citing the commonality in approaches and instrumentation used by researchers in this field, Palmer says, "The biochemists in our department share with our biochemical colleagues in the chemistry department a strong interest in understanding the structure of biological macromolecules and the ways in which different molecules interact with one another at the structural level. This involves the use of such instrumentation-dependent techniques as X-ray crystallography, analytical ultracentrifugation, NMR spectroscopy, mass spectrometry and optical spectrometric methods, as well as improved computational approaches." Palmer also expects Gill Center activities to advance techniques in automated gene (or DNA) sequencing and to further the development of many types of microscopes.

Richard Shiffrin, the Luther Dana Waterman Professor of Psychology and director of the Cognitive Science Program, hopes the Gill Center can help address instrumentation shortcomings in his field. "We, like all sciences, often find ourselves at the fringes of the ability to carry out studies due to the limitations and complexity of instrumentation, " Shiffrin says." The most recent examples (in cognitive science) have to do with cognitive neuroscience and the techniques for measuring brain activity with magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, and other approaches."

For Lee Suttner, professor and chairperson of geological sciences, the Gill Center represents an opportunity for collaboration between molecular biologists and biogeochemists, and between physicists and geophysicists. Suttner hopes the Gill Center can assist geophysicists with progress they've already made in seismic research and measurement. He says IU has been a major national player in developing a seismic monitoring system that involves digital communications technology, real-time software systems, wireless local area network technology, and low-power computer systems for field deployment. "We envision the center providing the resources for development of new sensor technologies for seismic instrumentation along with the opportunity for outreach to high schools throughout the nation through placement of seismic stations in these schools." Suttner also expects the Gill Center to pursue research that helps interpret the geologic record of El Niño effects and understand the origin of fossil fuels.

Alan Kostelecky, professor of physics and department chairperson, says the news of the Gill gift came just after his department decided to establish a new experimental research group focusing on the application of "nanotechnology" instruments (technology to probe the molecular and atomic scale) at the interfaces of physics with chemistry and biology. The timing could not have been better, he says, because, "as it turns out, this is very close to the main thrust of the Gill Center." This type of experimental physics must involve the forefront of instrumentation and measurement techniques, he adds. Kostelecky also believes the Gill Center can enhance the new nanotechnology research group through an endowed chair while also advancing existing instrumentation and measurement efforts in accelerator physics, astrophysics, condensed-matter physics, high-energy particle physics, and nuclear physics.

Finally, Hieftje expects his own chemistry department to benefit in all areas of the discipline. Using biochemistry as an example, Hieftje highlights the field's need for increasingly sophisticated instruments. "Most of biochemistry depends on taking careful measurements of biochemical systems," he said. "These measurements might be the kinetics of an enzyme-based reaction or the structure of a protein, using X-ray crystallography or a nuclear magnetic resonance examination of proteins or nucleic acids." Similar demands for cutting-edge instrumentation face his department's research activities in analytical, physical, organic, and inorganic chemistry. Hieftje's own research and the projects in his research group are already pressing the limits of instrumentation. They expect direct benefits in several areas from the Gill Center. One area, for example, employs new light sources for studying ultrafast chemical events. Using a new signal processing technique with continuous-wave and rapidly pulsed lasers, information can be extracted about chemical events at the scale of a "picosecond"--or one trillionth of a second. Other areas of research involve elemental analysis using flame and plasma atomic spectrometry, and developing instrumental techniques to reduce the effects of background noise on measurements.

Station
IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology) Broadband Seismic Array System. This system uses state-of-the-art seismic sensors installed at remote sites powered only by solar panels. The inlaid photo shows an installation team deploying a station in northeastern Colorado. The schematic that forms the rest of the diagram shows the components of each remote station. Data from a station is converted to digital form and transmitted by spread-spectrum radios (a way to send and receive millions of messages simultaneously and without interference by breaking them down and sending the fragments over different frequencies) to a central site. There the data are organized by a real-time software system and transmitted to principal investigators involved in the project via the Internet. Gary Pavlis, Professor of Geological Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, was co-investigator on the development of this system in collaboration with the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Colorado. The project was funded by the Joint Seismic Program of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology. - credit


In a way, the multidisciplinary approach of the Gill Center reflects its namesake's diverse career. After earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry and engineering from Lamar Univer sity in Beaumont, Texas, in 1958, the Lufkin, Texas, native came to Bloomington to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, which he completed four years later. For nearly the next decade, Gill spent his time in applied scientific research, first as a senior research chemist with Monsanto in St. Louis, and next as director of research and engineering of the Aerograph Division of Varian Associates. By 1970, Gill's now-evident entrepreneurial spirit broke through and he founded Autolab, a pioneer in the application of microprocessor-based instruments and computers for chromatography laboratory applications. When Spectra Physics, a worldwide leader in commercial, scientific, and industrial lasers, bought the company in 1972, Gill remained as vice president and general manager. By the time he left in 1981, he was executive vice president and group manager of the scientific divisions for Spectra.

In 1981, Gill again set out to start a business, this time co-founding Vanguard Venture Partners, a venture capital company with offices in Houston, Texas, and Palo Alto, California. Gill remains with Vanguard today as general partner. The company specializes in high-technology start-up investments in computers, communications, and life sciences. Since its founding, Vanguard has financed the start-up of 89 companies, creating 20,000 jobs and more than $10 billion in stock market value.

While Jack Gill's transformation from scientist to "scientist-entrepreneur" figures prominently behind the creation of the new center, his own college experience and concern over today's graduates spurred his generosity. Recalling his own college experience, Gill says, "Education prepared you for careers in research and/or academia. There was no curriculum or center or counseling that students could access that helped them determine where the jobs were in the industrial world. They had to discover those things on their own." He hopes a center devoted to instrumentation and measurement science will give students from the College of Arts and Sciences both the technical skills necessary for work in the sciences and greater insight into what types of companies and jobs await them after graduation. He firmly believes one measure of success will be the successful placement of students involved in the Gill Center into high-tech jobs where they need to understand complex instrumentation.

Gill's gift also represents opportunities for him to impart a lifetime of experience in the use of scientific instrumentation and to steer some Gill Center research toward the dramatic economic opportunities that await new advances in this field. Technology has transformed the world, he says, into an information era with unlimited potential. Just consider what has happened since the mid-1970s, he says: "It is a true statement that more jobs have been created, more taxes paid, more new companies successful, more export products shipped, and more wealth created in California's Silicon Valley by high-tech enterprise in the last couple of decades than any other time or place in the history of the world." He is convinced the Gill Center can facilitate innovative developments in instrumentation and then transfer these discoveries into global commercial applications. He suggests that by increasing ties with the needs of industry, the university's reputation will grow and IU graduates will be better informed of employment opportunities.

As interim director, Hieftje shares Gill's perspective on technology transfer and successful placement of graduates, but he sees more for students than access to private-sector jobs. "I agree with Dr. Gill that the Gill Center will do a great job training people for the workplace. It will, simultaneously, teach these people how to interact with others and how to put their work in a perspective that makes it attractive to others. It will teach them communication skills, and it will probably get them involved in areas of activity that they would never have thought of getting involved in before."

When it comes to students versus research, however, the interim director makes it clear what the Gill Center's mission should be: "Our main job is educating students, but a secondary job is to try to make sure that the things we come up with are of some benefit to society." Probably, Hieftje says, many innovations will lead to patents and transfer to the private sector, along with ties to small, start-up companies and larger firms. Plus, the center will help meet the internal research needs of IU, in much the same way other universities tap the resident expertise of their engineering faculty to develop instruments.

Kostelecky foresees an opportunity for IU to generate widespread recognition through the Gill Center, as other universities have done through single-disciplinary research centers. "The potential is great for the Gill Center to have a major impact on the external perception of excellence in science at Indiana University," he says, similar to how Cornell University has gained attention for its "national showcase research center" on particle physics. Over the coming months, both Gill and Hieftje say IU can expect to see a flurry of activities that begin to shape the center. Hieftje says the biggest immediate challenge is filling the five endowed chairs. "If you look at people of the caliber we'd like to attract, these people are obviously already well appreciated wherever they are." Identifying top researchers may be the easy part, he says. The challenge lies in providing laboratory space, costs for the instrumentation necessary to get their research going, and an attractive salary. One pleasant surprise for Hieftje has been the interest expressed by nearly two dozen faculty and researchers at IU and around the country in participating in the Gill Center through joint appointments.

The Gill Center will also host a symposium every two years at IU, the first expected to be in the summer of 1999. The showcase of the symposium will be the conferral of a Nobel-like medal and $10,000 honorarium for breakthrough research in instrumentation and measurement science. The recipient will be chosen through a competition led by a panel of diverse international scholars. Hieftje says the award will focus exclusively on current innovations in the field. "What we want is for the person to have made this contribution as one major event, rather than reward an accumulated body of work."

Finally, plans are under way to give the Gill Center a permanent home. Under a plan Hieftje credits to Morton Lowengrub, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, two wings would be added behind the Chemistry Building. One would be for applied science, where Hieftje says the centerpiece of the activities would be the Gill Center. The second wing would be a central science library that would include a unique campuswide instrument lending library.

With so much happening over the next few years, IU's science programs can expect to see changes occurring as rapidly as the changes in instrumentation Jack Gill witnessed as a young research scientist. Thanks to the generosity of Linda and Jack Gill, the innovations in scientific instrumentation emerging from the Gill Center will solidify Indiana University's position as a world-class standard of measure for excellence in this field. dingbat


Return to the Table of Contents