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Two More National Science Foundation Grants Highlight Spirit of Collaboration at Bethel

Dedicated to innovative research and education within the fields of physics and engineering, these complementary awards bring to seven the number of six-figure National Science Foundation grants received by the department since 2012.

By Jenny Hudalla '15, senior content specialist

September 10, 2020 | 1 p.m.

Through a new microscope and laser system, professors Nathan Lindquist and Nathan Lemke hope to measure the movement of single molecules on a surface.

Through a new microscope and laser system, professors Nathan Lindquist and Nathan Lemke hope to measure the movement of single molecules on a surface.

In the Department of Physics and Engineering, two new National Science Foundation grants reflect the department’s signature strength: interdisciplinary collaboration. Awarded to professors Nathan Lindquist and Nathan Lemke in August, these complementary grants will focus on innovative research and education within the fields of physics and engineering. 

“These grants highlight the breadth of what we do at Bethel,” says Lindquist. We have this program where physics students bump shoulders with engineering students throughout their entire college careers, giving them an experience they might not have at other schools.”

In the amount of $297,909, the first grant will serve to advance high-speed imaging of single molecules. While Lindquist is the primary investigator on the project, he will work closely with Lemke and Bethel students to develop a microscope and laser system that will measure new information about the behavior of molecules. These new tools will take videos at more than a million frames per second, allowing students and professors alike to learn more about how molecules interact with surfaces. That knowledge could lead to new ways to detect and identify unknown substances at very low levels.

“I tell my students you can learn a lot about something if you can take a picture of it,” Lindquist says. “The better we can understand single-molecule behavior, the better we can understand how to make devices that can detect those molecules—so it becomes clear pretty quickly that when it comes to physics and engineering, neither can thrive without the other.”

The second grant, led by Lemke, will provide $265,341 to develop project-based learning initiatives that improve students’ engineering design skills. Lemke and his co-investigators—Lindquist, physics professor Keith Stein, and engineering professor Karen Rogers—will design new, interdisciplinary lab projects and then study how students with different majors learn in groups.

“It’s easy to talk to students about a scientific principle,” Lemke says, “but it’s much harder to teach them to design. Design requires you to think convergently and divergently and become comfortable with a cycle of struggle and success. It’s an ongoing process and a lifelong skill that will serve students well in their careers.”

Together, the grants will provide opportunities for paid summer internships, international conference travel, and advanced hands-on learning experiences in upper-division physics and engineering lab courses. The awards bring to seven the number of six-figure National Science Foundation grants received by the department since 2012, totaling around $2 million.

“These grants represent the blend of teaching and research that draws me to Bethel,” Lindquist says. “We get to do exciting research and see students develop from wide-eyed freshmen to accomplished seniors who are going off to places like Stanford. It’s a cool progression to witness.”

“You can tell Bethel students believe their life has a purpose, and they're excited to find out what it is,” adds Lemke. “That’s what we’re here to help them do.”

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