Surface analysis expert named Director of UW Molecular Analysis Facility
December 28, 2018
Lara Gamble, associate research professor in bioengineering at the University of Washington (UW), has been appointed director of the UW Molecular Analysis Facility (MAF), a fully-staffed instrumentation facility with extensive microscopy, spectroscopy, and surface science capabilities. Gamble will take over for long-time director Dave Castner, professor of bioengineering and chemical engineering at UW, who is retiring. Gamble has served as MAF associate director since 2013. She is also co-Director of NESAC/BIO, a preeminent surface science research center at UW, and was elected to the 2016-18 Board of Directors of the American Vacuum Society, an international community of scientists dedicated to promoting research in surface, interface, vacuum and thin film science. Gamble’s research focuses on developing new techniques for the improved analysis of biomolecule-surface interfaces as well as improved chemical imaging of biologically relevant samples.
“At the Molecular Analysis Facility, we work hard to meet the needs of the many researchers we serve—from academics characterizing unique nanoparticle features to startups looking to improve materials or devices,” says Gamble. “I am grateful to have been able to work closely with Dave Castner for so many years – he’s been an incredible mentor and I am honored to be passed the reins to this top-tier research facility. I look forward to carrying on this work and expanding the MAF’s capabilities and expertise.”
The MAF is part of the Molecular Engineering and Sciences (MolES) Institute. At its core, molecular engineering is about the assembly of molecules – how they connect, the properties that emerge as a result of those connections, and the design and synthesis of new molecules that may not exist in nature. The MAF is an essential resource for molecular engineering researchers, providing them the tools they need to better understand and probe the molecules or molecular assemblies they’ve engineered. This depth of knowledge at the molecular, or even atomic level, can provide insight into the properties of materials, which can in turn inform the design of advanced biomedical devices, drug delivery systems, solar cells, photonics sensors, and thin films for a variety of applications.
“Lara is a wonderful asset to the Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute and the research community here at UW and beyond,” says Pat Stayton, director of MolES and UW bioengineering professor. “Her ability to work across UW colleges and departments to unite faculty and leadership around investing in shared resources, such as state-of-the-art characterization tools, helps to advance the MolES mission of catalyzing translational research. Moreover, Lara’s ability to proactively gauge the needs of researchers on campus and bring in relevant instrumentation will be key to enabling scientific advancements and sustaining the MAF’s reputation as a cutting-edge facility.”
Gamble has a long history at UW. She came to Seattle in 1990 as a graduate student studying physical chemistry and stayed at UW after finishing her PhD to conduct postdoctoral research with NESAC/BIO. Gamble then worked in industry for over three years, investigating new surface modification techniques for DNA and protein chip applications in Silicon Valley and space-based applications at the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Utah. She returned to UW in 2003 when Castner hired her as the Scientific Research Coordinator of NESAC/BIO and she’s remained at the university ever since. In 2004, Gamble became an assistant research professor in the bioengineering department at UW, as well as assistant director of NESAC/BIO. She became an associate research professor in bioengineering in 2011.
Located on the ground floor of the MolES building, the MAF consolidated UW’s Nanotech User Facility, Surface Analysis Recharge Center (SARC), and Analytical Biopharmacy Core (ABC) into a centralized facility with diverse characterization instruments. MAF equipment also includes instruments from faculty; the MAF accepts proposals from faculty to place instruments in the facility that are challenging to maintain in an individual lab and may benefit a large array of users. Since 2011, the MAF has operated jointly with the Washington Nanofabrication Facility (WNF), which provides users access to fabrication equipment including photo- and electron-beam-lithography, thin-film deposition, and plasma and chemical etching. The MAF and WNF are both part of the National Science Foundation’s National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure, a preeminent network of public-access, nanotech user facilities across the country.
As a publicly-accessible facility, the MAF is open to internal UW users, as well as external users from academia and industry. Users can be trained to independently perform experiments, or an experienced staff member can perform experiments for users. MAF staff are also available to consult on experimental design or troubleshoot. According to Gamble, one of the great benefits of using the MAF is that staff can help users identify the best technique to gather the information they need to answer a particular scientific question. “Researchers will sometimes come to the facility thinking they want to use a specific instrument, but through the process of working with MAF staff they realize that there exists a different or complementary technique that would be more informative,” says Gamble.
As researcher needs evolve and technologies advance, the MAF continually updates and adds to its repertoire of instruments and capabilities. Gamble noted that the MAF recently acquired a new scanning electron microscope (SEM), a powerful magnification tool that utilizes a focused beam of electrons to collect topographical, morphological and compositional information. The advantages of the FEI Apero SEM include the ability to produce high resolution images with increased flexibility in the type of sample, imaging conditions, and applications. For example, in contrast to older SEMs, the Apero can produce high quality images of samples that are not electrically conductive. Such instruments are invaluable to many diverse fields, from life sciences and materials development to industry-related applications in energy and semiconductors. Gamble is focused on bringing in new instruments and expertise to the MAF so that users can continue to generate the best quality data and have access to cutting-edge tools with unique capabilities.
About the MAF
The Molecular Analysis Facility (MAF) is a fully-staffed user facility, housed in the University of Washington’s Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute, that offers academic and industry users training and access to microscopy, spectroscopy and surface science instruments. Users can be trained to independently perform experiments, or an experienced staff member can perform experiments for users. The MAF is part of the National Science Foundation’s National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI), a network of publicly-accessible nanotech user facilities across the country.