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UWM Scientists Get Multi-Million Dollar Grant to X-Ray Proteins and Viruses

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We all know X-rays can help doctors see our bones and teeth, but a team of UWM scientists will be using one revolutionary X-ray machine to look at something slightly smaller: our molecules.

A multi-million dollar National Science Foundation grant will enable scientists at UW-Milwaukee to use a revolutionary X-ray machine to see how certain molecules, like proteins and viruses, behave in the human body.

What makes this project even more interesting, however, is that it's not medical specialists who make up the UWM team. Rather, Drs. Abbas Ourmazd, Dilano Saldin and Marius Schmidt, along with senior scientists Peter Schwander and Russell Fung, are all physicists.

"One of the key goals is to determine the structure of a single molecule and make a movie of it," Ourmazd says. "That’s in the future. We don’t know whether we’ll succeed, but we are arrogant enough to think we can do it."

X-Rays, or electromagnetic radiation, were first observed and documented in 1895 when a German scientist was experimenting with a cathode-ray tube. Within a month of his announcement, doctors and dentists were using the technology to “see” patients’ teeth and bones.

The technology, and its safety, steadily improved since then, and X-rays have been a standard part of the western medical tool box for some time. Now, they can be used to “see” on a much smaller scale – the molecular level.

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.