UWM Home PageUWM Graduate School UWM logo Grad School graphic
Quick Links



In the News


Nearly 40% of women with engineering degrees leave or never enter the field.
Nadya Fouad (Educational Psychology) led the study.
Live TV interview. 08/11/14  WSJ Live

Quoted in editorial. In Our View: STEM Must Welcome All. Fouad 08/15/14  The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)

"Anti" not a conservative value. Opinion piece co-written by William L. Holahan (Emeritus, Economics).
08/17/14  Rutland (Vermont) Herald

Nathaniel Stern (Art & Design): Rippling Images. Exhibit at Tory Folliard Gallery begins Oct. 17.
08/18/14  expressmilwaukee.com

National media covering Wisconsin governor's race interview Mordecai Lee (Political Science).
08/12/14  Washington Times
08/11/14  Reuters
08/10/14  Time

Music & Memory program brightens lives of Alzheimer's, dementia patients. UWM researchers launch first large-scale study of the program
08/11/14  JSOnline

UWM study: Uncivil work environment pushing women out of the engineering field. Research led by Nadya Fouad (Educational Psychology) featured.
08/11/14  The Peninsula (Qatar)
09/09/14  The Washington Post

Marijuana research led by Krista Lisdahl (Psychology) featured.
08/09/14  China Topix
08/09/14  University Herald

Ohio algae-driven water crisis unlikely in Lake Michigan, says Todd Miller (Public Health).
08/05/14  Chicago Tribune
08/05/14  postcrescent.com (Appleton)
But... The algae is often found in Wisconsin lakes.
08/10/14  JSOnline

Grant money could help 'transform' wheelchairs. UWM lab participating in research.
08/08/14  The News-Gazette (Ill.)

Charting the successes and missteps of placemaking in Milwaukee. Arijit Sen (Architecture) interviewed.
08/08/14  JSOnline

Wisconsin sees slow growth in consumer spending. N. Kundan Kishor (Economics) interviewed.
08/07/14  AP (via BND.com [Southwestern Illinois])

Growing Life Expectancy Gap Between Black and White Wisconsin Women. UWM School of Public Health Dean Magda Peck interviewed.
08/07/14  WUWM News

A Watershed Moment:
Great Lakes at a Crossroads
A special Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series on invasive species. Research of Freshwater Sciences scientists including Harvey Bootsma and Rudi Strickler is featured.
07/27 - 07/30/14  JSOnline

Monitoring mussels on the bottom of Lake Michigan. Slideshow featuring Harvey Bootsma.
07/26/14  JSOnline

Life expectancy gap between blacks and whites improves — but not in Wisconsin. David Pate (Social Work) quoted.
08/04/14  JSOnline

Primaries will solidify Wisconsin Democrats' state Senate hopes. Mordecai Lee (Political Science) quoted.
08/03/14  Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Standing up to the weed invasion. Jim Reinartz (Field Station) cited as author of “Roadside Invasive Plant Management Plan,” given to road crews and highway departments in the eight counties.
07/30/14  Ozaukee Press

Patients more likely to withhold information when their providers use an electronic health record system, according to a study led by Celeste Campos-Castillo (Sociology).
07/29/14  Politico

Wisconsin candidates dance around questionnaires on issues. Mordecai Lee (Political Science) quoted in opinion piece by WisconsinEye network producer Steven Walters.
07/28/14  GazetteXtra

For Rare Languages, Social Media Provide New Hope. Margaret Noodin (English, American Indian Studies) discusses importance of preserving Anishinaabemowin, a Native American language.
07/28/14  WKMS 91.3 FM (Murray, Ky.)

Formidable invasive species won't be easy to keep out of Great Lakes. UWM professor & zooplankton specialist Rudi Strickler (WATER Institute) featured.
07/26/14  JSOnline

Stop flushing pills down the toilet. UWM study revealed 14 contaminants linked to pharmaceuticals in Lake Michigan.
07/21/14  The Cap Times

Why women are far more likely to vote than men. Kathleen Dolan (Political Science) interviewed.
07/17/14  The Washington Post

School of Freshwater Sciences will do study on water system for Hunger Task Force fish hatchery.
07/23/14  JSOnline

John Berges (Biol. Sciences, Freshwater Sciences) was neck deep in Eurasian water-milfoil as he searched for a temperature and light sensor in the Estabrook Park Pond.
07/20/14  JSOnline (Image #6)

Adel Nasir (Electrical Engineering) works to build largest microgrid.
07/19/14  JSOnline

Research in the News archive
More UWM media coverage  

Recent Honors & Awards

Past honors & awards

Recent Grants
Updated 7/14/14


May 2006

Magic Touch

Carol Hirschmugl uncovers the invisible world where surfaces meet

by Laura L. Hunt

Photo of Carol Hirschmugl
Caption | Carol Hirschmugl is an internationally recognized researcher of infrared radiation adsorption by solids. She has focused her work on what happens when molecules are collected on a metallic surface.

Imagine watching a heated basketball game. Now, step outside the arena and try to describe what's happening without the benefit of seeing or hearing it unfold. It would seem like an impossible task.

But it's similar to what physicist Carol Hirschmugl does every day in her research into the invisible worlds of surface science and biophysics. Instead of following the athletes and the ball, though, Hirschmugl, an associate professor of physics, tracks what happens to molecules when they meet the surface of a particular material or move around in a living cell.

An object's molecules and electrons are always in motion, vibrating and wiggling. Hirschmugl's novel imaging methods take advantage of these vibrations to investigate very small particles—and map the movement of chemicals within them.

She hopes her work will lead to new ways of addressing environmental pollution. Hirschmugl starts this long process by tracking molecular changes that occur inside a cell when it comes in contact with pollution or when toxic substances touch soil and water.

Beyond the microscope
Photo of Micrasterius Algae
Caption | IR Spectra of Micrasterius Algae

But before she can witness any action, she has to detect all the parts involved. Using a device called a synchrotron, Hirschmugl can probe what she could not with a normal microscope. The synchrotron emits energy at all spectral frequencies, from infrared (IR) to X-rays. In IR, which is what Hirschmugl uses, the light it gives off is brighter than the sun, although it is not visible with the human eye.

IR reveals the unique vibrations of specific molecules within a living cell, which act as "signatures," allowing Hirschmugl to identify the material she's working with. She is using the technique to observe how algae digest carbon dioxide (and give off oxygen), something that has implications for controlling air pollution.

In her work with algae, she studies the distribution of proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates, molecules that play a major role in metabolizing the organism's food (photosynthesis). It's important in fully understanding a process that is vitally linked to human respiration and environmental health.

Recently funded by $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Hirschmugl will be developing new ways to "see" how alga reacts to its environment.

"Since the alga uses up a lot of CO2," she says, "we're interested in what happens when you change its environmental conditions. We want to look at how its biological makeup changes when exposed to say, runoff pollution.

"I'm taking the question one step further and seeing how the distribution of its parts changes because of interactions with contaminants like nitrates or ammonium, which come from fertilizer runoff or sewage."

Her ultimate goal is to be able to measure changes in the distribution of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins with a living alga sample to observe the internal changes actually taking place.

Electrons behaving madly
Picture of a silica particle
Caption | Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of a silica particle having patches of organic matter as indicated by the white regions in the IR mapping of the C-H stretching absorbance (2800-3000 cm-1) shown in the right panel.

In a second imaging project, Hirschmugl tracks the arrangement of specific molecules on a solid surface, again enlisting the wave properties of electrons.

"What we are looking at is way smaller than the wavelength of light," says UWM physicist Dilano Saldin, who collaborates with Hirschmugl. "So we need to study the energy distribution from electrons scattered from the surface."

The technique Hirschmugl uses is a modified method of low-energy electron diffraction (LEED). By shooting a minute beam of electrons onto a surface, and using a sensitive detection plate, she creates a visual picture of the electrons as they are spread out in all directions and eventually hit the plate. After sophisticated analysis, the resulting pattern can reveal the structure of the surface material.

Why go to all this trouble? One of the challenges of science today is to reveal the workings of the atomic world, says Saldin, whose expertise includes the interpretation of the patterns made by the scattered electrons.

Most interactions of a solid with its environment take place at the surface. Forces can influence the surface that won't affect the interior, causing unusual atomic rearrangement that changes the way a material behaves. This kind of transformation is behind the process of corrosion in metals, for example.

The goal of these surface studies is to examine the behavior of water molecules when they come in contact with an oxide surface, the dynamics of which are not well understood, but could be valuable in predicting groundwater propagation and determining how contaminants flow through soil.

Driving Hirschmugl's inquiry is the fact that water and an oxide surface (like soil) meet in unpredictable ways.

The interactions between water and an oxide will vary, she says, depending on which atoms are touching the oxide surface—and whether it makes contact with the oxygen atom, or one or both of the hydrogen atoms.

"Water and soil present a really different interface," she says as if describing a good novel. "I want to know what happens next. Do the water molecules break down or do they remain intact?

"With these techniques, we're getting access to the dynamics of the molecules and the statics (location) at the same time."

Page last updated on: 07/11/2014