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NSF awards Williams funding for high-speed imaging faciltity

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Dec. 12, 2007 -- The National Science Foundation has awarded Joan Edwards, the Washington Gladden 1859 Professor of Biology, and Dwight Whitaker, assistant professor of physics at Pomona College, a grant in the amount of $105,110. The grant is in support of a high-speed imaging facility at Williams College for the study of ultra fast biological movements and other applications in the sciences.

The project builds on research transforming our understanding of rapid events.

"The [high-speed imaging facility and] camera expands our ability to view directly the natural worlds things that occur in the blink of an eye can be slowed so that we can visualize what is actually happening," explained Edwards. "It opens up exciting new venues of discovery through the analysis videos, which are often stunning in their beauty."

"The fastest plants (and fungi) move on a timescale shorter than any animal movements," Whitaker said. "With an understanding of the relevant physical parameters it is easier to identify what traits are co-opted from similar species to produce the rapid motion."

Edwards points to a number of examples of the subjects of high-speed imaging: the strike of a mantis shrimp, the sprint of greyhound dogs, and their own study of ultra-rapid movements in plants such as the pollen catapult of bunchberry dogwood and the explosive propulsion of spores by Sphagnum moss.

The videos captured by the high-speed imaging facility will be integrated into Williams' biology and physics teaching curricula. The high-speed cameras, which film up to 100,000 fps, will also be used by faculty and students in labs and in the field where plants and animals can be filmed in their natural environment.

Through a Williams College Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant, the results of the research outlined by the two in their NSF proposal also will be integrated into the curricula of local elementary and secondary schools, underlying the broad appeal of the type of visual imagery the facility will produce.

The facility will support the college's ongoing mission to engage students at all levels in science education and include students from underrepresented groups in science research.


Contact: Jo Procter
Williams College

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