Chong Fang, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, has been granted a five-year, $650,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his project, “Revealing fluorescence mechanisms of emerging fluorescent protein biosensors using femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy.” 

The NSF CAREER Award is the National Science Foundation’s top award given to junior faculty members for outstanding research and the effective application of that research in university teaching and education.

Four other College of Science faculty are currently supported by NSF CAREER Awards: Debashis Mondal (Statistics), Paul Cheong (Chemistry) as well as Ethan Minot and Davide Lazzati (both in Physics).

Fang joined the Oregon State chemistry faculty in 2010 after a postdoctoral fellowship at University of California, Berkeley. Prior to that, he earned a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the Dean’s Scholar in 2005.  

“I am extremely proud of Chong Fang.” said College of Science Dean Sastry G. Pantula.“The NSF CAREER Award is a prestigious award that supports outstanding younger faculty like Chong, who are not only committed to excellent research but also to education and student success. This recognition underscores OSU’s commitment to recruiting and mentoring outstanding faculty.”  

Fang’s research focuses on the structure-function relationships of molecular systems ranging from fluorescent protein biosensors—which render microscopic cell organelles visible and are of immense value in biomedicine—to metal-organic complexes.

During the last four years, Fang and his team have developed a technique to study and collect data about biomolecular structure and function through the influential femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy (FSRS) method.

FSRS is an emerging ultrafast laser tool that records molecular vibrations during extremely fast chemical reactions with high temporal and spectral resolutions. It can resolve the choreography of proton motions in the electronic excited state with the time resolution of a billionth of a millionth of a second. Aided by computations, those time-resolved vibrational spectra unlock the secret of multidimensional potential energy maps by showing which chemical bonds vary first and how energy flows from one site to the other.

“The ultrafast Raman technique that we are developing in OSU Chemistry and Linus Pauling Science Center enables us to capture molecular ‘movies’ starting from time zero,” said Fang.  

This previously unavailable molecular information gathered from FSRS by Fang and his team can provide significant breakthroughs in bioengineering and biomedicine and aid in the better understanding of calcium movement, disease onset, drug delivery and drug potency.

“Winning this NSF CAREER award not only provides the crucial resources we need to bring our current femtosecond Raman methodology to the next level, both in technical innovation and sample applications, but also assures us that the scientific problems we are tackling hold transformative and broad impact,” said Fang.

 “Our group will use the newly available resources to systematically elucidate fluorescence mechanisms in an emerging group of protein biosensors, and pinpoint strategic atomic sites that protein designers and engineers can target to rationally improve the properties of those biosensors. The fundamental understanding of how things work, at the same time, is always a fascinating journey that keeps us inspired and motivated.” added Fang.

Fang’s research group currently consists of six graduate students and one postdoctoral fellow. The NSF grant will provide strong support for them to conduct the research more effectively with both domestic and international collaborators and to disseminate their findings to achieve broader impacts across chemistry, physics, optics and biology.