Keck Foundation’s First Grant to Colorado State Supports Soft X-Ray Laser Studies in Electrical and Computer Engineering

A $500,000 grant, the first ever awarded to Colorado State University by the W. M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles, will help support studies on tabletop soft x-ray laser development and applications.

The prestigious award will support ongoing research by Jorge J.G. Rocca, professor of electrical and computer engineering and a specialist in lasers and soft x-ray laser development. "The Keck Foundation works hard and successfully to identify and support those research areas that can lead to quantum leaps in knowledge," said Albert Yates, president of Colorado State. "We are grateful to the foundation for supporting Jorge Rocca’s work, and we’re honored as well that the Keck Foundation has recognized the quality of research conducted at Colorado State."

In recognition of this leadership gift, Colorado State has named the research facility the W.M. Keck Foundation Soft X-Ray Laser Laboratory. Maria Pellegrini, program director for the Keck Foundation, said, "The foundation was impressed and excited by this new technology and Dr. Rocca. We know this investment will be a fruitful one for science."

Rocca’s research focuses on practical soft x-ray lasers, which produce light at far shorter wavelengths than commonly available lasers. His research is centered on the successful capillary discharge technology developed at Colorado State that recently demonstrated the world’s first stable high-energy production tabletop soft x-ray laser.

Because of the incredibly short wavelengths, "soft" x-ray lasers can be focused on unprecedentedly small areas. The lasers can access inner electrons in atoms and molecules and can allow scientists to study matter that cannot be explored with visible or ultraviolet light. For example, they will be able to probe the minute features that will make up the next generation of semiconductor devices and the dense plasmas of fusion reactors.

"As computer chips shrink in size, the importance of materials surfaces and thin films increases," Rocca said. "The very small penetration depth of soft x-ray laser radiation makes tabletop soft x-ray lasers a powerful diagnostic tool for the study of material surfaces and thin films. And as we advance into nanotechnology, the ability to scan and shape surfaces at or near the atomic level will become invaluable."

Established in 1954, the W. M. Keck Foundation is one of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations. Its grantmaking focuses primarily on pioneering work in science, engineering and medical research. The Foundation has made grants of more than $875 million while its assets have grown from $250 million to more than $1.5 billion at the end of 1998.

Robert A. Day, chairman, president and CEO of the foundation, recently noted that "The story of innovation has been one of steady progress in a particular field of study set off by landmark breakthroughs, usually by an individual…scientist." The Keck Foundation has been funding these pioneers, Day added, as they have and continue to expand frontiers in science, medicine, medical research and higher education.

Colorado State University, the state’s land-grant institution that was rated a Carnegie Doctoral/Research-Extensive university, has recently been ranked among the top 50 of the 100 best public universities in terms of quality of education and affordability by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine. The Templeton Foundation has designated Colorado State as a "character building" institution for the second year in a row.