MSU chemistry department expands research with third NSF instrumentation grant this year

Contact: Sarah Nicholas

Portrait of Dongmao Zhang in his lab at MSU
Dongmao Zhang (OPA Photo)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State’s Department of Chemistry is touting another prestigious grant—$1.4 million—from the National Science Foundation, positioning faculty to advance scientific exploration at the land-grant university through NSF Major Research Instrumentation Program-funded projects.

Professor Dongmao Zhang is the third chemistry faculty member this year to receive a grant from the NSF-MRI Program, Chemistry Research Instrumentation Program, and the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR. He is the first MSU faculty member in recent years to acquire MRI funding specifically for instrument development. The other two chemistry projects with MRI funding are for instrument acquisition. All three 2023 grants total more than $4 million.

Zhang will develop an optical spectrometer designed to further explore light and matter interactions, advancing the “fundamental understanding of photon/matter interactions” leading to new strategies to understand how light behaves and interacts with different materials. Zhang also received NSF funding in 2022 for his spectrometer work.

“The spectrometer promises to be a transformative tool, facilitating cutting-edge research and enriching student education in chemistry, biology, chemical engineering, materials science and physics,” said Zhang, principal investigator of the four-year grant. “The development of this multifunctional optical spectrometer marks a significant stride in our pursuit of advancing scientific exploration. Its capabilities extend beyond traditional boundaries, allowing researchers to delve into novel realms of inquiry.”

Zhang said the new instrument—pioneered by his lab—will have diverse applications, including capturing certain light absorption, scattering and emission activities at the nanoscale or larger, a currently challenging feat with existing research tools. With its user base expected to span nationwide and across a broad spectrum of scientific disciplines, the information gleaned from Zhang’s new technological design will fill a gap in current research capabilities.

“The NSF’s investment in this MRI project underscores its commitment to fostering cutting-edge research infrastructure that propels scientific discovery. As this project takes shape, it is anticipated to leave an indelible mark on the landscape of optical spectroscopy, opening new avenues for exploration and understanding in the realms of science and technology,” Zhang said.

In addition to Zhang as PI, this MRI Track II Instrument Development project also is led by MSU colleagues, Professor Colleen Scott and Associate Professor Sidney Creutz, as well as Shengli Zou from the University of Central Florida and Qilin Dai from Jackson State University. The team is collaborating with Sciencetech Inc., a Canadian company recognized for creating engineering solutions for optical instrumentation.

Earlier this year, a team led by Professor Nick Fitzkee received a $3.1 million NSF-MRI Instrument Acquisition grant, and Assistant Professor Amanda Patrick received more than $500,000 for another NSF-MRI Acquisition grant. 

Zhang joined the MSU faculty in 2008 and currently is investigating nanoparticle interfacial interactions, optical spectroscopy and analytical method design. After graduating in 1987 from China’s Wuhan University, he earned a doctorate in 2002 from Purdue University in Indiana.

More information about Zhang’s lab and research is available at

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