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NC State Researchers Receive $2.25 Million Interdisciplinary Grant From Department of Energy

Memorial Belltower

NC State researchers have received a $2.25 million interdisciplinary grant from the Department of Energy to fund a project titled “Non-Invasive Imaging of Nitrogen Assimilation in the Rhizosphere via Quantum-Entangled Hyperpolarized Spin States.” The project proposes quantum spin technology to image biochemical pathways in the rhizosphere with unprecedented chemical detail and sensitivity. 

The proposed technology will reduce penetration depth limitations in molecular imaging, allowing the researchers to observe molecular turnover and metabolism directly in soil.

Thomas Theis, assistant professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Physics and the joint NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Biomedical Engineering, is the principal investigator on the project. Also involved in the research are Felix Castellano, Goodnight Innovation Distinguished Chair in the Department of Chemistry, and Oliver Baars and Kevin Garcia, both assistant professors in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The project will run until 2025.

Thomas Theis, assistant professor of chemistry, physics and biomedical engineering.
Thomas Theis, assistant professor of chemistry, physics and biomedical engineering.

Theis’ research focuses on developing quantum technology to better understand disorders such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as crop and soil sciences. To develop their imaging technique, Theis and his colleagues use biomolecular magnetic resonance tools with enhanced signals. With these so-called “hyperpolarized” signals, the team can map metabolites and their journeys through metabolic pathways in soil.

Theis earned his doctorate in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 2012.