ACUMEN Spring 2022

12 ACUMEN • SPRING 2022 one micron. We can measure it because we have a high spatial resolution with chemical sensitivity with the peak force infrared microscopy.” Xu says his investigations provide the tools other researchers need to facilitate their work. “I think of my work as a service to my chemistry colleagues so they can measure molecules and materials that they create, or study biological cells that are interesting to their research. My task is to provide the tools to facilitate their research, and the way that I prefer to do this is to develop instruments. I usually use components to build a new instrument with a new idea of chemical measurement and demonstrate its applicability that is suitable to polymers, biological cells, or functional materials.” His research has led him to develop a new means for teaching chemistry courses. He says he began looking at a physical chemistry laboratory course he was teaching and realized that its curriculum’s content was outdated, largely due to the lack of access to advanced modern instruments. Xu developed a virtual reality streaming tool, a 360-degree camera mounted on a camera vest with a motion stabilizer, to real-time broadcast lab demonstrations. He and his teaching assistants can stream a live experiment with instrument operations, and students can access it remotely through a web browser or goggle. “My students can sit in the classroom and watch the stream and they can interact with the team. For example, they want to see something extra, like watching a part longer or in better details. They can tell the TA, and the TA can move the VR camera to the location of interest and explain it. Once COVID hit, this tool became very useful. The course is a lab course, but the students don’t have to be in the classroom. They can stay in their dorm room or at home. They can access the lab and be somewhat participating in this experimental demonstration.” Xu’s research and teaching have been recognized with many prestigious awards. In 2021, he was named a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. In 2020, he was named a Sloan Research Fellow. This prestigious award, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, places Xu among “the most promising scientific researchers working today.” In 2019, he received the CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. In 2018, Xu was named a Beckman Young Investigator, earning a prestigious grant awarded by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. ● “M y task is to provide the tools to facilitate their research, and the way that I prefer to do this is to develop instruments.”