An X-ray laser that can visualize the tiniest of objects will prove another key component in the scientific and medical research going on at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

The University at Buffalo, representing a national consortium of eight research universities and institutes, has been awarded a $25 million Science and Technology Center grant from the National Science Foundation to transform the field of structural biology, including drug development, using X-ray lasers.

University officials have a lot to be proud of with their first Science and Technology Center grant. UB and its partner institutions will establish the BioXFEL research center, with headquarters at 700 Ellicott St. on the medical campus in the building that houses both the Hauptman-Woodward Institute and UB’s Department of Structural Biology.

XFEL stands for X-ray free electron laser. It is a new laser capable of capturing images of the tiniest objects. The two-mile long device is located in California and, as News medical reporter Henry L. Davis wrote, is powerful enough to heat material to 2 million degrees Celsius, comparable to temperatures deep in the sun.

Eaton E. Lattman, professor in the UB Department of Structural Biology in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and chief executive officer of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, will be director of the BioXFEL center.

Hauptman-Woodward will focus on its specialty of understanding the structures of biological molecules, in this case proteins, to learn how they function and interact. The institute has been growing crystals of proteins for hundreds of clients through the United States for a decade. The new laser will allow Hauptman-Woodward the chance to refine the procedures for growing and using crystals.

Beyond the science is the opportunity to increase the reputation of the research environment here. As Lattman said, “This is a very big deal for us,” bringing both prestige and money. And because money follows money, more science may be headed this way. As Lattman further noted, the grant also allows the university to attract people and grants for related projects.

Buffalo and Western New York will be on the cutting edge of this technology and gain new prominence in the scientific community. This latest development is more fuel for the area’s economic engine.