Research & Discoveries

Physical scientists think at the molecular scale. But most experimental methods measure many molecules at the same time. Therefore, there is a disconnect between how we think about the world vs. how we measure it. Further, data averaged over so many molecules can hide important information.

We use single-molecule microscopy to access the world in the same way physicists and chemists view it. This amazing ability to see individual molecules and reach nanoscale resolutions let's us understand materials in new ways. We hope our new molecular understanding can then impact material design and decisions in medicine and industry.

Again, with a little more technical wording... The Kisley Lab studies realistic, multi-component material systems using novel nanoscale spectroscopic imaging with the goal to inspire materials design.  Motivated by practical problems in industry and medicine, basic physical science observations drive engineering at the macroscale that, coming full circle, improve upon commercial applications. We image and quantify how individual molecules adsorb, diffuse, and change conformation in these environments.

Our approach addresses gaps in both the fields of materials science and single molecule spectroscopy. From a macroscale engineering perspective, many materials are optimized by trial-and-error to decide what conditions work “best,” resulting in little understanding of the molecular behavior behind why the selected conditions perform the way they do. On the other hand, single molecule spectroscopic studies of materials have focused on model systems simplified to only have a few components, but that are far from conditions for their intended use.


Protein Dynamics in the Extracellular Matrix

How do proteins behave outside the cell?

Proteins outside of the cell must traverse the complex, chemically-diverse, confining environment of the extracellular matrix to carry out their biological function. Our studies seek to identify and characterize how proteins function within this matrix by developing and using high-resolution optical microscopy and analysis methods.  Our results can be applied broadly to therapeutic delivery, tissue engineering, and understanding of disease development, along with fundamental studies into the biological processes that underlie protein-matrix interactions.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health NIGMS (1R35GM142466-01)

Image by Josie Weiss

Diffusion and Adsorption of Analytes in Separation Materials

Designing the most challenging separations from the bottom-up

Improved separations are key to ensuring industrial competitiveness as ~15% of the total energy and billions of dollars used in the U.S. is for chemical separations. Molecular-based decisions regarding separations will reduce the enormous waste that results from the typical trial-and-error optimization used in chromatography and membrane methods. We are expanding the single-molecule separations field to more complex conditions and are investigating new types of separations that have yet to be studied at the molecular scale including the challenging areas of chiral separations where analytes are nearly-identical and rare earth extraction from some of the most complicated mixtures on Earth.

Funded by 3M, Lubrizol, and the CAS Expanding Horizons Initiative.


Imaging Corrosion, One Redox Reaction at a Time

Detecting & understanding rust right when it starts

We develop and use microscopy and modeling methods to investigate chemical reactions at metal surfaces. Specifically, the movement of negatively charged electrons and positively charged metal ions are of interest which underlie battery and solar energy technologies, energy-efficient catalytic reactions, and the corrosion of infrastructure.

Funded by the National Science Foundation CSDM-A #2142821 and ACS Petroleum Research Fund.

Image by Tengyart

New High-Resolution Microscopy Methods

Reaching new scales - even with noisy or low signal data

New methods can allow us to understand materials and extract information from challenging data. We pursue new techniques from sample, hardware, and software directions. A current focus is on new approaches for expansion microscopy.

Funded by Research Corporation for Science Advancement, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh.


Our work is interdisciplinary and collaborative. Our current research (as of June 2022) includes funded collaborations with Prof. Christine Duval (CWRU Chemical Engineering), Prof. Laura Sanchez (UC Santa Cruz Chemistry), and Prof.Ronit Freeman (UNC Applied Physical Sciences), along with work with Prof. Stephen Michnick (University of Montreal, Biochemistry). We are always open to exploring new opportunities through collaboration. If you think our microscopic and image analysis expertise could be helpful for your work, please reach out!