Taking Lasers into the Field

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 – Taken from SDSU News Center

Bill Tong, distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is not a biologist, but his nonlinear laser methods may someday be used to detect cancer-causing agents and other contaminants in the body much earlier and with more specificity than currently available biomedical methods.

Neither is Tong a physicist, but his patented multi-photon laser technology, which can identify trace amounts of explosives, may save the lives of American soldiers fighting overseas.

An analytical and physical chemist by training, Tong leads a research team that has developed, patented and licensed novel laser spectroscopic methods sensitive enough to detect and identify the tiniest traces – even just a few atoms – of biological and chemical substances.

Moreover, the technology is portable. Unlike currently available bulky instruments, the equipment Tong and his students are designing is battery powered and compact enough to be carried by an individual into the field.

Tong has received several million dollars in research funding from a wide range of funding sources, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (R01), the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and many companies and corporations.

The recipient of the Distinguished Scientist of the Year Award in 2003 from the San Diego section of the American Chemical Society, he was the first professor to win from an institution other than the University of California, San Diego or The Scripps Research Institute. Tong received Outstanding Faculty Awards from SDSU in 1990, 1991 and 2000. In 2005, he was the Albert W. Johnson Research Lecturer, the highest research honor bestowed by San Diego State. He also was bestowed the Alumni Association’s Monty Award in 2007 and the President’s Leadership Fund Award in 2008. In addition, Tong has served on The Campanile Foundation board since 2006.

During the course of 24 years teaching at SDSU, Tong has supervised 15 Ph.D. students and dozens of master’s degree students, many of whom are now leaders in the biotech community. He said mentoring students is immensely satisfying.

“One of my favorite things is to train my graduate students to be independent scientists and then watch them succeed out in the real world,” Tong said. “That gives me great satisfaction.”

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