A glowing Bayard-Alpert Ionization Gauge monitors a vacuum in physicist Tim Gay's laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Gay studies polarized electrons, which are basically electrons spinning in the same direction. This gauge is part of a monitoring system that tells scientists if they are removing enough air to conduct experiments on how polarized electrons interact with target molecules.
With National Science Foundation funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Gay uses these atomic particles in basic and applied research. For example, in the experiment above he uses polarized electrons to answer intriguing questions about the origins of life, such as why all DNA molecules spiral clockwise. The answer may have to do with cosmic rays — a natural source of spin-polarized electrons. In the process, he's learning a lot about how polarized electrons behave.