New center to research nanostructures, design
and build nanodevices
Nanobatteries, nanopumps, nanomotors and a
slew of other nanoscale devices most with parts that move
a mere fraction of the width of an atom are among the promises
of a new $11.9 million Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems
(COINS) starting up this fall at the University of California, Berkeley.
The center, one of six new Nanoscale Science
and Engineering Centers funded for five years by the National Science
Foundation (NSF), will harness the skills of theoretical and experimental
physicists, chemists, biologists and engineers to explore the basic
science of nanostructures and then use this knowledge to both create
nanoscale building blocks and assemble them into working devices.
goal is to merge nanotubes and a host of other Tinkertoy-like nanopieces
with organic molecules DNA, proteins or nanomolecular motors
to create sensors or nanomachines small enough to fit on
the back of a virus. Each nanoscale building block ranges from a
few to hundreds of nanometers across(a nanometer is a billionth
of a meter, about one thousandth the width of a human hair).
We cant help getting excited about
the richness and diversity of the science involved and the opportunities
in coupling this to potential applications and making little devices,
said center director Alex Zettl,
professor of physics at UC Berkeley. Zettl is at the forefront of
research on nanotubes, which are extremely strong strands of pure
carbon or boron nitride that can act as electrical conductors or
semiconductors, yet also have interesting thermal and mechanical
properties. To date, he has created nanobearings from a pair of
telescoped nanotubes, a nanomotor with a nanotube as the shaft,
and nanotube-based nanotransistors, chemical sensors and electron
field emitters for flat panel displays.
Well be designing new and modifying
existing building blocks to make them accessible to assembling technologies
to the point where you could order them like you order lumber at
a lumberyard, Zettl said. This is quite ambitious. There
will be a lot of scientific and engineering challenges here.
The advantage of nanoscale devices is not only
small size but also small power consumption the tinier the
device, the less energy required to run it. Some of the devices,
however, will generate energy, either chemically or mechanically
or via light. Many of the building blocks and structures based on
them will first be examined theoretically, with only the most promising
candidates pursued experimentally.
The group consists of 28 researchers from UC
Berkeley, UC Merced, Stanford University and the California Institute
of Technology, and includes not only engineers, physicists, chemists
and biologists, but an economist. While some of the researchers
are synthesizing and characterizing various building blocks, others
will integrate them and map out system properties, and still others
will develop the tools to manipulate and construct new building
blocks and systems. Several researchers will pursue the theoretical
basics and limits of new devices. And Brad DeLong, a UC Berkeley
professor of economics, will explore the social, ethical, legal
and societal issues surrounding nanotechnology in light of historical
technology revolutions. He also will encourage conversations between
nanoscientists and scholars in the social sciences and humanities.
What COINS will do is bring together
faculty and students who can make nanoscale building blocks, predict
and measure their unique properties, and assemble these building
blocks into devices and systems. This, in turn, will lead to revolutionary
new applications in information technology, energy and healthcare,
said UC Berkeleys Tom Kalil,
a special assistant to Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau. Kalil helped
meld the diverse group of researchers into a coherent center that
captured the attention of the NSF.
Researchers in the center will be able to make
advantage of the new research facilities that are being created
by the two California Institutes for Science and Innovation located
at UC Berkeley the Center for Information Technology Research
in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the California Institute
for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3).
Some of the researchers and their projects
* Mechanical engineering professor Arun
Majumdar has developed arrays of nanoscale cantilevers that
flex like diving boards when molecules bind to them. Majumdar, along
with Michael Roukes, professor of
physics, applied physics and bioengineering at Caltech, and other
collaborators will try to turn these into biosensors using lasers
to detect the binding of minute quantities of chemicals.
* Electrical engineering professor Ron
Fearing is working with Peidong
Yang, associate professor of chemistry, and Thomas Kenny,
professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, to create artificial
nanohairs that will adhere to surfaces as do the toe hairs of geckos.
* Carlos Bustamante,
professor of chemistry and of physics, and other researchers are
trying to convert the chemical energy in twisted DNA into mechanical
energy that can crank a nanotube motor. Bustamante is working with
physics professors Michael Crommie
and Steve Louie; Kyeongjae
Cho, professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford; and
theoretical biologist George Oster,
UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology.
* A team led by Majumdar and Ramamoorthy
Ramesh, professor of materials science and engineering and
of physics, is studying the movement of fluids on the nanoscale
in order to develop a battery. This research also could lead to
a novel type of transistor based on nanofluidics.
* Researchers with the Berkeley Sensor and
Actuator Sensor, which 18 years ago pioneered microscale devices
or MEMS (microelectromechanical systems), are transitioning to the
nanoscale with attempts to create devices from nanowires, such as
a vibrating resonator. They include Roger
Howe and Jeffrey Bokor, professors
of electrical engineering and computer science, and Roya
Maboudian, associate professor of chemical engineering.
* Zettl, Bustamante and Maboudian will work
with chemistry professors Jean Frechet
and Paul Alivisatos, as well as
with other collaborators, to camouflage nanomaterials so as to allow
the binding of tailored molecules, proteins and other biological
molecules. These functionalized nanomaterials could
mimic large biological molecules in the body.
A major education and outreach component of
the center involves not only undergraduate education at UC Berkeley
and UC Merced, but also public outreach through the Lawrence Hall
of Science. And decision-makers in Sacramento will be briefed on
nanotechnology and other important scientific issues through a new
program called Capitol Science, organized with UC Berkeleys
Institute for Governmental Studies.
A student group, the year-old Berkeley
Nanotechnology Club, has even been brought into the center
to provide an important point of contact between student entrepreneurs
in science, engineering, business and law to encourage technology
transfer to the marketplace.
The club encourages the formation
of teams of science and engineering students with Haas School of
Business students to develop business plans around some of the new
technologies that will emerge from the new center, Kalil said.
He noted that UC Berkeley has already spun off several nanotechnology
companies, including Nanomix Inc., Nanosys Inc., Quantum Dot Corp.
and Kalinex, Inc.