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IMAGINE - Annual Report 1999
College of Engineering -- University of Wisconsin-Madison


    ultra-thin materials
        that are ultra tough
Mechanics of nanomaterials clean room

Big Letterhen building devices smaller than the thickness of a human hair, it's good to know that the materials chosen for the task will be resistant to cracking. Graduate student Francis Tambwe (right) is conducting research on the mechanics of nanomaterials with his advisor, Associate Professor Donald Stone (left) and Engineering Physics Professor Walter Drugan. The approach combines materials science and theoretical mechanics concepts to explore the fracture properties of nanoscale-multilayered materials. Stone says fracture is the key mechanical behavior issue associated with such materials. The development of novel nanoscale-multilayered materials for use in microelectrical and micromechanical devices that are reliable in practice cannot proceed without a clear understanding of the fracture properties of such materials.

Working in the cleanrooms of the Wisconsin Center for Applied Microelectronics, Tambwe sputters layered metallic composites onto silicon wafers. The silicon is removed, leaving an ultra-thin film composite composed of nickel and copper which is then carefully fractured and analyzed. The goals are to gain an understanding of the key material properties and microscale phenomena that control fracture toughness and an ability to match quantitatively the experimental measurements. The research is funded as a seed project under the National Science Foundation Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) at UW-Madison. The center was established by NSF to carry out research in the formation, characterization and exploration of materials at the nanoscale--the scale of individual atoms. It aims at the fundamental understanding of topics of substantial technological importance and at the communication of this understanding to the public.

Marketing materials science

From superconductors to molten metal, materials science and engineering offers students vast opportunities to contribute to cutting-edge research and industry, yet the department faces a great challenge in recruiting graduate students. "That's because not many students have a clear understanding of what materials scientists do and what opportunities exist within the field," says Professor Richard J. Matyi. "Consequently, relatively few undergraduates choose this major, and graduate programs often find their recruitment efforts targeting related disciplines such as chemistry and physics."

To foster a better understanding of materials science among physics and chemistry undergraduates and their advisors--and to improve the long-range base of students interested in graduate-level study of materials science--the department hosted its first "open house" in 1999. More than 30 juniors, seniors and advisors from chemistry and physics departments at eight Midwest colleges and universities attended.

The event was co-hosted by Michigan Tech and Iowa State University. The Saturday program included a series of brief talks and demonstrations by faculty, as well as lab tours conducted by graduate students. A special highlight was a ductile iron pour, which took place in the college's foundry--a facility relatively few universities have.

Computing with DNA

How many DNA strands can you fit on a surface less than an inch square? Conservatively speaking, about 1,011, says graduate student Susan Gillmor. Gillmor and her advisor, Professor Max G. Lagally , are part of an 11-member multidisciplinary team of chemistry, computer sciences and materials science professors and students working on ground-breaking research that could result in a new kind of computer.

Research teams across the United States and in Japan are building on the work of Leonard M. Adleman from the University of Southern California who first described using bits of DNA floating freely in a test tube to solve a classic problem in mathematics. Sparked by Adelman's work, UW-Madison professors Anne Condon (Computer Science), Robert Corn and Lloyd Smith (Chemistry) and Lagally began collaborating in 1995. "Many of the professors had already been working on aspects of the larger project in their individual research, but tackling a concept as complex as DNA computing requires expertise in a variety of disciplines," says Lagally.

Through modern biology and chemistry, researchers are creating synthetic DNA to solve certain types of computer-busting mathematical problems. "The method is used to help find solutions for nonpolynomial problems," says Gillmore. "That is, the kinds of problems where you are searching for a solution or set of solutions that meet specific criteria and where the pool from which you must find your solution(s) includes a very large set of possible combinations."

Eric E. Hellstrom (Chair)
276 Materials Science and Engineering Building
1509 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706-1595

Tel: 608/262-3732
Fax: 608/262-8353

Copyright 1999 University System Board of Regents

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Date last modified: Monday, 30-Apr-2012 14:17:07 CDT
Date created: 27-Sep-1999

Annual Report 1999 Contents