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DoD grants van der Weide team up to $5 million to build nanotools

Daniel  van der Weide

Daniel van der Weide (large image)

Tantalizing new worlds of science and engineering await those with the tools and knowledge to unlock the doors to the nanoscale. Applications such as real-time protein structure identification, molecular electronics and quantum computation promise to usher in a new industrial revolution and fundamental understanding of our universe. But before these ambitious goals can be realized, scientists and engineers must have new tools and instruments not only to touch, hold and move molecules and molecular-scale objects like nanowires, but also to identify and control them based on their chemical species or function.

With Department of Defense funding of $1 million per year for up to five years, Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Dan van der Weide will work with Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Arts and Sciences Associate Professor Isaac Chuang and University of Delaware Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Dennis Prather to build these nanoprobe tools and instruments.

"This open collaborative effort incorporates both advanced science and comprehensive education," says van der Weide. "Our designs will be made readily manufacturable and available for broad dissemination to laboratories throughout the U.S. and world and we'll demonstrate these tools and their capabilities for chemical analysis, directed assembly and quantum information processing."

Funding for the research comes from what's known as a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. MURIs are designed to provide long-term support for research, graduate students and laboratory instrumentation development that supports specific science and engineering research themes vital to national defense.

Layout of chip body and high-frequency conductors and process
                        details plus top view of nanoscale coaxial photodiode detector

Layout of chip body and high-frequency conductors (left) and process details plus top view of nanoscale coaxial photodiode detector (right, scale bar is 200 nm). (large image)

Recent advances in high-frequency electronics, fabrication techniques, numerical models and novel electromagnetic materials have made possible a new generation of nanotools. Through this MURI, teams will design and construct a suite of nanoprobe tools — both hardware and software — for probing, manipulation and characterization of molecules. For example, the combination of scanning tunneling and atomic force microscopes with magnetic resonance imaging techniques has led to new Magnetic Resonance Force Microscopes that allow three-dimensional atomic-scale chemical mapping.

These tools expand the capabilities of present instruments by enabling electrical, magnetic and electromagnetic (e.g. optical) interfaces to molecules, van der Weide says. This will increase the accessible range of probe frequencies and energies, ultimately allowing direct access to chemical information available in the vibrational modes, electronic configuration, and nuclear spin state of molecules.

Probe developed by the new research initiative

A new Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative will further develop probes like those above to have chemical specificity through spectroscopic sensitivity. (large image)

Equally important to developing advanced tools is seeing them broadly applied. To this end, the project will recruit students well outside the disciplines of electrical engineering and physics. The researchers plan new courses and comprehensive training materials for design, simulation and realization of nanotools to promote understanding and application of the new capabilities both within the MURI structure and as a central part of outreach activities.

"It is our goal to establish a multidisciplinary, multi-university center that will be recognized as the country's nexus of multivalent nanoscale probing tools within five years," says van der Weide. "We hope to become a national resource for Nanoprobe tools for molecular spectroscopy and control."