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NSEC Facilities

Our NSEC houses and manages a variety of microscopy, spectroscopy, thermal analysis, and mechanical testing equipment, as well as multiple computational clusters. These resources are fully accessible to all NSEC researchers. Growth and expansion of our NSEC facilities has been steady over the past eight years.

The physical generation of a wide range of nanoparticles and their in-situ modification is enabled by a state-of-the-art gas condensation chamber available in the NSEC laboratories at RPI. This chamber is able to produce metal, semiconductor, or ceramic particles ranging from 5 to 100 nm in diameter with lognormal size distributions. The versatility of the system is derived from the multiple methods of evaporation of the source. Chemical or biological treatments may be applied immediately after the nanoparticles are produced, before they agglomerate. Particles may be collected in various forms, solution, powder, or pellet, for desired applications. For example, infiltrating a close-packed matrix of silicon-coated polystyrene microspheres with Ge nanoparticles made with this equipment can lead to inverse opals with tailored optical properties.

Also, our NSEC has extensive facilities for the synthesis of carbon nanotubes (multi-wall and single-wall) using two methods: chemical vapor deposition (CVD) and arc discharge. Several CVD furnaces with various carbon precursors and different catalyst materials for nanotube growth are available. These furnaces have capabilities such as substrate selective growth and controllable length growth with automated feed rate control for the production of variable length nanotubes. The arc discharge method is capable of producing bulk quantities of multi- and single-wall nanotubes with abilities to incorporate defects/doping and modification of nanotube surfaces during the production process. A high vacuum furnace for controlled growth of nanotubes and nanofibers is equipped with an automated gas handling system as well as a residual gas analyzer with 1-300 amu mass detection sensitivity.

An important NSEC facility at RPI is our proximal probe laboratory, which plays a role in all of our thrusts. This atomic force microscope (AFM) instrument (Digital Instruments Multimode IIIa) has diverse capabilities including: tapping and contact (regular, lateral, and current imaging) mode imaging (useful for imaging surface morphologies of materials including multiphase systems such as nanocomposites); thermal imaging (capable of real-time imaging samples up to 250oC and taking viscoelastic measurements); making electrical measurements using Pt/Cr conducting tips (both current and potential mapping, useful in a wide variety of systems including biological nanostructures); making magnetic force measurements (capable of measuring magnetic moments of molecules on the nanoscale); fluid imaging to observe folding and refolding kinetics of various proteins in solutions; and performing nano-indentation. The instrument also has a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and a high resolution scanner attachment that can be used to measure molecular level I-V characteristics.

A new render farm was installed for the production of our Molecularium® IMAX-type large-format show. Last year this facility was upgraded to double its computer power and now includes more than 63 terabytes of disk, 40 terabytes of back-up tape, 300 CPU cores, and 650 gigabytes of RAM. The main disk arrays are interconnected by fiber and have two dedicated 10 gigabit Ethernet connections to the cluster switch. A myriad of commercial, open source, and custom written software packages, running on multiple operating systems, drives the rendering and compositing processes. This new system, funded by a generous gift from a Rensselaer alumnus, constitutes a leap forward for the Molecularium project and also significantly advances scientific visualization capabilities in the NSEC. The establishment of the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI) at RPI with funding from IBM and New York State has greatly increased our computational cababilities. This center hosts one of the world’s most powerful university-based supercomputer consisting of a series of IBM BlueGene/L systems with a total of 32,768 PowerPC processors. The NSEC researchers extensively use the possibility of highly parallel computations provided by CCNI that in some cases reduces the computation time by a factor of 30 when compared with conventional computer clusters.