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Nanofoam structures

Rensselaer researchers have discovered a simple method for rapidly creating different shapes of carbon nanotube structures. The new method is based on a commonly used chemical vapor deposition method, resulting in foamlike structures that are stable and elastic. The foams could be used in a variety of applications, including new microchips and wherever strength and flexibility are needed, from repairing bone joints to reinforcing carbon-fiber-based aerospace products.

Defining New Interfaces
Rensselaer’s traditional interdisciplinary approach to research also gives the Institute another advantage. “We have tremendous strength in terms of the depth of our scientific knowledge in the various areas of physics, chemistry, materials, and biology,” Siegel says, “but also a tremendous level of interaction that takes place among the group—and that’s actually quite remarkable.”

An example is the interface of medicine and the physical sciences, which is becoming a key focus of many research efforts at Rensselaer. “As an engineering school, we are trying to define new interfaces, and one of the interfaces is nanomedicine,” Nalamasu says. “The nano toolbox is a unique medium to be able to understand this particular interface.”

Nanosprings

A team of researchers have developed a new process to make flexible, conducting “nano skins” based on field emission for a variety of applications, from electronic paper to sensors for detecting chemical and biological agents.

The materials can be bent, flexed, and rolled up like a scroll, all while maintaining their ability to conduct electricity, which makes them ideal materials for flexible electronics, according to the researchers.

Nanosprings

Shekhar Garde, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Pawel Keblinski, associate professor of materials science and engineering, discovered that heat may actually move better across interfaces between liquids than it does between solids, which could have immediate practical application for cancer therapy. “Scientists are developing cancer treatments based on nanoparticles that attach to specific tissues, which are then heated to kill the cancerous cells,” Keblinski says. “It is vital to understand how heat flows in these systems, because too much heat applied in the wrong spot can kill healthy cells.”

To create artificial bones and other biomaterials, scientists need specially designed scaffolds that can direct how cells grow into body tissues. Siegel and his colleagues are conducting a study that could provide much-needed insight into this process at the intersection of biotechnology and nanotechnology. They are examining the behavior of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which are derived from bone marrow, on a number of ceramic materials that could be used as scaffolds. They have found that the size and chemistry of the nanoparticles that make up the ceramic materials has an impact on the way MSCs stick to the surfaces, and that one protein is primarily responsible for this impact: vitronectin, one of the major adhesive proteins found in human blood. This fundamental knowledge will help tissue-engineering researchers design the next generation of biomaterials for orthopedic applications, according to Siegel.

Macroscale Effects
Rensselaer researchers are collaborating with industry to bring this technology to the marketplace. “We are not only developing the fundamental science and engineering concepts related to nanotechnology, but in real time we are exploring the utility of these materials to solve important problems in different disciplines,” Nalamasu says. The Center for Integrated Electronics, for example, is contributing to the science and technology of interconnects, semiconductor devices, architectures, and packaging, by accelerating the production of the next generation of micro- and nanoelectronic devices. The research focuses on discovering solutions to help the semiconductor industry transcend the roadblocks that will come from shrinking device dimensions below 100 nanometers.

And nanotechnology researchers of all fields received a major boon with the establishment of the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI)—a partnership between Rensselaer, IBM, and New York state to create the world’s most powerful university-based supercomputing center (see page 7). The $100 million project will provide a platform for researchers to perform a broad range of computational simulations, from the interactions between atoms and molecules up to the behavior of the complete device. These simulations will employ new computational tools that are becoming increasingly central to scientists’ efforts to manipulate matter at the atomic level. In much the same way as cars and planes are designed with computer models before they are built, the tools will allow researchers to build simulations of new nanotechnology-based products.

“The computational and intellectual resources at CCNI will be made available to companies from New York state and across the globe,” Nalamasu says. “The goal of this center is to define a new engineering design paradigm that will provide chip manufacturers the ability to predict device performance through integrated nanoscale simulation and fabrication.”

Related Links:
Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center for Directed Assembly of Nanostructures
Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI)

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