Nanotechnology: Moving Beyond Small Thinking

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The recently published National Geographic special issue titled “100 Scientific Discoveries That Changed the World,” leads off with a research program that began in 1997 when we funded a Northwestern University researcher by the name of Chad Mirkin. AFOSR took a chance on a process called Dip-Pen Nanolithography (DPN), and what Dr. Mirkin himself noted, was “a far out idea and a paradigm shift in scanning probe microscopy,” but indeed, proved to be an idea that changed the world.

Highlighted in the Journal of Science, January 1999, DPN is a technology that builds nanoscale structures and patterns by drawing molecules directly onto a substrate. This process was achieved by employing an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), the tip of which has the innate capability to precisely place items and draw lines at the nanoscale level. The AFM was basically an extremely small paint brush. Mirkin’s fundamental contribution was recognizing that it could be used to print structures on a surface through materials, rather than through an energy delivery process–the latter being the approach taken by all previous researchers.

DPN has led to the development of powerful new nanofabrication tools, ways of miniaturizing gene chips and pharmaceutical screening devices, methods for making and repairing photomasks used in the microelectronics industry, and high-throughput methods for discovering structures important in biology, medicine, and catalysis. Since 1997 Dr. Mirkin has authored over 480 manuscripts, holds over 440 patents and applications, and is the founder of four companies, which specialize in commercializing nanotechnology applications.

Professor Chad Mirkin recently spoke at two AFOSR events on the following topics A Chemist’s Approach to Nanofabrication: Towards a “Desktop Fab” and Nanotechnology: Moving Beyond Small Thinking.

A Chemist’s Approach to Nanofabrication: Towards a “Desktop Fab”

Nanotechnology: Moving Beyond Small Thinking

Shaping Computer Science – Who is Air Force Basic Research Video

Today’s AFOSR funded computer science research takes form in many different programs at public and private research facilities throughout the world.

In this video, you’ll be introduced to these researchers doing revolutionary computer research – from Dr. Nandini Iyer’s work to help pilots effectively process complex acoustic scenes to UCSB Prof David Awschalom’s work to build a new type of electronics technology through spintronics and quantum computing research.

Transparent Material Breakthrough: One of Time Magazines Best Inventions of 2011

Drs Ali Aliev, Yuri Gartstein and Ray Baughman, of the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), have succeeded in producing what is technically referred to as the “mirage effect from thermally modulated transparent carbon nanotube sheets,” or, as some in the popular press have termed it: an ‘invisibility cloak’.”

The key to this breakthrough are carbon nanotubes–the successful result of another ongoing AFOSR-funded UTD program–that have the ability to disappear when rapidly heated. In reality, this effect is due to photothermal deflection, or a mirage effect, quite similar to what a driver may experience when a highway in the distance becomes so hot that a section of the road may look like a pool of water. This is due to the bending of the light around the hot road surface wherein the driver actually sees the reflected sky in place of the pavement. The carbon nanotubes create much the same effect when heated.

This unique characteristic of nanotube sheets may one day result in applications such as photo-deflectors and for switchable transparency materials, as well as their use as thermoacoustic projectors and sonar.


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