How small can you make a machine? The size of a fine Swiss watch? Or of a Pentium chip? Or perhaps the size of a molecule? Nanotechnology is the study of features the size of a few atoms and the manipulation of such features to make useful systems and devices. The field of nanotechnology, which is taking place at the intersection of chemistry, physics, biology, and electrical engineering, is attracting a great deal of attention. There is hope that it can extend the miniaturization of electronic, optical, and mechanical systems that have had such a tremendous economic impact in recent years. At the same time, scientists and technologists hope that it will lead to new and interesting physics that can serve as the basis of entirely new technologies.
Among the most exciting applications for nanotechnology are those which dramatically reduce the size and power drain of computing and memory-storage elements in computers, improve the sensitivity of chemical and biological sensors, and increase the efficiency of light sources. A nanoscale memory storage device, for example, might work by moving just a few electrons from one point in a nanocrystal array to another, costing almost no power at all. Moreover, the area occupied by each nanoscale storage device would be 10,000 times smaller than the tiny grains of magnetic materials currently used to store information on microdiskettes and computer hard drives. Computers based on single-electron transistors would not only draw less power, but also be smaller and faster than existing technology. Nanoscale biosensors could enable the detection of a single molecule with a faster response time than existing technology. Nanometer-sized inorganic nanocrystals are currently being studied for solid-state lighting that will facilitate the transition from inefficient incandescent light bulbs to more efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
Vanderbilt research on nanometer-size structures has moved to a new level with the creation of the Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering with core facilities in Biomolecular Nano-Structures, Nano-Carbon, Nano-Optics, Nanocrystal Fabrication, Silicon Integration, and Electron Microscopy. The state-of-the-art equipment suite that includes electron beam lithography, focused ion beam (FIB) and pulsed-laser deposition (PLD) enables the imaging, metrology, and fabrication of high resolution nanoscale devices.
- Fabricate and study optimal properties of ordered arrays of metallic nanocrystals
- Produce nanostructures for energy conversion
- Fabricate and characterize monochromatic and white-light LEDs
- Build sensors, surface coating and integrated electrical systems for microelectromechanical systems
- Fabricate and characterize biosensors for the detection of DNA, toxins, and other nanoscale materials