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Living large in the nano world

Lehigh is the only university this year to receive the maximum number of grants possible from two National Science Foundation nanotechnology research programs.

Lehigh researchers received two grants each through NSF’s Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Team (NIRT) and Nanoscale Exploratory Research (NER) programs.

Nationally, NSF awarded 37 NIRT grants and 48 NER grants this year. NIRT grants run four years and provide $1 million or more in funding. NER grants run one year and provide $100,000. Several schools received two NIRT or two NER grants, but only Lehigh received two of each.

Derived from the word nanometer (nm), which is one one-billionth of a meter, nanotechnology refers to the creation of materials and devices through the control of matter at the atomic and molecular level. Many materials possess chemical and mechanical properties at the nanoscale that are dramatically different from the properties they possess at the larger, or “bulk” scale.

Lehigh is uniquely equipped to lead in nanotechnology research: It is the only university in the world with two aberration-corrected transmission electron microscopes, which can determine the chemical identity of individual atoms in crystalline materials. This enables scientists and engineers to create new uses for materials by tailoring their physical, mechanical, electronic and chemical properties.

Lehigh’s recent NIRT and NER grant recipients are:

Israel Wachs, the G. Whitney Snyder Professor of chemical engineering, received a NIRT grant to use nanocatalysts to counter the harmful effects of pollutants on the environment. Wachs will collaborate with Profs. Christopher Kiely of Lehigh’s materials science and engineering department, Michael Wong of Rice University’s chemistry and biological and chemical engineering departments, and Matt Neurock of the University of Virginia’s chemical engineering department.

The researchers are seeking to convert nitrogen oxide, or NOx, from power plants into nitrogen and water, to reduce NOx from car engines, and to turn NOx and sulfur oxides from petroleum refineries into harmless substances.

Wachs, who directs Lehigh’s Operando Spectroscopy Lab, holds 33 patents, including one for a novel catalytic process that converts paper pulp mill pollution into formaldehyde and other useful substances. In 2002, he received the Clean Air Excellence Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for his work on pollution reduction.

Anand Jagota, Slava Rotkin and Kiely are collaborating with researchers from DuPont, MIT and Cornell on a NIRT project that involves the wrapping of single-walled carbon nanotubes with single-stranded DNA.

Jagota, professor of chemical engineering and director Lehigh’s Bioengineering and Applied Life Sciences Program, is principal investigator on the project. Rotkin is assistant professor of physics. Kiely directs the Nanocharacterization Laboratory in Lehigh’s Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology. Co-principal investigators on the project are Ming Zheng of DuPont and Prof. Yet-Ming Chiang of MIT.

James Gilchrist, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and Kiely received an NER grant to develop an adhesive that self-assembles into nanowires as it cures. Gilchrist, the project’s principal investigator, is seeking to send electronic pulses through a solution of metallic nanoparticles and an adhesive or polymer, causing the nanoparticles to line up in a particle-by-particle chain. One of his goals is to improve fabrication techniques for nano- and microfluidic devices while lowering particle content of adhesives.

Filbert Bartoli and Svetlana Tatic-Lucic received an NER grant to create ordered arrays of nerve cells by culturing them in chains along nanochannels in a substrate. Arranged in this fashion, the cells can be probed to analyze the effects of various agents, enabling better therapies for neurodiseases and improved biosensing capabilities and applications.

Bartoli is Chandler Weaver Chair of electrical and computer engineering, and Tatic-Lucic is assistant professor in the department.

For a related article, see DNA: The wrap on carbon nanotubes.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Tuesday, October 24, 2006

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