New center to transfer nano innovations to defense industry

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and Defense MicroElectronics Activity (DMEA) along with three University of California campuses have established a new Center for Nanoscience Innovation for Defense, to get university advances in the nanosciences into defense contractors’ hands as soon as possible.

From the University of California:
New center for nanoscale innovation transfers knowledge from universities to industry

The Center for Nanoscience Innovation for Defense (CNID) has been created to facilitate the rapid transition of research innovation in the nanosciences into applications for the defense sector. U.S. government allocations of $13.5 million are being shared equally by three University of California institutions: Santa Barbara (UCSB), Los Angeles (UCLA), and Riverside (UCR), and a second increment is anticipated that will ultimately bring total funding to more than $20 million over three years. CNID is sponsored by two federal agencies: the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and Defense MicroElectronics Activity (DMEA).

UCSB Physics and Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Professor David Awschalom spearheaded efforts to establish the new center whose participants, in addition to the three universities, include the National Labs (particularly Los Alamos), and 10 industrial partners (Boeing, DuPont, Hewlett Packard, Hughes Research Laboratories, Motorola, NanoSys, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Scientific, Raytheon, and TRW).

The CNID effort at UCR is being led by Robert C. Haddon, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Chemical & Environmental Engineering. Haddon was brought to UCR less than two years ago to found the Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) of which he is director. Because the nanotechnology effort at UCR is still in its beginning stages, the CNID funds will be used at UCR to put in place the basic infrastructure for nanotechnology research and to fund projects of relevance to the CNID mission.

“At UCR, we see CNID as part of a larger effort by CNSE that will have nanomedicine as its other thrust,” said Haddon. “This is a thrust in which nanomaterials and nanodevices are brought to bear on biological processes and medical ailments.”

UCSB and UCLA joined together two years ago to form the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI). Under the terms of that initiative fostered by Gov. Gray Davis, the State of California is matching every $2 of non-State support with $1 in-State funding up to $100 million. The CNID monies qualify for the State match. Thus, the California NanoSystems Institute at Santa Barbara and Los Angeles benefits 1.5 times the federal allocation.

By joining with UCSB and UCLA in the CNID effort, UCR expects to rapidly ramp up the facilities and research in nanotechnology and thereby leverage the investment of the state in the California Nanosystems Institute.

The State money has been used principally to build two CNSI research facilities, one at Santa Barbara and one at Los Angeles. The CNID money is being used to equip the facilities with state-of-the-art high-tech instrumentation, and for graduate fellowships, that will enable the University of California campuses to compete for and to attract the best graduate students worldwide to advance nanoscience and nanotechnology research both in universities and also in industrial laboratories. Those students are intended not only to be the nanoscience university researchers of the future but also the nanotechnology talent for high-tech American businesses.

According to Awschalom, the motivation for CNID arose from discussions in federal research agencies for science and defense, which recognized a problem emerging with the diminution of basic research in the nation’s major industrial laboratories, such as Bell Labs and IBM. The latter is, for instance, planning to sell its Data Storage Division – once the focus for much basic science and technology research – to Hitachi.

“Innovation in American industry,” Awschalom pointed out, “has been intimately connected to discoveries in basic science. With the disappearance of basic science research in industrial laboratories, the U.S. government is concerned about the source of future innovation. So it was decided as an experiment to back a group of universities where faculty were experienced both in working with industry and also doing fundamental science in order to form a network with companies to keep them informed of the latest developments in science and technology. It’s all about enabling America’s businesses-contractors for defense technology-to keep abreast of current information.

“Keeping current is not only a matter of information,” said Awschalom, “but also of talent. The companies want to attract the very best science and technology students and hire them. CNID will offer unique opportunities for graduate student researchers to gain industrial research experience through collaborative projects and summer internships. In particular, we will join with the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and North Dakota State University in promoting exchange programs in nanotechnology.

“CNID will act as a conduit,” said Awschalom, “through which industrial partners can recruit highly trained students in the areas of nanoscale science and engineering, and will allow students to obtain contact with ‘real world’ research and development in the private sector.

“This experiment extends to developing people who are doing science and technology of interest to many companies. Broadly speaking, the experiment focuses on knowledge transfer in the form of information and human expertise to U.S. companies-knowledge particularly relevant to national defense,” said Awschalom.

Stu Wolf, the DARPA program manager, points out his desire “that this experiment provide a major focus for research collaborations well beyond the initial partners. The cost of establishing a first-rate research infrastructure is beyond the reach of many institutions that have excellent researchers. It is essential,” he said, “that centers of excellence be established that provide scientists around the country with both world-class facilities and collaborators. I hope this new institution provides a model for the development of other centers so that the U.S. can maintain its scientific and technological leadership far into the foreseeable future.”

CNID Research Focus at UCR

The CNID research program aims at understanding and thereby controlling nanometer-scale systems for advanced technology. The prefix “nano-” means “one billionth,” so a nanometer is one billionth of a meter. The DNA molecule is two nanometers wide, roughly 1,000 times smaller than a blood cell or 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

The research at UCR is focused on the preparation of nanomaterials that will eventually be fabricated into nanodevices when the University Nanofabrication and Clean Room facilities are complete next year. The UCR effort includes the preparation and construction of devices based on multiporphyrins, carbon nanotubes and neutral radical conductors. UCR also has a project designed to study the interaction between carbon nanotubes and neurons – both of these species transport charge over conducting channels that are of submicron dimensions. In recognition of the importance of homeland defense, there is also a strong component of work on sensors that are expected to have defense applications.

The five areas of CNID research that UCR will focus on are: nanoscale electronic devices, spintronic devices – organic and inorganic, multiporphyrin molecular memories, neurons and nanotubes, and sensors.

Nanoscale Electronics Devices:

Nanoscale electronic devices are devices that have at least one representative dimension in the nanometer length scale and they exhibit unprecedented physical, chemical and electrical properties. Research in this area involves the synthesis of nanomaterials with unconventional nanostructures (tailored grain boundaries, interfaces, tunneling effects, enhanced mobility, etc.). The behavior at the nanoscale is not necessarily observable from the larger scales, and most changes are due to phenomena including quantum mechanics, predominance of interfacial phenomena and size confinement. Current technologies for the fabrication of nanodevices include electron beam lithography, molecular beam epitaxy and self assembly.

Cengiz Ozkan, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is focusing on nanoscale devices made from carbon nanotubes and quantum dots, biosensing devices and nanoelectromechanical systems. The challenges his research faces include synthesize of three dimensional nanostructured systems, integration of these nanostructures at larger length scales and forming the interface between the nanodevices and the outside world. “Once it becomes possible to control the size and morphology of the nanostructures and devices, it will then also be possible to enhance the material properties and functionality of the devices” Ozkan said. “As the fabrication process matures and more unknowns are eliminated, this will become a clearer picture.”

Nanoscale electronic devices opened up a new dimension in the area of nano-fabrication with new research avenues being generated by the day. “Moreover, we have new opportunities in the industry, too,” Ozkan said. “The next wave in the silicon valley will be centered around nanotechnology and bio-nanotechnology, including the development of devices and systems for drug delivery, bio-sensing, hybrid nano-bio electronics, and nanoassembly processing for fabricating hierarchical multilayered systems.”

Spintronic Devices – Organic and Inorganic:

Spintronics is an emerging class of electronics that utilizes electron spin for significantly enhanced or fundamentally new device functionality. The existing applications include ultra-high capacity disk drives and computer memories, while long-term goals include spin-based quantum computers. The main challenges of this research are developing new materials and mixed organic/inorganic nanostructures for controlling spin, and developing experimental techniques for measuring the behavior of spin within these structures.

Spintronics is based on inorganic materials and nanostructures such as magnetic metals and semiconductors (such as found in computers, CD players, or hard disks) and atomically-engineered multilayer films. A new frontier is the incorporation of organic (chemically synthesized) materials into spintronic devices due to the possibility of enhanced performance and/or new functionality associated with these materials.

A key thrust of spintronics is to understand how to store the quantum mechanical information of an electron spin for longer and longer times, how to alter it, and how to retrieve it. For this purpose, UC Riverside scientists will be developing new materials and structures, including magnetic semiconductors, ferromagnet/semiconductor junctions, and ferromagnet/organic junctions. To measure the behavior of spin in these systems, Roland Kawakami, assistant professor of physics, is developing new device geometries and ultrafast optical techniques to measure the dynamics of spin on very fast time scales-on the order of picoseconds (one trillionth of a second).

Kawakami expects the following challenges in his research: (1) learning how to improve the transport of spin from one environment to another without loss of information, and (2) learning how to more efficiently change the quantum mechanical spin-state of an electron in a controllable manner. “This means developing hybrid, or mixed, structures with idealized interfaces and novel device structures to test our understanding,” he said. His group will strongly interact with physicists and engineers in the semiconductor spintronics and quantum computation program at Santa Barbara.

The study of spin is a direct manifestation of quantum mechanics. Kawakami noted that it is difficult to predict how spin behaves in very small structures (nanostructures) where distinctively quantum mechanical behavior dominates. “Investigation of spin in nanostructures has led to many surprising discoveries over the past several years, and the creation of new materials and structures promises even more discoveries in the future,” he said. Due to its intrinsic quantum mechanical nature, spin is becoming more and more important in nanostructures where quantum mechanics dominates. “Nothing is stranger than nature itself, and it is exciting to uncover what nature has in store for us,” he added.

Multiporphyrin Molecular Memories:

Porphyrins are molecules that are stable in air and capable of storing charge. UC Riverside scientists are studying how long these molecules retain information in different environments such as air, vacuum, and solution.

“The goal here is to use single molecules to store information,” said Umar Mohideen, professor of physics. He explained that in traditional computers, information storage is accomplished through instruments called capacitors, which take up considerable space.

“Going to single molecule memories would substantially increase the capacity of memory elements,” said David Bocian, professor of chemistry. He noted that it is a challenge to come up with the right measurement technique, to measure the single charge that each molecule stores.

“Single molecule devices, including memories, would be ultimate in achieving high device-densities,” said Mohideen. “But understanding the science of manipulating single molecules is necessary to achieve this promise.”

Neurons and Nanotubes:

The neuron, also called a nerve cell, is a specialized, impulse-conducting cell that is the functional unit of the nervous system, consisting of the cell body and its processes, called neurites. Neurons communicate with one another by forming synapses that transmit information from one neuron to another. At synapse, electrical signals carrying the information are transformed into chemical signals. The extension of a growth cone of immature neurons controls the pattern of synapse formation. Additionally, in a mature neuron, following an injury of processes, the growth cone plays a role in neurite regeneration.

“We are attempting to define whether nanotubes – minute tubes made out of carbon – could be used as prosthetics devices in the process of neuronal regeneration after injury,” said Vladimir Parpura, assistant professor of neuroscience. Parpura’s group and Robert Haddon’s group have collaborated to investigate neuronal growth on multi-walled nanotubes (MWNTs). They have found that MWNTs are permissive substratum, allowing neurite outgrowth.

At present, Haddon and Parpura are exploring (i) whether the organization/patterning of MWNTs substratum could affect neuronal growth and neurite outgrowth and (ii) whether attachment of different chemical to the nanotubes surfaces can affect neuronal growth. “It appears possible to use chemical modification of carbon nanotubes to achieve control of neuronal process outgrowth,” Haddon said. He noted that the challenges are manipulating neuron growth and using carbon nanotubes to electrically stimulate neurons.

“This research could lead to the development of neural prostheses and has potential clinical applications,” Parpura said. “It could help us pave the way for nanomedicine at UC Riverside. It’s not inconceivable that one day a physician might ask a patient, ‘Have you had your nanomedicine lately?'”

Mihri Ozkan, assistant professor of electrical engineering and chemical and environmental enginering, is trying to assemble neurons into array format on a micro- and nano-electronic devices. Her laboratory is focusing on the formation of neural networks using electrical fields and nano-assembly. The applications for this hybrid system includes biosensing and a tool to explore how the brain functions. “For this, the major challenges are keeping the neurons’ environment sterile and viable for long-term analysis, that is, about two to three weeks,” she said. “This work is revolutionary. Working at the interface of biology and nanotechnology is one of the highly emphasized areas of research by many institutions and academia.”

Cengiz Ozkan is designing a biocompatible device platform for the directed assembly of neurons. His group is involved in optimizing the architecture of these and other microfluidic devices and fabricating them using soft lithography methods. “The ultimate goal is to integrate microfluidic distribution, object manipulation, temperature modulation, detection and control electronics on a single chip platform,” he said.


Sensors are used to detect different chemical and biological components that are hazardous or that are responsible for certain diseases. An example is the detection of prostate-specific antigen responsible for prostate cancer. These detections can also illustrate certain biological phenomena such as the hybridization of different DNA strands.

Kambiz Vafai, professor of mechanical engineering, is developing a microcantilever biosensor/biochip that will have large detection capabilities through the use of different microcantilever assemblies. One of his research agendas focuses on collaborating with the UCR nanotechnology team to grow patterns of aligned nanotubes on various substrates by using the chemical vapor deposition (CVD) technique. This will allow us to fabricate biochips or biosensor microelectrodes. His research can be used for early detection of various diseases so that patients can have a better chance of recovery.

Vafai noted that a challenge in this research area is increasing the sensitivity of the sensor so that it can detect lower target molecule concentration. Another challenge is to find receptors for different detected molecules. Still another challenge is to have sensors with minimum manufacturing and operating costs.

Vladimir Parpura is also working on sensors. He explained that a sensor is a device sensitive to a stimulus that transmits a signal to a measuring or control instrument. If light is used as an example of a stimulus, then the eye’s retina functions like a sensor for light, converting light into neural activity. Along with Umar Mohideen, Parpura is exploring different biological structures for use as sensors interfaced with a computer rather than the brain.

“We propose to develop a testing procedure based on nanomechanics that will enable us to detect the presence of botulinum toxin in a specimen, such as human material or potentially contaminated food/water, with sensitivity down to a single toxin molecule,” Parpura said. “Measuring single molecule interactions would, however, be a challenge.”

Besides addressing some of the basic neuroscience questions, Parpura’s research group is also developing devices that will help detect biological weapons such as botulinum toxin. Moreover, his group will develop diagnostic kits to check on future nanomedicine prescriptions. “Let us imagine for a moment that we can develop nanomachines,” he said. “We can then think of ‘plaque mops’ that can be administered to the blood stream in order to remove cholesterol plaques from the walls of the blood vessels.”

These examples of research are representative of the five target CNID areas at UCR, but the areas themselves include many more research projects. What the examples do show, especially taken in conjunction with the much larger research agenda at the California NanoSystems Institute, is the pace and scope of discovery and innovation in nanoscience and nanoengineering. CNID exists as an experiment to bring that knowledge and human expertise to America’s industries for the purpose of defense.

[Note: Professor Awschalom can be reached at 805-893-2121 or by e-mail [email protected]. For information about CNID efforts at UCLA, contact Professor Eli Yablonovich at 310-206-2240 or by email at [email protected]. For information about CNID efforts at UC Riverside, contact Professor Robert C. Haddon at 909-787-2044 or by e-mail [email protected]. To download a graphic depicting nanoscale in comparison to micro- and millimeter scales and a photograph of UCSB’s ultrafast measurement laboratory, go to this press release at www.engineering.ucsb.edu and follow the links to the high resolution version; for help downloading contact [email protected].]

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