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Yanxia Cui displays the Study of nanostrip antennas for broadband light absorption, a joint project between the U of I and Zhejiang University in China.
Photos by Mohammad Jaber

This chart displays how a projector image can create a 3D object.

This chart simply displays how the SERS scaffold process works.

So many different research fields incorporate nanotechnology into their products that it’s hard to showcase every aspect of nanotechnology. But since 2003, the U of I has tried to tackle that challenge.

On May 6 and May 7, UIUC hosted the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology Annual Nanotechnology Workshop at both the NCSA and MNTL buildings.

According to the program, the keynote speech, Current state and the future of nanotechnology, at the 2010 workshop was given by Mihail Roco, Senior Advisor on Nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation.

Also UI Chancellor Robert Easter gave welcome remarks. The plenary session was chaired by Rashid Bashir, Director of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory (MNTL), so the event is pretty prestegious.

This year’s workshop showcased UIUC nanotechnology research in manufacturing, medicine, agriculture, environment, electronics, photonics, and computational technology.

Over the years, these CNST workshops have been attended regularly by Uni students and instructors. Some of these students have gone on to undertake interesting but challenging projects on nanotechnology with CNST-affiliated faculty members, so this event isn’t new for Uni.

On May 6, I went to NCSA during lunch for a poster session. Apart from being offered a nice unexpected lunch, I saw an example of how simple nanotechnology could be.

While SERS scaffold molding might sound like a flashy process, it’s pretty basic. One starts out with a silicon wafer with nanoscale teeth like those on a gear. After placing a liquid UV epoxy on the wafer, light can harden it into a replica. Then, one places a PET base over the epoxy and remove the silicon wafer to have a cheap hard copy of the wafer that when coated with silver can work as part of a nanophotonic biosensor.

Unfortunately, not everything is so simple. After school, I returned to NSCA to view more posters. Some where hard to grasp, like the study of Metallic Broadband Quantum Light Absorption. But with the help of Yanxia Cui, who was involved in the study, I could conceptualize the project.

By slicing semiconducting metals into broad but thin strips, light that makes contact with those strips converts to either heat or electricity. But with current solar panels, it can be inefficient, since imperfections on the metal surface might reflect light if the surface isn’t pointing directly toward the light source.

Strips flattened to 10 nanometers could absorb light regardless of where it came from, thus making future solar panels and other devices efficient.

While solar energy might seem within reach, a 3D printer sounds farsighted. But my calculus class actually used one on Campus, and there was an exhibit explaining the process.

We were able to create any functions we wanted, and by bounding a region between two functions and rotating that region around the y-axis, we created a virtual solid.

The printer slices this solid perpendicular to the y axis at small y increments, making the object a bunch of stacked washers. A projector can shine light in the shape of these washers onto a base immersed in slowly photoreactant liquid polyester for 7 to 10 seconds.

After lowering the base in the liquid, new liquid will cover the hard polyester, and the next slice can be shined onto the base of the material. Eventually, the original solid will be crafted on the polyester, and the object can be removed from the polyester and dried.

After school, I returned to NCSA and a demo of NCSA’s project studying of genomes. Bisically, it related different changes in where a gene location in chromosomes for different related species to try to find which genes might cause certain diseses.

On May 7, the poster sessions had ended, and I went with juniors Ziran Shang and Allen Miller to MNTL to listen to four lectures. After a lot of pizza and water went around, we listened to various speakers talk in depth about their projects.

While the first two speeches were technical and hard to understand, the third speech by Uni parent Lizanne DeStefano on nanotechnology awareness was informative and logical.

The premise was that nanotechnology is mostly unknown in education, so the U of I needs to communicate with K-12 Teachers to introduce nanothechnology to their students, as well as stress the importance of proficiency in math and science. The first step is for university students in different fields to learn how to communicate with each other, for nanotechnology spans from agriculture to medicine.

DeStefano identified good college courses through the “EVEN” approach, where good courses display a variety of high quality scientific information. By increasing these courses and majors, universities encourage more students to enter nanotechnology and more businesses will employ nanotechnologists to improve their products.

The last speaker, Irfan Ahmad, 2010 workshop co-Chair, an agricultural engineer and a nanotechnologist, presented some examples of his colleagues and his own research. He related a few projects starting from UIUC; which have made tremendous impact on society, such as Nick Holonyak’s LEDs, and semiconductors.

Irfan also related ongoing projects such as nanophotonic biosensors, scaffold technologies for bone and tissue regrowth, nanomedicine for cancer research, nanotubes for bigger, better soybeans, and studying of crop pathogens by using nanoscale systems, and lab-on-chip technologies.

During the concluding session dean of engineering Ilesanmi Adesida gave best poster awards to graduate students for their work on nanomedicine, nanoelectronics and photonics. Adesida also took pictures with Ziran, Allen, and me.

By the end of the Workshop, I had experienced many new aspects of Nanotechnology I hadn’t really seen before. During my sophomore year, I had done research in agricultural nanotechnology for Chemistry A, but I’ve come to realize that to be a good nanotechnologist, one needs to immerse oneself in a variety of ideas and just be creative.



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