Jan. 9, 2003
Vol. 22 No. 7

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    University, Argonne Lab to launch a flagship nanoscience program

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    The image above was captured by a transmission electron microscope and shows a monolayer of 6-nanometer-diameter gold nanocrystals, which self-assembled from a droplet of colloidal solution.
    The University and Argonne National Laboratory have launched a joint $1 million Consortium for Nanoscience Research to serve as a flagship science program focused on emerging science and technology and as an incubator for the next generation of nanoscience research.

    “We can achieve something together in a way that we couldn’t do individually, and that’s why we have this consortium,” said consortium Director Heinrich Jaeger, Professor in Physics and the College. “It is an effort that goes way beyond what would be possible on an individual-investigator basis.”

    The consortium will, for example, offer joint hiring opportunities to the University and Argonne, said Murray Gibson, Associate Laboratory Director for the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne and until last month, a consortium co-director.

    “I think that, to our mutual benefit, we can hope to attract the very best people in the world in nanoscience,” Gibson said.

    While Gibson will remain a key player, Sam Bader, Senior Scientist at Argonne and Associate Director of the Materials Science Division, assumed Gibson’s role and became the Deputy Director of the consortium in December.

    The consortium was established under the direction of Robert Zimmer, the former Vice President for Research at the University and Argonne, and Hermann Grunder, Laboratory Director at Argonne. The consortium thus far consists of 12 Senior Fellows and several postdoctoral associates from the University and Argonne. Consortium scientists currently conduct research in four thematic areas: quantum materials, bio-nano composite structures, adaptive nanoscale self-assembly, and nanophotonics.

    The quantum materials group proposes to create a new generation of materials at the nanometer scale–approximately the width of a double strand of DNA–that possesses unique electronic, magnetic or optical properties. An example of this would be hybrid materials, combining two dissimilar materials, such as superconductors and magnets, to create an entirely new material.

    Senior Fellows leading the research in this area are George Crabtree, Senior Physicist and Director of Argonne’s Materials Science Division, and Thomas Rosenbaum, the James Franck Professor in Physics and the College and Vice President for Research and for Argonne.

    In the second area, bio-nano composite structures, scientists will combine organic systems such as DNA with inorganic systems such as small metal oxide nanoparticles. In this line of research, biomolecules may serve as scaffolding to anchor inorganic particles for use as sensors or as catalysts for further reaction.

    “There’s tremendous interest across a wide spectrum of areas in exploiting such technology, all the way from basic research to medical applications,” Jaeger said.

    Senior Fellows leading the research in this area are Tijana Rajh, Chemist in Argonne’s Chemistry Division, and Laurens Mets, Associate Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and the College.

    In the third area, adaptive assembly of nanostructures, researchers will pursue a new approach to the fabrication of structures at the nanometer scale. The conventional approach involves chiseling ever-finer structures out of a given amount of material. The limitation to this approach is the size of the “chisel,” Jaeger said. The scientists in this group instead will attempt to build up larger structures from smaller building blocks using materials that can assemble themselves into the structures of interest.

    “It’s a bottom-up approach. The building blocks that are proposed to be of use here are on the molecular level or possibly at the atomic level, arranging atoms and arranging large molecules,” Jaeger said.

    Senior Fellows leading this research theme are Sam Bader, Senior Physicist of Argonne’s Materials Science Division, and Steven Sibener, the Carl William Eisendrath Professor in Chemistry and the College.

    In the fourth area, nanophotonics, researchers will attempt to transmit light through conduits that are smaller than the wavelength of light. Achievement of this feat would advance the possibility of producing optical computing devices of unprecedented speed and memory.

    “One very promising, newly emerging direction is based on ideas that use collections of nanoparticles as the conduit,” Jaeger said.

    Senior Fellows leading this research theme are Gary Wiederrecht, Chemist in Argonne’s Chemistry Division, and Norbert Scherer, Professor in Chemistry and the College.

    Further benefiting the consortium will be Argonne’s new Center for Nanoscale Materials. The center will be a major user facility equipped with the instruments needed to synthesize and characterize nanomaterials, Gibson said. The state of Illinois has promised to contribute $36 million for the center’s construction. The U.S. Department of Energy will contribute a comparable amount for state-of-the-art equipment, including the powerful Nanoprobe Beamline at Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source. While the search for a center director is currently underway, Argonne Deputy Laboratory Director Beverly Hartline will serve as the center’s acting Director, while Sam Bader will serve as the center’s Scientific Director.

    With this combination of personnel and facilities, Jaeger said, “we are in an excellent position to put ourselves on the map at the forefront of nanoscience research.”