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Susan C. Hansen, School of Engineering (650) 725-4219;

MEDIA ADVISORY: School of Engineering to host nanotechnology symposium July 19

Working at the level of individual atoms and molecules, nanotechnology researchers in recent years have built materials and structures from the bottom up and made giant leaps in engineering small worlds. Their triumphs include electromechanical systems that activate airbags and tiny wires for biological sensors and computer chips. Nanotechnology promises improvements in drug delivery, water purification, energy conversion, biochemical detection, transportation and national security. But challenges remain before the technology can be fully developed and commercialized. Exploring those challenges is the topic of a symposium to be hosted by Stanford's School of Engineering on July 19.

"Nanotechnology represents the next frontier in physical science and device development," says Thomas Kenny, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, who with electrical engineer Calvin Quate organized the event. Kenny is an expert in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and micromechanical devices. "It is clear that nature makes regular and efficient use of phenomena and structures on the nanoscale. If man can begin to design and control functionalities on this scale, the opportunities seem boundless. Stanford is leading the development of key components of nanotechnology and is eager to bring its researchers together with the surrounding technical community to talk about the future."

Quate, the Leland T. Edwards Professor in the School of Engineering and a research professor of electrical engineering, agrees: "Nanotechnology is the future -- a future that is assured by the major commitment of funds from governments throughout the world. Nanotechnology will arrive either by shrinking our present technology or by introducing techniques for molecular assembly or by self-replication. The latter is an entirely new route where we first construct molecular assemblies and then scale them to structures with dimensions of nanometers."

How small is a nanometer? It's almost as wide as a DNA molecule and 10 times the diameter of a hydrogen atom, Kenny says. It's about how much your fingernails grow each second and how far the San Andreas fault slips in half a second. It's the thickness of a drop of water spread over a square meter. It's one-tenth the thickness of the metal film on your tinted sunglasses or your potato chip bag. The smallest lithographic feature on a Pentium computer chip is about 100 nanometers.

The keynote speaker will be nanotechnology pioneer Don Eigler of IBM's Almaden Research Center. A specialist in the physics of surfaces and nanometer structures, Eigler earned renown in 1989 for a demonstration in which he spelled "I-B-M" with individual xenon atoms, showing for the first time that it was possible to build structures at the atomic level. His current work explores the potential for atomic-scale logic and data-storage technologies. In 1993, Eigler was named an IBM Fellow, the highest technical honor in the corporation.

Stanford faculty will join Eigler after his speech for a panel discussion of interdisciplinary nanoscale engineering. Panelists include:

Calvin Quate, a pioneer in microscopy. Quate's acoustic microscope enabled imaging of elastic properties with a resolving power similar to that of optical microscopes. In 1985, with Gerd Binnig and Christoph Gerber of IBM, he developed the atomic force microscope, a powerful tool for characterizing surfaces with a resolving power sufficient to image single atoms.

Thomas Kenny, who employs microsensors and sensitive displacement transducers to measure infrared radiation, vibration, magnetic fields and other small physical signals. His group also is developing novel microfabrication techniques for microstructures including thin crystalline cantilevers for nuclear magnetic resonance force detection and X-ray optical elements for solar telescopes.

Kyeongjae Cho, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who uses computer simulations to study the quantum and classical mechanics of nanoscale materials including carbon nanotubes, electronic materials and biomaterials.

Hongjie Dai, an assistant professor of chemistry, who studies solid state and soft biological materials. Ongoing projects include developing new synthetic routes to ordered nanomaterial architectures; electrical, mechanical, electromechanical and electrochemical characterizations at the nanometer scale; and probing the real-space structures and functions of biological molecules.

Kathryn Moler, an assistant professor of applied physics, whose research interests focus on the physics of nanostructured materials and local magnetic probes.

Michael McGehee, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, who makes a variety of organic/inorganic nanostructures with novel electrical and optical properties.


By Dawn Levy

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