SCIENCE & ENGINEERING NEWS
Fayetteville, ARK. — The University of Arkansas and the University of Oklahoma have received funding from the National Science Foundation to establish a center that will attempt to grow some of the world’s smallest structures for use in faster, smaller computers and denser information storage units.
The Arkansas-Oklahoma center joins three other newly funded NSF Materials Research in Science and Engineering Centers (MRSECs) this year: the California Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Virginia.
The NSF has awarded $4.5 million over five years to the UA-OU Center for Semiconductor Physics in Nanostructures. In addition, the U of A and OU will each fund one new faculty position. The states also will contribute funds equal to $2.25 million to match half of the NSF money.
Greg Salamo, UA University Professor of physics, and Matthew Johnson, OU assistant professor of physics, will direct the center.
“The products of modern materials research impact our economy and our everyday lives,” said Thomas Weber, director of NSF’s Division of Materials Research. “The centers address fundamental science and engineering problems in the creation of new materials. They also provide students a highly interdisciplinary education that is prized by potential employers in industry, academia and government.”
NSF currently supports 29 MRSECs with annual investments of $52.5 million. Each one focuses on a specialized area such as polymers, biomolecular, electronic or superconducting materials. They integrate their research and educational programs by involving students in research activities and contributing courses and materials to the academic institutions.
Through this center, founded on results from prior NSF EPSCoR grants at the U of A and OU, physicists, chemists and electrical engineers will work together to uncover the underlying science needed to design and control the growth and behavior of nanostructures, sub-microscopic groupings assembled atom by atom.
Each university will build on its strengths, incorporating expertise in assembled structures, magnetic overlayers, electro-optics, magneto-sensitive materials, nano-patterning structures and low-temperature transport studies.
The researchers will focus on three specific areas. The first research team, led by Salamo, will examine the growth and characterization of nanostructures to understand and control the formation of quantum dots and wires through theory and experimentation.
The second group, led by OU associate professor of physics Michael Santos, will study and attempt to control atomic-level surfaces and interfaces, laying the foundation for the practical use of the structures formed.
The third research group, led by UA physics professor Min Xiao, will model, characterize and fabricate nanoscale devices based on the results achieved by the other two groups.
In addition to the research activities, the UA-OU Center will develop extensive Internet accessible educational materials and training for kindergarten through high school teachers. Ken Vickers, UA physics research professor and director of the interdisciplinary graduate program in microelectronics-photonics, will guide the both the educational and industrial outreach activities of the center.
“Our intent is to bring the excitement of advanced research to all the K-12 students in Arkansas,” said Vickers. “For instance, a student can send us a sample, such as a pebble. The pebble can then be viewed by the student over the Internet at 1000x magnification using a microscope, at 100,000x magnification using a scanning electron microscope, or SEM, and at state-of-the-art nanoscale 2,000,000x magnification using a scanning tunneling microscope, or STM.”
Through outreach, the center will bring its technological innovations to Arkansas. “The use of the Internet to bring leading edge science into our rural classrooms, combined with the center’s nanostructure research attracting the attention of high technology companies, will help move Arkansas another large step forward into being a full player in the new technology-based economy,” Salamo said.