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Andrey Chabanov
Andrey Chabanov

UTSA, UT Austin lead national nanoscience team

By Kris Rodriguez
Public Affairs Specialist

(Nov. 6, 2007)--The University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Texas at Austin are two of five research universities in a nationwide consortium awarded $1.4 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Team (NIRT) grant will enable researchers to explore ways to concentrate optical energy on a scale of nanometers and develop means to control optical energy for applications in nanoscience and nanotechnology.

Harvard University, Cornell University and Case Western Reserve University are additional members of the consortium.

According to Andrey Chabanov, NIRT principal investigator and UTSA assistant professor of

physics, the team was selected for the competitive NSF grant on its scientific merit and the potentially broad social impact of the proposed research.

"We want to attract college and high school students to participate in nanoscience research in our laboratories," said Chabanov. "As we continue to develop, we plan to send several students from the San Antonio and Austin areas to summer school programs in nanoscience at Harvard's research laboratories."

UTSA's nanoscience research focus involves fabrication and optical characterization of nanostructures for energy concentration in the infrared and visible spectral ranges. The grant will help purchase an atomic layer disposition system that will deposit materials by atomic layers. The equipment will allow for manipulation of materials at a nanoscale level.

Areas that could benefit from focusing small measures of light include the medical field where higher resolution imaging could be used on living tissues to detect diseases. The semiconductor industry could also benefit by making chips smaller through the use of light at a nanoscale level.

"The development of future imaging applications and nanophotonic devices is impeded by light diffraction, which prevents confinement of light in the regions smaller than half of its wavelength," said Chabanov. "We have promising ideas to circumvent the diffraction limit by utilizing polaritonic and plasmonic materials. This might enable super-resolution imaging, which can revolutionize label-free detection of biological and chemical substances."

According to Gennady Shvets, UT Austin associate professor of physics and grant co-principal investigator, the interdisciplinary nature of the work in nanoplasmonics, a new and promising area of science and technology, requires collaboration between scientists and engineers, particularly synthetic chemists, material scientists, and experts in modeling, simulation and optics.

"Our group will be conducting experiments and theoretical modeling on a mid-infrared 'superlens' -- a novel device capable of resolving nanoscale features," said Shvets. "We hope that by the end of the project we can integrate the superlens with a nanofluidic delivery system and image various biological objects in their natural water environment."

Besides introducing high school students to the world of nanoscience, the grant will help support students in UTSA's joint master's and doctoral program with Southwest Research Institute. Since it was established in fall 2005, the program has more than doubled in enrollment to 27 students.

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