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Brad Petersen
Director of
Communications
1066 ECE Building
306 N. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 244-6376
bradp@illinois.edu

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Meg Dickinson
Communications Specialist
1068 ECE Building
306 N. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 300-6664
megd@illinois.edu

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Workshop addresses nanotechnology, “homeland security”

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By Jamie Hutchinson
May 15, 2004

  • The UIUC Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST), directed by ECE professor Ilesanmi Adesida, sponsored a workshop May 6-7, 2004, dedicated to terrorism-related research.
  • UIUC researchers from engineering, science, agriculture, and vet med, as well as representatives from industry, discussed their nanotechnology work.

The UIUC Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST), directed by ECE professor Ilesanmi Adesida, sponsored a workshop May 6-7, 2004, dedicated to exploring common interests among UIUC nanotechnology researchers, high-tech private industry, and government agencies flush with taxpayer dollars dedicated for terrorism-related research.

Several ECE faculty and graduate students participated in the proceedings, which were held in the auditorium of the College of Veterinary Medicine. UIUC researchers from engineering, science, agriculture, and vet med, as well as representatives from industry, discussed their nanotechnology work. Representing the government were Celia Merzbacher of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Harvey Drucker of Argonne National Lab, and keynote speaker Mel Bernstein, Director of University Research Programs for the Department of Homeland Security.

ECE Professor Chang Liu addresses the Nanotechnology in Homeland Security Workshop
ECE Professor Chang Liu addresses the Nanotechnology in Homeland Security Workshop

ECE Professor Chang Liu discussed work in his Micro Actuators, Sensors, and Systems Group within CNST. “Unfortunately, this is a time when we need fast, portable chemical sensors to detect disease, virus, and chemical agents,” said Liu, who is developing an integrated “lab on a chip” for just that purpose. Liu showed slides of a prototype the size of a quarter, capable of multistep chemistry using very small volumes and with wireless connectivity for data communication. Liu has also developed a “microfluidics breadboard” on which components can be reconfigured for different chemical procedures.

Another ECE faculty member, Kent Choquette, updated workshop participants on his nanophotonics work. “There’s potential here for making extremely small lasers to be used in sensing,” said Choquette of his efforts at integrating photonic crystals with vertical cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs). A photonic crystal is a periodic dielectric structure with a band gap that forbids propagation of a certain frequency range of light, enabling one to control light with impressive facility. If photonic crystals can be used to confine laser beams, then Choquette predicts the ability to make very small and efficient microcavity lasers, which could be ideal for sensing. Choquette is also working on arrays of VCSELs and detectors, with the laser and detector integrated side by side, so that detection can be carried out on a very small scale.

Micro and Nanotechnology Lab graduate students (left to right) Aaron Danner, Dan Grasso, and Michael Word attended the reception and poster session to present results of their work.
Micro and Nanotechnology Lab graduate students (left to right) Aaron Danner, Dan Grasso, and Michael Word attended the reception and poster session to present results of their work.

ECE Professor David Nicol addressed issues of “trust” in networked information systems. “Trust includes public confidence, security, correctness, reliability, availability, and survivability,” said Nicol. He emphasized the importance of protecting information systems from attack, especially those systems upon which the financial, defense, and electric power sectors rely. “The economy could melt,” he said of the consequences of a successful, major attack on the computers and networks that support U.S. financial institutions, from banks to government agencies. Though Nicol and his ECE computer engineering colleagues don’t deal with the physics of nanotechnology, Nicol did suggest nanotechnology might “provide a means of protecting the physical transfer of secrets,” or even help researchers develop entirely new modes of encryption that would exploit the complexity of small scale.

CNST director Ilesanmi Adesida (left) socializes with mechanical engineering professor Mark Shannon (center) and materials science professor James Economy
CNST director Ilesanmi Adesida (left) socializes with mechanical engineering professor Mark Shannon (center) and materials science professor James Economy

David Kellner briefed the audience on progress in microsensor development at Caviton, Inc., founded in 1998 by ECE alumnus Cy Herring (PhD ’98), who is president of the startup company based in UIUC’s research park in Champaign. Kellner, a UIUC-trained biochemist, is Caviton’s chief operating officer. Caviton sensors employ gaseous microdischarges, developed by Herring and ECE Professor Gary Eden, which produce light from the far infrared to the soft x-ray region. Analysis of the discharge spectra can reveal chemical and biological contaminants in an environment. Kellner said the company’s microdevices can be scaled down to the nanoscale level.

Engineering Dean David Daniel noted that UIUC boasts $150 million worth of equipment for nanotechnology-related research, from the Beckman Institute at the north end of campus to the plant and animal science labs on the south. The variety and quality of research on display at the CNST workshop spoke volumes to Bernstein. “I’ve been on the campus before,” he said, “but obviously it continues to be very impressive with the kind of interdisciplinary research it does and how it brings together groups that aren’t normally together.”

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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