ECE faculty and students doing big things in nanotechnology.
- Adesida pointed to two main goals for the workshop: highlighting nanotechnology as a bridge between various disciplines at U of I, and sharing ideas with industry in order to learn what nanotechnology can bring to the market.
- "Eventually we would like to get industry more coupled to what we are doing," said Adesida. "But first we need to know what we are doing inside the campus, where we can build teams of like-minded people."
The Illinois Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST), directed by ECE Professor Ilesanmi Adesida, sponsored a Nanotechnology Industry Workshop Friday, May 9, at the Levis Faculty Center.
"Eventually we would like to get industry more coupled to what we are doing," said Adesida. "But first we need to know what we are doing inside the campus, where we can build teams of like-minded people."
Those like-minded people might come from ECE and other engineering fields, as well as from chemistry, physics, biology, agriculture, and more. CNST's mission is to use nanotechnology as the bridge for bringing together experts from these fields. For example, nanotechnology could lead to microsensors small enough to be injected into the body for disease detection—if only the right people with backgrounds in microelectronics, chemistry, and physiology can get together to make it happen.
"Many of the technologies we are using actually developed from microelectronics, which developed out of electrical engineering," said Adesida. "So, for many people, we can think of ourselves as the fathers of nanotechnology, at least from the point of view of what is called top-down fabrication—meaning you get the material and you start chiseling away on top of it. But the other people that are very key are the chemists. They know how to synthesize from the bottom up."
Adesida envisions bringing the two fields together at points "where they match," and then pursuing applications in other fields. "Electrical engineers have a big role to play in terms of applications—for example, bringing in photonics to look at things in biology. There's a whole spectrum of things. And let's not forget, information from results has to be analyzed, and that's signal processing—another key area for us. So we need to get the electrical engineers working with people from the south part of campus."
Judging from the comments of participants at the workshop poster session, that goal for the workshop was met. "We've actually been talking with a couple businesses here about being able to pattern at such a small level," said ECE graduate student Michael Word of his work with electron beam nanolithography. "They're surprised and saying 'That's exactly what we want to do.' And we're showing them we can do it for you. It's a great way to network."
Word says he and other electron beam nanolithography researchers based in the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory are looking to expand beyond the usual semiconductor applications. "We're bringing this technology … into working with smaller molecules in a biological sense, like DNA and different types of organics. It's a very promising technology that lends itself to the life sciences, and we're making a lot of connections."
Other ECE poster presenters included graduate student Dan Grasso on photonic devices, postdoc Amy Oldenburg on nanoparticle optical contrast agents for medical imaging, professor Chang Liu on microelectromechanical systems, and graduate student Frank Shi on the wafer bonding technique for nanodevice fabrication.
The keynote speaker for the workshop was Dr. James S. Murday of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, who spoke on the future economic impact of nanotechnology. Murday cited the potential of nanotechnology to enable new generations of computers, sensors, and composite materials. He warned that China, Japan, and Europe pose serious challenges to U.S. leadership in the field.
U of I officials in attendance, including College of Engineering Dean David Daniel and Provost Richard Herman, emphasized the campus' commitment to nanotechnology. "It really does touch many areas of our campus," Herman told the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, adding that nanotechnology could spur economic development through spinoffs of the research.