Nanotechnologies and Nanophotonics (NANO)

NANO Manipulates Matter and Energy at the Molecular Scale to make things better.

Finding Food Pathogens: Rafael Gomez, a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering, detects dangerous micro-organisms in food with a microchip.

“Nanotechnology, or the growing ability to precisely manipulate matter and energy at molecular scales, will enable better computers to design better machines and also allow us to build better machines through better materials and more functionality,” says Dan Hirleman, the William E. and Florence E. Perry Head of the School of Mechanical Engineering. “Some of the machines will be nanomachines or nanobots, others will be large machines scaled up from nanoscale devices and components.”

Purdue’s NANO initiative emphasizes interdisciplinary research among scientists and engineers with a goal of developing transferable technology. In pursuing this vision, Purdue is making an unprecedented investment—approximately $100 million—in personnel, facilities, equipment, and programs.

  • The Birck Nanotechnology Center (BNC) is scheduled to open in 2005. The $54 million center will integrate Purdue’s research and technology transfer efforts in nanoscale science and engineering. The interdisciplinary scope of the center is extensive—bringing together aeronautical, agricultural, biomedical, chemical, electrical, industrial, materials, and mechanical engineers with scientists from biology, chemistry, physics, and computer science as well as researchers from agriculture, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine. Altogether, nearly a hundred Purdue faculty from 25 different departments will join efforts.
  • The Institute for Nanoelectronics and Computing (INAC), which will be housed in the BNC, has a 10-year mission to develop molecular computing devices en route to trillion-device integrated computer systems with intelligence, adaptability, and fault tolerance for use by NASA in future space projects.
  • The Network for Computational Nanotechnology, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and centered at Purdue, will address key challenges to building integrated nanosystems by linking theory, modeling, simulation, and computation with experimental work. New computational tools will be shared with the research community through a unique web-based computing system.
  • The Center for Sensing Science and Technology, supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, focuses on research and development in the detection of chemical and biological agents and explosives, as well as homeland and military installation security.

Purdue Distinguishes Itself within the Field

Making Nanotubes: Tim Fisher (right), a mechanical engineering professor, along with Matt Maschmann, a Ph.D. student, is developing techniques to grow and utilize carbon-based nanomaterials, such as carbon nanotubes, to cool computer chips that generate very high heat fluxes, ensuring their reliable performance.

“Precise and fast manipulation of matter and energy at the molecular scale requires tools and facilities that are very different from those we needed in the past,” says Hirleman. “For example, an invisible 50-nanometer diameter dust particle is a mere annoyance in manufacturing an airplane, but it becomes a cold-blooded killer in a nanomanufacturing process. Nanotechnology research and education require vastly different laboratories and equipment.

Purdue will distinguish itself in the crowded nanotech field by:

  • Focusing on nanosystems integration and the conversion of nanoscience into nanotechnology;
  • Emphasizing products and applications at the interface among biology, biomedical engineering, and nanotechnology;
  • Building the most integrated interdisciplinary teams;
  • Incorporating technology transfer, assessment, and marketing;
  • Creating tight links between theory, modeling, simulation, and computation on one hand and experimental work on the other; and
  • Developing the finest facilities to support research and technology transfer.

“In the past it has been easier, though not necessarily advisable, to segregate the components into mechanical, electrical, etcetera, and not worry about the interactions until near the end of the design process,” Hirleman says. “But nanotechnology-enabled building block components will themselves be inherently interdisciplinary. Hence, teams that design and manufacture systems will increasingly involve physicists, chemists, biologists, along with engineers from the very beginning.”

“Purdue’s goal is to focus on a few things and be the best in the world at those—to really make a difference,” says Hirleman.