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UTSA/UT lead national nanoscience consortium

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. The Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Team (NIRT) grant is designed to explore ways of concentrating optical energy on a scale of nanometers and develop means of controlling optical energy for applications in nanoscience and nanotechnology.

NIRT Consortium member institutions include The University of Texas at San Antonio, The University of Texas at Austin, Harvard University, Cornell University and Case Western Reserve.

According to Andrey Chabanov, NIRT Principal Investigator and UTSA assistant professor of physics, the team was selected for the very 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 on sending several students from the San Antonio and Austin area to summer school programs in nanoscience at Harvards research laboratories.

UTSAs nanoscience research focus involves fabrication and optical characterization of nanostructures for energy concentration in the infrared and visible spectral ranges. To conduct the research 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 how 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.

Gennady Shvets, associate professor of physics at UT-Austin and grant co-PI, emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of the work in nanoplasmonics, a very new and promising area of science and technology requiring collaboration between scientists and engineers, specifically, 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.

In addition to introducing high school students to the world of nanoscience, the grant will also help support graduate and doctoral students enrolled in UTSAs joint masters and doctoral program with Southwest Research Institute. Since established in fall 2005, the doctoral program has 27 students enrolled, more than double its initial enrollment.


Contact: Kris Edward Rodriguez
University of Texas at San Antonio  

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