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Big project reveals secrets of tiny materials



Orlando Auciello uses this unique system developed at Argonne to detect individual atoms as they land on substrate surfaces. His work involves understanding ferroelectric thin film growth and interface processes critical to ferroelectric random access memories.

A big project studying the characteristics of the very small will provide insight into new materials with unprecedented properties. These small systems can be only a few atoms wide and are measured in billionths of meters, or nanometers.

Argonne researchers are designing the Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM) as one of five nanoscale science research centers proposed nationally by the Department of Energy. Additionally, the laboratory has joined research forces with the University of Chicago in a nanoscience consortium, and more generally with a number of universities and industries in Illinois and elsewhere.

At the nanoscale, the properties of materials change and the disciplines of chemistry, biology, physics, materials science and engineering intersect. The center will bring together experts from all these fields. Nanoscience research could lead to quantum advances in such areas as magnetics, laser technology and molecular electronics. Argonne scientists have been working in this new and growing field since its birth.

Shedding light on nanomaterials

The brilliant X-ray beams of the Advanced Photon Source will provide valuable insight into the basic workings of nanomaterials.

Central to the CNM is a hard X-ray nanoprobe beamline at the APS that will be dedicated to nanomaterials research.

The nanoprobe--an X-ray "microscope"--will permit scientists to determine elemental composition, chemical and magnetic states, and atomic arrangements using advanced diffraction, spectroscopy and imaging techniques at nanometer dimensions.

"This instrument will give us superb images of the nanostructures being produced in the CNM fabrication facilities, allowing researchers to observe the way they form," said materials scientist Brian Stephenson, director of the nanoprobe beamline project.

The hard X-ray nanoprobe will have a resolution of 30 nanometers (about 1/2,000 the diameter of a human hair) and will have the highest spatial resolution of any hard X-ray facility in the world.

DOE approved an Argonne proposal in May 2002 for CNM instrumentation and has added funding for the center and the nanoprobe to the department's fiscal year 2003 budget request.

CNM's building, which will abut APS to the west, is being funded by the State of Illinois. The initial $2 million covers architectural and engineering design. An additional $34 million is expected in the next two years and will pay for construction. The two-story, 100,000-square-foot structure will include clean rooms, laboratories for chemical synthesis and physical characterization, offices and meeting rooms.

The Argonne-University of Chicago Consortium for Nanoscience Research is "a major collaboration allowing the institutions to cross-pollinate their research efforts more efficiently," said CNM director Sam Bader.

The consortium is one of the largest University of Chicago-Argonne collaborations ever funded. It is administered jointly and has as its co-directors Murray Gibson, Argonne's associate laboratory director for the Advanced Photon Source, and Heinrich Jaeger, professor of physics and director of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the university. Its initial $1 million is supporting research in four nanoscience subfields. These are:

Quantum materials: Scientists are working to tailor quantum-mechanical interactions to create advanced materials with unique electronic, magnetic or optical responses. At such small sizes, material properties change from exhibiting classical to quantum behaviors. Scientists from a variety of disciplines will map these properties as they trace the evolution of a material from the microscopic to the macroscopic, from nanometer-sized building blocks to the collective response of two- and three-dimensional arrays.

Bio-nano composite structures: How useful are DNA, protein molecules and organic polymers in guiding the assembly of complex composite structures containing multiple nanoscale particulate domains arranged in controlled nano-architectures? The domains could include metal, oxide or photonic nano-clusters, or carbon nanotubes with critical sensory capabilities. Researchers seek to develop general design principles and synthetic routes for novel applications to enhance nanomaterials design.

Adaptive nanoscale self-assembly: This project seeks to transform the art of nanoscale fabrication into a well-honed science. An interdisciplinary team works to combine, confine and spatially organize nanoscale materials to create new materials with unique properties and applications, especially in the emerging field of magnetic electronics, or "spintronics." Scientists plan to merge chemical and lithographic fabrication approaches and refine an emerging science of template-assisted self-assembly.

Nanophotonics: Determining the science of light propagation in nanoscale structures could lead to tiny optical components once considered impossible. Combining such components to produce all-optical integrated circuits would revolutionize technology. Also, understanding interactions that induce cooperative behavior between nanoparticles could rewrite more than 130 years of optical theory. The goal is to transcend conventional diffraction-limited optics and usher in an era of controlling light on a scale that is less than its wavelength.

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