[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 15-Jul-2004
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Contact: Susan Trulove
strulove@vt.edu
540-231-5646
Virginia Tech

New textbook introduces students to the foundations, applications of nanotechnology

Written for students across many disciplines

Blacksburg, Va. -- Scientists and engineers worldwide are taking control of matter at its smallest scale, individual atoms, to create new materials and devices that are making electronics smaller and promise a future with highly efficient flexible solar cells and molecular machinery to augment human systems.

This new field of science, called nanotechnology, has unfolded so quickly that the recent university courses in nanotechnology have had to depend upon compendiums of journal articles as their textbooks or books geared to majors in a specific field.

Now, however, three scientists have pulled together some 60 active researchers across many disciplines to write a broad-based textbook specifically for students. Introduction to Nanoscale Science and Technology, has just been released by Kluwer Academic Publishers (www.wkap.nl/prod/b/1-4020-7720-3). The book was created by James R. Heflin Jr. of the Virginia Tech Department of Physics, Stephane Evoy of the University of Pennsylvania Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering, and Massimiliano Di Ventra of the University of California at San Diego Department of Physics.

Heflin and Evoy created and co-taught a nanotechnology course for seniors and first-year graduate students at Virginia Tech in spring 2001. When Evoy went to the University of Pennsylvania that summer, he introduced the course there. Kluwer saw the course on the Virginia Tech website and approached Heflin in September 2001 about writing a textbook.

"When I said, 'No way do I have the time to write a comprehensive textbook, they suggested I could form a team and invite contributors, so that's what I did," Heflin said. He invited Di Ventra, who was at Virginia Tech at the time, and Evoy to be co-editors.

"We did an outline of topics, then looked for people to write the various chapters," said Heflin. "The authors range from high-profile senior people to young, fast-rising scientists. Most of the contributors are faculty members at universities such as Virginia Tech, the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, MIT, UCLA, the University of Washington, University of Virginia, and Johns Hopkins. There are also contributors from the national labs, such as Oak Ridge, and from industry, such as Hitachi."

"We wanted a broad-based, interdisciplinary book, like the field itself, and we wanted it to be accessible to students in chemistry, physics, biology, and any engineering discipline," Heflin said. "I think anyone with a science or engineering background could learn from this book. Stephane, Max, and I found we learned a great deal ourselves as we edited the submissions. We think the book will also be an excellent reference resource for academic, government, and industry researchers."

The textbook consists of 23 chapters in seven sections, beginning with the fundamentals, how to make and characterize nanoscale materials and an overview of the new classes of materials. Nanotechnology was enabled by the microscopy technologies developed in the 1980s that provide atomic-scale resolution and, later, nanoscale modification of surfaces. The authors describe the top-down approach, or lithography, as "similar to the work of a sculptor carving a face from a block of marble." On the other hand, the bottom-up approach is the assembly of individual atoms and molecules to form complex systems.

The second section of the textbook looks at the new materials that have become the building blocks of nanotechnology the hollow carbon molecules called fullerenes and nanotubes; nanocomposite materials designed to display the properties of their minute components; and collections of small numbers of atoms with altered electronic and optical properties, called quantum dots.

The remaining five sections describe applications. "A major goal of nanotechnology is to develop materials and devices that outperform existing technologies," the editors explain in the text's introduction. Thus there is a section on electronics. Nanotechnology means smaller and faster microelectronic devices, with individual molecules built as electronic components, and even single electron transistors.

A section on nanoscale magnetic systems looks at quantum computing and magnetic storage. A section on nanoelectromechanical systems examines nanomachined mechanical structures and single-chip systems that can sense, compute, and communicate. A section on photonic materials reviews inorganic semiconductor systems and looks ahead to organic, self-assembled materials with a range of applications, such as improved solar cells, modulators for communication systems, and flexible flat panel displays.

The final section provides an overview of nanoscale biological systems, including those that aim to replicate the function of natural structures, membranes, and fluids. Structures for bone growth, implants that won't be rejected, and biomolecular motors to replicate natural mechanical activity are examples.

Each chapter provides an overview, with examples selected for educational value and written in a manner accessible to both science and engineering disciplines. "We avoid jargon and overly-technical terms," Heflin said.

All of the chapters have end-of-chapter questions. In most cases these relate directly to the content of the chapter while other questions require the student to look at reference material or beyond for answers. Instructors can find the solutions on a password-protected website.

To keep the cost down, the book is in black and white. But copies of all the figures most of them in color are included in PowerPoint files on a CD that accompanies each copy of the book. The text will dramatically improve the learning experience, Heflin said.

"We had the green light for the book in the summer of 2002 and we had all the chapters in hand by summer 2003," Heflin said. The book was released in early July 2004.

"The next challenge is the rapid evolution of the field," Heflin said. "In three years, the book will have to be substantially updated to include the latest advances."

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