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Don’t Handle With Care

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Dickerson and Hasan

Dickerson and Hasan

In a world where some items—SUVs, houses, the size of the national debt—seem to be growing at an alarming pace, Arts and Science physicists have their eyes trained on particles so tiny they make atoms look elephantine.

Nanotechnology is the study of these tiny particles—specifically those that meas-ure 100 nanometers. (Before you ask, a nanometer is one billionth of a meter.) Uses for nanotechnology range from innovations in medicine to energy production and electronics.

Assistant Professor of Physics James “Jay” Dickerson heads a team of researchers developing a durable nanoparticle film. Nanoparticle films could be used in semiconductor fabrication, drug delivery systems, and even flexible television and computer displays. The problem is that the film is quite delicate and has been known to disintegrate at the slightest touch.

To combat the delicate nature of the film, scientists use polymers to strengthen them, but this complicates the process and makes the film more expensive.

Now Dickerson and his colleagues have created freestanding nanoparticle film without the additional polymers. The key is the inclusion of a sacrificial layer that is used to initially bind the particles, but is then dissolved. Their findings were published recently in a paper in the journal Chemical Communications.

“Our films are so resilient that we can pick them up with a pair of tweezers and move them around on a surface without tearing,” Dickerson says. “This makes it particularly easy to put them into microelectronic devices, such as computer chips.”

One application for the nanoparticle film might be flexible television screens. These ultrathin, ultraflexible screens could be folded and bent repeatedly without crack-ing or breaking. You could literally carry a television around in your pocket, take it out to watch your favorite show and then fold it up and put it away. Flexible computer screens are in the works as well. Beyond the cool factor is that electronics made with this technology will use less energy.

The paper was coauthored by graduate student Saad A. Hasan and Dustin W. Kavich, PhD’08.

photo credit: Daniel Dubois

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