The University of Maryland MRSEC grants ended in September 2013 after 17 years of successful operation. This site remains as a history of the center, but will not be actively maintained.

Undergraduate/Graduate Programs

2005 REU Projects

Combinatorial investigation of functional materials

Throughout the history of mankind, scientists and engineers have relied on the slow and serendipitous trial and error process for materials discovery. This process allows only a small number of materials to be examined in a given period of time. The combinatorial approach provides a means to quickly investigate a large number of previously unexplored compositions. High-throughput synthesis and characterization techniques are implemented to carry out highly integrated search-and-discovery processes.

The result is that we can rapidly identify new materials with enhanced physical properties. To date, we have used the combinatorial library method to discover new dielectric materials, ferromagnetic shape memory alloys, luminescent materials and magnetoelectric materials. REU students will participate in the design, synthesis and characterization of combinatorial libraries in search of novel functional materials.

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Near Field Scanning Microscopy of carbon nanotubes

The near-field scanning optical microscope (NSOM) is a new optical tool for fabricating and probing systems at the nanometer length scales. NSOM achieves a high-spatial resolution by using a sub-wavelength aperture that is typically an aluminum-coated tip of a pulled fiber-optic cable. We have developed both room temperature NSOM and a low temperature NSOM with spatial resolution as fine as 20 nm. The NSOM can be used to image or the measure the spectral properties of samples at these high spatial resolutions. The REU project is focused on using the NSOM to probe the photoconductivity of carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes are structures formed of carbon in the form of molecules with diameters as small as 20 nm and as long as millimeters. These structures show incredibly high electrical conduction. Mapping the photoconductivity of a carbon nanotube in various device configurations will help us understand how these remarkable materialh2s work and could lead to new devices that work on the nanometer scale.

Directed evolution of semiconductor surfaces through spatial patterning and growth or sublimation.

The continued drive toward devices of ever-smaller dimensions and simultaneously higher densities is expected to exceed the capabilities of existing photolithographic and direct-write technologies within the next several years. Continued progress will require a new paradigm. One of the most promising is that of directed self-assembly, i. e. inducing a spontaneous ordering of atoms or molecules into useful structures using some sort of spatially modulated field or template. The experiments use both epitaxial growth of ultra thin semiconductor films on patterned substrates and sublimation from patterned substrates to control the structures that develop. This project will include both involvement in atomic force microscopy measurements of the structures, and analysis of the results.

Soft Materials Containing Carbon Nanotubes or Disklike Nanoparticles

This project will explore soft gel-like materials that contain nanoparticles. Nanoparticles such as multiwall carbon nanotubes or disklike synthetic clay particles have attracted a great deal of interest recently. We propose to embed these particles in polymer hydrogels and examine their large-scale assembly into ordered or aligned structures. The resulting hydrogels will have unusual optical properties due to the ordered nanostructure arising from the particles. The swelling or shrinking of these hydrogels in response to heat or light will influence the particle alignment and order, and thereby their optical properties. The correlation between optical properties and nanostructure will be a focus of this project and we will explore applications for these hydrogels as sensors and actuators.

Electronic properties of 2-D nanomaterials derived from transition-metal dichalcogenides

Two-dimensional (2-D) nanoscale materials with thickness less than few atoms exhibit unusual physical properties which are interesting for both fundamental and applied science. We are investigating the electron transport properties of 2-D nanomaterials derived from transition-metal dichalcogenides which can be semiconductors, superconductors, and charge-density wave materials in their bulk form. Our scientific goal is to observe the influence of the dimensional confinement on the electrons on edge states, superconductivity, and charge density wave formation. We are also studying the electronic properties of interfaces between different 2-D nanomaterials in order to develop novel methods to fabricate functional electronic devices. The REU student will be directly involved with materials preparation, characterization using scanning electron microscopy and scanning probe microscopy, device fabrication (electron-beam lithography), and electrical measurements of devices at cryogenic temperatures.

Dynamics of biomaterials

Carry out a systematic experimental study of the response of a biomaterial (could be biopolymer networks or real cells) to multipoint mechanical perturbations generated by a holographic laser tweezer array a new instrument that permits the application of forces in multiple points on micron scales. The perturbations will be used to elucidate quantitatively signaling pathways in cells and mechanical responses in cells and model biopolymer networks. This work will include image analysis and may include modeling, depending on student background.

Electrical and Magnetic properties of Magnetic Oxide based epitaxial junctions

Over the past decade there is a rapidly growing demand from the high-tech industrial sector for novel devices with significantly higher speed and density as compared to the current state of the art, and more importantly, for devices with new and enhanced functionalities. In view of the unique and distinct character of the spin variable associated with magnetism, and its peculiar and multifunctional coupling with other properties, the field of magnetism is poised to make a great headway into the new domain of high technology. This field is broadly characterized as Spintronics and provides fertile grounds for interesting innovation and discovery. Amongst the various projects underway in our laboratory an interesting one deals with the development of some magnetic oxide based interface devices involving Schottky (Metal-Insulator) or p-n junction contacts. We study the I-V characteristics of such devices as a function of temperature and magnetic field. Our preliminary results show a considerable promise for such junction based device concepts in the context of the emerging field of oxide electronics. There is new interesting physics and materials science to be learnt here.

Optical Spectroscopy for Biologically Inspired Materials

Research in our group involves the development and utilization of ultrasensitive fluorescence spectroscopy techniques for detecting and studying single molecules and single particles. The primary goal of this research is to use these techniques to gain information that is unattainable with traditional spectroscopic methods. Specific examples are: 1) the resolution of conformational distributions for complex biological assemblies such as protein/DNA complexes which assemble into unique shapes and offer great potential as nanoscale building blocks for new materials 2) dynamics and energetics of protein-surface interactions for increasing our understanding of biologically active/compatible materials. Projects for undergraduate researchers include: (1) Chemical modification and characterization of sample substrates through surface chemistry techniques including silanation and self-assembling monolayers. (2) Fluorescence labeling and characterization of biological molecules including phospholipids, model peptides and proteins. (3) Imaging and spectral analysis of samples using ultrasensitive laser induced fluorescence spectroscopy. (4) Instrument development and computer programming.

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