Saturday, 27 July 2013

Gadget genius

Gadget genius
Patterns of two giant surfactant
samples in thin-film state. Source:
Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences.
University of Akron researchers have
developed new materials that
function on a nanoscale, which could
lead to the creation of lighter
laptops, slimmer televisions and
crisper smartphone visual displays.
Known as "giant surfactants" – or
surface films and liquid solutions –
the researchers, led by Stephen Z. D.
Cheng, dean of UA's College of
Polymer Science and Polymer
Engineering, used a technique known
as nanopatterning to combine
functioning molecular nanoparticles
with polymers to build these novel
The giant surfactants developed at UA
are large, similar to macromolecules,
yet they function like molecular
surfactants on a nanoscale , Cheng
says. The outcome? Nanostructures
that guide the size of electronic
Nanopatterning, or self-assembling
molecular materials, is the genius
behind the small, light and fast world
of modern-day gadgetry, and now it
has advanced one giant step thanks
to the UA researchers who say these
new materials, when integrated into
electronics, will enable the
development of ultra-lightweight,
compact and efficient devices
because of their unique structures.
During their self-assembly, molecules
form an organized lithographic
pattern on semiconductor crystals ,
for use as integrated circuits. Cheng
explains that these self-assembling
materials differ from common block
copolymers (a portion of a
macromolecule , comprising
manyunits, that has at least one
feature which is not present in the
adjacent portions) because they
organize themselves in a controllable
manner at the molecular level.
"The IT industry wants microchips
that are as small as possible so that
they can manufacture smaller and
faster devices," says Cheng, who also
serves as the R.C. Musson and
Trustees Professor of Polymer
Science at UA.
He points out that the current
technique can produce the spacing of
22 nanometers only, and cannot go
down to the 10 nanometers or less
necessary to create tiny, yet mighty,
devices. The giant surfactants,
however, can dictate smaller-scale
electronic components.
"This is exactly what we are pursuing
—self-assembling materials that
organize at smaller sizes, say, less
than 20 or even 10 nanometers,"
says Cheng, equating 20 nanometers
to 1 /4,000th the diameter of a
human hair.
An international team of experts,
including George Newkome, UA vice
president for research, dean of the
Graduate School, and professor of
Polymer Science at UA; Er-Qiang
Chen of Peking University in China;
Rong-Ming Ho of National Tsinghua
University in Taiwan; An-Chang Shi of
McMaster University in Canada; and
several doctoral and postdoctoral
researchers from Cheng's group,
have shown how well-ordered
nanostructures in various states, such
as in thin films and in solution, offer
extensive applications in
The team's study is highlighted in a
pending patent application through
the University of Akron Research
Foundation and in a recent journal
article "Giant surfactants provide a
versatile platform for sub-10-nm
nanostructure engineering" published
in Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences of the United
States of America.
"These results are not only of pure
scientific interest to the narrow group
of scientists, but also important to a
broad range of industry people," says
Cheng, noting that his team is testing
real-world applications in
nanopatterning technologies and
hope to see commercialization in the
More information: PNAS (110,
10078-10083, 2013) http://

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