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May 27, 2005 • Volume 13 Number 18

Lab Boosts Physics Research

A nanotech paper accepted for publication this summer in a premier physics journal offers a harbinger of research to come from a new electron microscope lab in Higgins Hall, according to Physics faculty members.

In the paper to be published next month by the American Physical Society journal Physical Review Letters, Prof. Zhifeng Ren (Physics) and colleagues demonstrate that the interior as well as the exterior walls of double-walled and multi-walled nanotubes conduct electrons.

The research, conducted using a $1.5-million electron microscope in the new Higgins lab, is significant for what it reveals about the conductive properties of ultra-small structures composed of carbon atoms that are seen having valuable applications in electronics. At 70,000 times smaller in diameter than a human hair, a carbon nanotube is lightweight and flexible, stronger than steel, and much smaller than a silicon chip.

"The nanotube is a candidate to replace silicon conducting devices in the next generation of electronic devices," said a co-author, Research Assoc. Prof. Jianyu Huang (Physics), director of the electron microscope lab in Higgins.

"But you have to understand the physical properties of these nanotubes before they can be used," he said. "This paves the way for their application.

"I really believe this is a breakthrough. It's really difficult to get access to those inner walls."

Co-authors on the paper are doctoral student Shuo Chen, post-doctoral researcher Sung-Ho Jo, Assoc. Prof. Ziqiang Wang and Visiting Prof. Daxin Han of the BC Physics Department, and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Gang Chen and Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering Mildred Dresselhaus of MIT.

The research paper is expected to be one of the first of many to come from the Higgins electron microscope lab that has been equipped with support from the University and grants from the Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation. A grand opening reception for the lab was hosted by the physicists on May 18.

"We will write many papers out of this machine," said Ren. "Perhaps three or four places in the world have this combination of equipment."

The University put some $2 million toward the electron microscope lab and an adjoining scanning-tunneling microscopy facility in Higgins 031 used by Asst. Prof. Vidya Madhavan (Physics), according to Ren.

-Mark Sullivan

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