NSF Grant to Aid BC Researchers' Project in Micro-technology

NSF Grant to Aid BC Researchers' Project in Micro-technology

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer


(L-R) Chemistry faculty Assoc. Prof. John Fourkas and Asst. Prof. Scott Miller with Prof. Michael Naughton (Physics). (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Three Boston College scientists are among a research team that has won a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop miniature three-dimensional devices of potentially groundbreaking use in superconductor technology or the synthesis of chemical compounds.

Prof. Michael Naughton (Physics) and Chemistry Department faculty Assoc. Prof. John Fourkas and Asst. Prof. Scott Miller have teamed on the project with Bahaa Saleh and Malvin Teich, professors of electrical and computer engineering at Boston University. The three-year NSF grant began last month.

Drawing on technology used in making Pentium chips for computers, the team is developing a method to make miniature 3D devices of glass that might be as small as a microchip or as large as a cigarette pack and put to a variety of uses.

The microstructures are properly known as Micro Electro Mechanical Systems, or MEMS, said Naughton, who said MEMS technology devised for computers has been used to make chips that measure impact and tell car airbags when to inflate.

The MEMS devices the BC-BU team is developing are different in that they are three- rather than two-dimensional, allowing for a greater range of functions, said Naughton.

Fourkas said the devices could be used in analyzing or synthesizing chemical compounds, with one of the tiny glass boxes functioning as "an entire chemical laboratory." The technology eventually might be used to make a tiny but highly efficient cooling apparatus for superconductors in brain-scan machines, he said.

Associate Vice President for Research Michael A. Smyer hailed the cross-disciplinary partnership.

"This is an important step forward for BC," said Smyer, who is dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, "first, because of the substantive area of research, but equally importantly because of the inter-departmental collaboration it represents. This kind of interdisciplinary work is the hallmark of a maturing research community at BC."

 

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