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Posted: June 4, 2009
Novel mapping process for tracking nanoscale structures
(Nanowerk News) Carnegie Mellon University's Katayun Barmak, with the help of Microscopy Lab Supervisor Thomas Nuhfer, is one of the first materials scientists worldwide to successfully map polycrystalline structures on a nanoscale.
This mapping ability has come at the same time that Barmak, a professor of materials science and engineering, and her colleagues found that physical properties of some structures change at the nanoscale.
"This is a revolutionary research finding that will forever change the way we map polycrystalline structures of all the materials we use daily in our lives," said Greg Rohrer, head of Carnegie Mellon's Materials Science and Engineering Department.
Polycrystalline structures are made up of three-dimensional patterns of atoms, ions and molecules called crystals, which take on a range of orientations in space. It is the homogeneous solid crystallites and the boundaries between them that Barmak is mapping.
"I'm on the verge of harnessing the 'Wild West' as I drill down to analyze crystalline materials a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human eyelash," Barmak said.
Her research, for example, shows that the minute grain boundaries of crystalline materials can obstruct the flow of an electric charge when subject to an electric field.
"Because we can now monitor these changes in structure and form at the nanoscale level, we can begin to see how metallic elements like copper can be tailored to be an even better conductive agent," said Barmak, who is also a member of the university's Materials Research, Science and Engineering Center.
Industry analysts report that better understanding of nanoscale structures can help make superior materials that are more economical to produce.
"I can see major impacts from our work for a whole host of engineered systems that harness nanotechnology," Barmak added. She said some examples of those important systems include silicon chips and data storage systems, photovoltaics and fuel cells, and medical devices and drug delivery systems.