CU-Boulder Receives DARPA Grant To Establish Nanotechnology Research Center

Published: Sept. 12, 2006

A new research center focused on the controlled synthesis of nanostructures and their reliable integration into micro- and nano-electromechanical systems has been established at the University of Colorado at Boulder with a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The center will be known as the DARPA Focus Center on Nanoscale Science and Technology for Integrated Micro/Nano-Electromechanical Transducers, and is being hosted by the department of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

The center has secured $1.53 million for its first-year research expenditures through the DARPA grant, industrial sponsorships and matching support from CU-Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The research expenditures are expected to grow annually and total more than $10 million in six years.

GE, Ibiden USA, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and WiSpry have signed on as industrial sponsors, and other companies are being invited to join later.

The center expects to manage more than 20 cutting-edge research projects involving faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from CU-Boulder, NIST, Northwestern University and Columbia University. NIST is the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

CU-Boulder Professor Yung Cheng Lee of mechanical engineering, who will be the director, said the center will play an important role in enabling nanotechnology to achieve broad technological impact.

"We expect that integrated micro- and nano-electromechanical systems will rival, and perhaps even surpass, the impact of integrated circuits," Lee said.

So far, most nano-electromechanical systems being developed in research laboratories around the world have been single-unit demonstrations and cannot be manufactured reliably on a large scale, according to Lee.

To fully integrate nanotechnology into commercial products such as cell phones and automobiles, and in defense applications, the CU-Boulder center will focus on achieving a more complete understanding of the science and technology of carbon nanotubes and various nanowires for reliable design, fabrication, assembly and packaging.

"Nanotubes and nanowires have highly coupled mechanical, electrical, optical and chemical behavior that depends on their structures and environmental and loading conditions," Lee said. "As part of our research, we will be developing a universal testing platform to measure these characteristics. Based on the understanding, we will synthesize repeatable, predictable and reliable integrated micro/nanosystems."

Nanotubes and nanowires are the building blocks of nano-electromechanical systems and have shown superior performance on a scale 100 times smaller than micro-electromechanical systems. A new nanotube-enabled pressure sensor recently demonstrated by CU-Boulder mechanical engineering Professor Victor Bright, who is a co-investigator in the center, resulted in a 10-time improvement in sensitivity, 10-time reductions in device size and power, and a 100-time improvement in temperature stability.

Research on nanowires by Martin Dunn, CU-Boulder professor and chair of mechanical engineering, and atomic layer deposition coating chemistry and processing methods developed by Steven George of CU-Boulder chemistry and chemical engineering also will be part of the center's investigations.

Other co-investigators in the center will include Norman Sanford and Pavel Kabos from NIST, Rodney S. Ruoff and Dmytro Dikin from Northwestern University and James Hone from Columbia University.