A Very Special Microscope
NSF Grant Gives Young Standouts in Nanotechnology
a Sophisticated New Tool

“The instrument is an important component in modernizing undergraduate and graduate courses in this field, which is critical for advancing the nanotechnology workforce in the region and beyond.”

Professor Shizhi Qian

It is called a scanning probe microscope, or, simply a SPM, and this particular state-of-the-art model can perform simultaneous multiple probes of almost unimaginably small samples. It also promises to give a big boost to the work of a talented, young group of micro- and nanotechnology researchers at Old Dominion University.

The purchase of the instrument was made possible by a $310,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) with the daunting title of “Acquisition of Four-Probe Multiview 4000 AFM, NSOM and SPM.” The investigators receiving the funding are Shizhi Qian, assistant professor of aerospace engineering; Roland Cooper and David Gauthier, assistant professors of biological sciences; Julie Hao, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; and Ali Beskok, the Batten Endowed Chair in Computational Engineering and professor of aerospace engineering.

Mohammad Karim, the ODU vice president for research, said the university’s Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology and College of Sciences “are committed to increasing educational opportunities and research in the promising fields of micro- and nanoscale science and engineering,” and that this new instrument will advance these goals.

NSF support for acquisition of the instrument, which was developed by Nanonics Imaging Ltd., will be augmented by $133,000 from the university. The instrument was scheduled to be shipped to campus in late spring 2010.

Commitment to Studies at the Nanoscale
The grant proposal written by the five faculty members notes that each of them recently joined ODU and that their presence on campus, together with their startup and seed funding of nearly $1 million, prove the university’s commitment to research and development at the nanoscale.

“Expecting huge markets in the future, local and federal governments, educational institutions, military, and industry have greatly increased their research and development in micro/nanotechnology,” the proposal states. “It is predicted that micro/nanotechnology will bring revolutionary changes in many areas needing a more advanced next generation of engineers and scientists. ODU has recognized the educational and workforce development needs in this emerging field and has been building a micro- and nanoscale science and engineering academic base by hiring new faculty and supporting research in these areas.”

Qian, who led the team of researchers seeking the grant, said the project enhances ODU’s contribution to scientific and educational progress in the rapidly evolving fields of nano- and microtechnology, and moves the university forward as a scientific and intellectual resource in Hampton Roads. “The instrument is an important component in modernizing undergraduate and graduate courses in this field, which is critical for advancing the nanotechnology workforce in the region and beyond,” he explained.

Nanotechnology involves work done at the nanoscale level between 1 and 100 nanometers.
A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, while a micrometer or micron is one-millionth of a meter.

Currently, ODU has facilities to fabricate and characterize micro-electrical-mechanical systems (MEMS) and microfluidic devices, and to characterize colloidal properties, materials and biological samples. But the facilities now in use essentially restrict researchers to work in microscale science and engineering. The new instrument will open education and research opportunities at the nanoscale, including the development of several nanotechnology courses.

With scanning probe microscopy, the sample being studied is scanned line by line, not imaged all at once. The near-field scanning optical microscopy and atomic force microscopy noted in the grant’s title are specific SPM techniques.

Useful in Studies from Malaria to Micropumps
The grant will promote a broad array of work currently being done by Qian and the other investigators. This includes fundamental research on projects that could lead to new ways to detect toxins released by terrorists, or to new strategies against malaria.

Qian conducts research in micro- and nanofluidic systems as well as electrokinetic and colloidal transport. Since joining ODU in 2008 he has been involved in two research projects that received startup funding from the university’s Office of Research. One project involves continuous insulin infusion for humans and the other aims for the development of a novel nanoporous electro-osmotic micropump for use in lab-on-a-chip applications.

Cooper, who has been at ODU since 2003, conducts research on the lethal human malaria parasite’s susceptibility to drugs. The work includes proteomic, microscopic and genomic techniques, which identify parasite proteins that regulate the response and resistance to drugs such as artemisinin. He currently has support from the National Institutes of Health for his work.

Gauthier studies diseases of aquatic organisms, with an emphasis on mycobacteriosis in fin fishes such as striped bass. The researcher, who joined ODU in 2008, has research underway to characterize species and strains of the mycobacteria that have a pathogenic impact on fish throughout the world, and some that are pathogenic to humans, as well. He also is studying how mycobacteria survive in the environment outside their vertebrate hosts, typically in gel-like biofilms that can be found on bodies of water. The new instrument will help him study how these biofilms provide microenvironments amenable to bacterial replication and survival.

Hao’s expertise centers on micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), the devices that can be no larger than a thumbtack, but can perform a function such as sensing the presence of minute quantities of a biological or chemical substance in the atmosphere. Her groundbreaking work with MEMS has won her two recent NSF grants, one of which involves the development of a new type of MEMS resonator. Such a device could be adapted with the help of the nanochemical writing capability of the Multiview 4000 for sensing various chemicals and biological species. Hao’s work with the instrument also will include collaborations with two other ODU researchers, John Cooper in chemistry and Michael Stacey of the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics, to develop educational and research programs in her field. She came to ODU in 2006.

Unique Experiments on Heat Transfer
Beskok, who joined the university in 2007, directs the Batten College’s Microfluidics Laboratory. His current NSF-supported project, “Interface Resistance and Thermal Transport in Nano-Scale Confined Liquids,” is directly related to the acquisition of the new instrument. With the device, he and his research team will be able to do unique experiments on heat transfer in nanofluids, which are fluids seeded with nanoparticles. Nanofluids seeded with metallic particles exhibit increased heat transfer properties and have been cast as new-age coolants for tiny electronics components.

The Multiview 4000 is distinguished by its ability to create a high-resolution computational image of a sample, while at the same time manipulating or performing other tests on samples. It uses both a sample and a tip scanner, and enables the use of up to four probes, as well as optical fibers, nanopipettes or nano-tweezers, that operate in close proximity to one another and can be controlled independently with nanometer precision.

Beskok said his research group plans to conduct unique heat transfer experiments using the multi-tip probes, such as generating a heat pulse in the vicinity of a nanoparticle fixed onto the surface of a secondary probe, and measuring its temperature rise as a function of time. “Such experiments, after being correlated with our theoretical predictions, can allow us to understand the interface resistance between the fluid and the particle surface,” he said. “Increase in the interface resistance will reduce the benefits of seeding coolants with nanoparticles.”

Added malaria researcher Cooper, “The scanning probe microscope will potentially allow us to investigate the effects the antimalarial drugs have on parasite membrane integrity and composition. This instrument will also prove useful to determine how such drugs affect the structure of hemozoin, a crystalline by-product of the hemoglobin digestion by the parasite. Inhibiting the process of hemozoin formation is lethal to the parasite, and is a principal target of several key drugs, yet the dynamics of drug-hemozoin interactions are not well understood.”

Quest Summer 2010 • Volume 13 Issue 1