Small Science
To boldly go where no eye has gone before

tunneling microscope Assistant professor of physics Karsten Pohl with UNH's atomic-resolution scanning tunneling microscope.

A half-century ago, the late physicist Richard Feynman decided that science and technology needed to get small in order to be big, so he offered $1,000—the price of a good used car at the time—for the first working motor less than one sixty-fourth of an inch long. It took some months, but a colleague finally did it, using sharpened toothpicks to push together minuscule gears and flywheels, creating a device so tiny that Feynman was happy to pay up.

Which makes you wonder how much Feynman would have paid to see the devices that associate professor of organic chemistry Glen Miller is trying to build, using components so small that 1,000 would barely equal the width of a human hair.

It's not a simple task. "It's not just the size that's different, but the behavior is so different, too," says Miller. Nanoscale particles can take on behavior best described by quantum mechanics, he says, referring to the strange and even paradoxical idiosyncrasies of particles at the atomic level. "We can't manufacture things at this scale the way we assemble cars. It requires self-assembly," he adds, sitting in his office in Parsons Hall and leafing through computer-simulated pictures of devices a nanometer—one billionth of a meter—long. "It's a whole different way to do manufacturing," he says.

"A whole different way to do things" could be the motto of a loose group of more than a dozen researchers who are moving UNH into nanotechnology, an area so new that nobody's quite sure what it encompasses, and so exciting that it's cropping up in places like "Spider-Man 2," where evil Doctor Octopus gets his powers partly through the use of nanowires.

"Genomics and biotechnology are new but quite well defined. But nanotechnology is a mixed bag of lots of things; nobody's really able to give one single definition," says chemist Jerome Claverie, a research associate professor in the Materials Science Program.

Claverie is part of the "Nano Group" at UNH because his Polymer Nanoparticle Laboratory is taking a variety of polymerization techniques—chemical reactions in which one or more small molecules combine to form larger molecules—and applying them at the nano level.

His lab's goals include creating fire- retardant nanocapsules that can be incorporated into flammable materials without altering desirable properties, and biopolymer nanoparticles built like minuscule cages around medical molecules, controlling the time of their release or allowing them to target specific cells.

Thomas Laue, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, is part of the group because his lab, the Center to Advance Molecular Interaction Science, tackles basic questions vital to the field.

Laue and his colleagues are working to determine the properties of macromolecules, the huge (by nano standards, anyway) conglomeration of particles that will be part of the nanomachines of the future, and to use them to create structure, stability and even self-assembly for such machines.

Associated with many of the labs and projects are undergraduates who view the research as a chance to get hands-on experience in an emerging field.

Michelle Garnsey, a sophomore from Phoenix, Ariz., and Lindsey Silva, a junior from Nashua, N.H., worked for Miller this past summer, trying to synthesize a molecule that has never existed before. It will help create a circular array of benzene rings, which in turn can be stacked together to create a "nanotube" that can lead to nanosized wires and electrical devices.

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