Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Rising Nanotech Star

Philip V. Streich, an unassuming and polite 18 year-old, represents the future of nanotechnology research in this country.

I met Philip last year when he was a high school junior, at the 2008 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Atlanta. I led a team of judges who were selecting the best chemistry projects for special awards from the American Chemical Society. Although I did not speak with Philip during the two days of judging, I had this opportunity at the awards ceremony. Our team of judges unanimously awarded him the first place ACS award of $4000 for his research proving that carbon nanotubes can be dissolved in certain organic solvents such as N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone. He did this using light-scattering instrumentation he assembled from spare parts he found in the lab of his mentor, James Hamilton at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville. Oh, did I mention that Philip is home-schooled on the family’s 400 acre farm? As it turns out, we were not alone in our awe of his work and accomplishments-- Philip won additional awards totaling nearly $18,000 in 2008.

The previous year, as a sophomore, he was one of the three top winners of a $50,000 prize at ISEF 2007. He continues his streak this year, taking 3rd place in the Intel Science Talent Search (another $50,000 prize) and being selected by his fellow finalists for the Glenn T. Seaborg Award. These are just some of the many accolades he has won over the last several years. Not bad for a young man who is also a member of the 4H club, plays guitar and piano, and is treasurer of the Democratic Party of Grant County.

Finally, Philip is co-founder and co-owner of Graphene Solutions LLC, a company formed to commercialize the results of his research. You can find out more about Philip and his research from his Wikipedia entry, or from an interview on the Discovery channel, or by watching this YouTube video.

With Philip Streich entering the world of nanotechnology research (he will attend Harvard in the fall), the outlook is bright.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Ribbon is Cut…

…and now the work of building a world-class, state-of-the-art nanotechnology research facility really begins.

The speakers (Prof. Jim Meindl, GT President G.P. Peterson, USG Chancellor Erroll Davis, and Mr. Bernie Marcus) at last Friday’s dedication ceremony for the Marcus Nanotechnology Building all spoke about the opportunity that this facility, with its forward looking and flexible design and room for considerable expansion, offers to the state, region and nation. We are all cognizant of the potential for nanoscience and nanoengineering to fundamentally alter a vast array of businesses including manufacturing, energy, consumer electronics, and healthcare. If we consider this effort a journey, then the hardest part, in which we are currently engaged, may be in “packing our bags” and “preparing the itinerary”. While there has been considerable preparation to get us to this point, the work of outfitting the Marcus facility with the right tools and staffing it with experienced staff is our current challenge.

The other observation I wanted to make about the dedication ceremony was the wide variety of individuals (numbering over 200) who attended. These interested parties represented Georgia Tech administration and faculty, donors and potential donors, building design and construction, equipment vendors, state of Georgia, NRC users, and NRC personnel. We all had our own reasons for attending, but it was interesting in speaking with people to understand their perceptions of nanotechnology and the potential for its application in science and business. At various times I discussed how nanotechnology is and will continue to impact biomedical research, such as the detection and treatment of cancer. Others were interested in applications in electronics, and the role graphene may play as the next generation successor to silicon. Finally, each of the speakers were unanimous in their desire that Georgia Tech and the state of Georgia play a preeminent role in the nanotech economy, with the NRC as a center for research, education, and commercialization. This is a lofty goal, requiring collaboration and coordination between disparate organizations, some existing and some needing to be established.

I also want to congratulate the staff of the NRC for all of their efforts that culminated in Friday’s celebration. Now let’s get to work.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

When Art Meets Science

The great thing about blogging, as I am discovering, is that it is a really easy medium to rapidly convey thoughts of the blogger (me). So please indulge me as I briefly share my recent excursion into the world of art via nanotechnology.

Today’s (April 21, 2009) Nano@Tech speaker was Michael Oliveri, an Associate Professor of Art at the University of Georgia. If there ever was a renaissance man, Michael could audition for the role. In his one hour with us (one of the largest turnouts in recent memory), he touched on agriculture, biology, chemistry, cosmology, materials science, and space science (in alphabetical order), among his many topics, to illustrate (pun intended) what he termed curiosity-based research. More specifically, Michael was here to discuss his ongoing investigations and research (and I use this term specifically) into using nanotech imaging tools (SEM) for creating artistic renderings of natural and synthetic materials. As Michael communicated, however, art is not just a pretty picture, but context plays a role, and some of his most awe-inspiring images are of “landscapes” created from SEM photographs. I show one example here, but you can see more at Michael’s website. The discussion later turned to biomimicry and nature-inspired design.

A short description of Michael Oliveri’s collaboration with Prof. Zhengwei Pan (UGA, Physics) can be found in the article “Postcards from Innerspace” in Chemical and Engineering News (November 24, 2008, Volume 86, Number 47, pp. 40-41).

Finally, aside from the fascinating images and dialogue, I was just as delighted by the interactions among artists, engineers, and even biologists, as I view the Nano@Tech setting as an opportunity to foster creative thinking and innovation via interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration. As I showed Michael some of the tools we have available in the Pettit building, and the vastness and scale of the Marcus building (and gallery), additional opportunities for interaction became obvious. I know all scientists and engineers think their work is elegant and beautiful, but it is nice to have independent confirmation of this as well.

Friday, April 17, 2009

More Air Time

Bernie Marcus, co-founder of the Home Depot and namesake of the Marcus Nanotechnology Building, was on the airwaves this week talking up nanotechnology and Georgia Tech.

Squawk Box with Bernie Marcus (CNBC Cable Networks - April 15)

Home Depot Founder Talks Nano (Fox Business - April 15)

Mr. Marcus will also be on the Georgia Tech campus next week, Friday, April 24, for the dedication and grand opening of the Marcus building.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nano on the Air

I guess it counts as a positive thing that I got the phone call from my non-scientist wife, who was driving our kids to school and listening to NPR, as she usually does. When she reached me in my office, she was excited as she recounted the story she heard on WABE about the intersection of nanotechnology and biotechnology occurring at Georgia Tech. I consider her random hearing of this news story among many others as a sign that nanotechnology news is reaching the general public (as much as NPR listeners are considered the general public), highlighting the positive impact it can have for the economic well-being of Georgia and the United States.

The WABE report was the second installment of an eight-part series, BIO on my Mind, produced in advance of next months Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) conference here in Atlanta. I had planned to write more (and still do) about BIO when it occurs, but this timely plug is too good to pass up. In addition to background information from Kevin Martin (NRC Assoc. Director) and Greg Book (NRC Asst. Director for External Users), the story highlighted the work of Swaminathan (Swami) Rajaraman. In particular, Swami, who recently defended his ECE doctoral thesis, discussed how his multi-electrode array for electrophysiology can be used for cellular analysis with applications to pharmaceutical research. It was also mentioned that he is now working with start-up Axion Biosystems which is commercializing this research.

There is a considerable effort to position Georgia as a home for biotechnology, and it is gratifying that nanotechnology is considered to play a significant role in this. Just wait until next week (April 24), when the dedication of the Marcus Nanotechnology Building provides a new model for the interdisciplinary research required in this endeavor.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

You Say Micro, I Say Nano

It was Shakespeare who said “What is in a name…?”, but it was Louis Armstrong who famously sang about potatoes and tomatoes. What I am trying to get at (in my attempt at humor) is the name change that is currently occurring in nanotechnology research here at Georgia Tech.

If you have only recently become acquainted with nanotechnology at Tech, you may not realize that the Nanotechnology Research Center is a new addition. For more than 20 years, the open fabrication and characterization user facilities at Georgia Tech (which have operated as part of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network for the last 5 years) have been known as the Microelectronics Research Center (MiRC). With the opening of our newest facility, the Marcus Nanotechnology Building, this entity will now be known as the Nanotechnology Research Center (NRC). The NRC consists of both facilities, the original Pettit Microelectronics Building and the new Marcus building, which will operate under a unified management. This does not indicate any radical shift in the focus of the research that goes on here, as the drift away from traditional microelectronics to the broad and multi-disciplinary nanotechnology (which George Whitesides calls “a word, not a field”), has been occurring for some time. The NRC will continue with state-of-the-art nano- (and micro-) scale fabrication, but will now include additional capabilities for life sciences and materials research. More on this in later posts.

Along these same lines, the existing MiRC websites (both MiRC and the Grover cleanroom) that you are used to, as well as the more general NanoTech website which catalogs nanoscale research at Tech, can all be found linked at the new NRC website This is currently just a start, and as we move forward a more thorough integration of this web information will occur.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nanotechnology and the Social Sciences

I consider myself somewhat of a generalist. By that, I mean that I like to study all aspects of a particular topic that I am interested in. I am not always successful, and sometimes I run the risk of spreading myself too thin. In other words, I tend to know just a little about a lot of things, rather than become an expert in one small niche. Nanotechnology is an area that is ripe for this sort of approach, because it is so interdisciplinary by its very nature. I have followed this tactic when I schedule speakers for Nano@Tech seminars, trying to bring in viewpoints on nanotechnology from diverse disciplines.

In this vein, I wanted to point out to NRC users and other nano-enthusiasts the presence at Georgia Tech of a group that many may not be aware of (at least I wasn’t until very recently). The Center for Nanotechnology in Society is an NSF supported multi-university consortium (led by Arizona State University). The Georgia Tech group (, part of the School of Public Policy, the Enterprise Innovation Institute and others, is “focusing on Research and Innovation Systems Assessment - research to characterize the technical scope and dynamics of the [nanoscale science and engineering] enterprise.” Additional activity includes looking at equity and equality issues in nanotechnology and public deliberation through a citizen engagement forum in Atlanta.

Two of the CNS-ASU/Georgia Tech faculty (Philip Shapira and Alan Porter) recently presented a webinar entitled “Nanotechnology: Will It Drive a New Innovation Economy for the U.S.?” at the Woodrow Wilson Institute’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. More information on this talk and the presentation slides can be found at, although the webcast video is not available yet. You will have an opportunity to hear Prof. Porter again when he is a Nano@Tech seminar speaker during the fall semester.

The CNS-ASU/Georgia Tech group also hosted a seminar on campus (March 31) by Dr. Ismael Rafols, (Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex, UK) on the topic “How to shape the direction of innovation in nanomaterials? Broadening the agenda from risk regulation to innovation governance”. Among the tidbits I gleaned from this fascinating discussion is that we need to be careful when we speak about “nanotechnology”. From a policy, environmental, and regulatory perspective this almost always means “manufactured nanomaterials” (i.e. CNT, QD, nanoparticles). However, the public and mass media don’t discriminate between these synthetic materials and natural nanomaterials as well as nanoscale-based devices. At the same time, basing regulation on size alone is not logically supportable; rather application is much more of a classifier. In fact, I recently heard it put succinctly, based on the past experience with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), that “the public has no problem with injecting them (biomedical applications), but they don’t want to eat them (food and agriculture applications).”