October 29, 2002

Scientists will meet to discuss nanoscience

A panel of 60 scientists will convene at the University next month to discuss nanoscience, an up-and-coming field that may prove crucial in biological and technological developments.

The workshop, sponsored by the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center and the Argonne National Laboratory/University of Chicago Consortium for Nanoscience Research, will be held November 15 and 16.

The science of developing nanohybrid structures, which uses novel combinations of organic and inorganic molecules to create new structures, has emerged in recent years as applications have found their way into the private sector.

"Now we realize that there are insights to be gained," said Thomas Witten, a professor in the physics department and the workshop's co-organizer. "We wanted to get the people together who are excited about this field, see where we stand and where we could take the field."

One especially promising area that panelists will address at the convention is amphiphilic structures, which are molecules that have both hydrophilic and hydrophobic parts. Because of this, they have been especially useful in creating new structures.

The difference in polarity between the various parts of the molecule gives it special properties in its liquid and solid states, such as varied surface activity, aggregation, and microphase separation, according to the Center for Amphiphilic Polymers from Renewable Resources at Lund University in Sweden.

The Center adds that the polymers are useful as gel formers in pharmaceuticals, super-absorbents in hygiene products, and as barrier materials in packaging applications.

Another particle on which researchers will focus is soluble quantum dots. The dots both resist and allow the flow of light and have proven useful in areas as varied as magnetic memory and drug testing.

"There's a lot of interest in developing these particles for biological imaging," said Philippe Guyot-Sionnest, another panel organizer and a professor in the departments of chemistry and physics.

Quantum dot panelists will include Victor Klimov of Los Alamos National Laboratory, who helped develop the first lasers made of quantum dots, and Chris Murray of IBM.

"Murray is one of the leaders in making these types of nanoparticles, controlling their size and their chemical composition," Guyot-Sionnest said.

A California company has used the semiconductor aspect of the dots as a way to detect molecular size genetic targets and drug potency at the cellular level.

"Having stable, water-soluble quantum dots is an essential prerequisite for our efforts to develop biological assay systems," said Carol Lou, vice president of the Quantum Dot Corporation. Her company will be represented at the conference.

Researchers can also manipulate the dots in semiconductor form to have different wavelengths, which translates into different colors, and transforms the dots into useful measurement tools.

Similarly, the dots can be controlled in magnetic form to define the molecule's storage density, useful for pharmaceutical and diagnostic applications.