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July 12, 2001

Lab Embarks on Two Major Nanoscience Research Programs 

UPTON, NY - The U.S. Department of Energy has approved funding for two major nanoscience research initiatives at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Nanoscience is the study of structures and interactions that occur on the scale of billionths of a meter, in the region between the atomic and the bulk scales. Working with structures and processes at the nanoscale permits precision control never before possible in many areas of chemistry, electronics, and materials science.

"These large-scale, interdisciplinary research programs will make use of the Laboratory's unique research facilities and help to establish Brookhaven Lab as a leader in the burgeoning field of nanoscience," said Richard Osgood, the Lab's Associate Laboratory Director for Basic Energy Sciences.

One set of studies will focus on understanding the nanoscale properties of catalysts, substances that initiate or speed up the rates of chemical reactions, with the goal of exploiting these properties to optimize chemical reactivity and selectivity. "Improved catalysts can have far-reaching impact on the economy and environment since the combination of high activity and selectivity lowers energy costs and reduces the negative environmental impact of chemical processing and manufacturing," said Mike White, the Brookhaven chemist leading these studies.

The second initiative will explore how electric charges move at the nanoscale. These studies could lead to advances in energy-conversion devices such as those that convert sunlight into electricity, and new "molecular electronics" for tinier, faster computer circuits.

Both programs will also develop and refine methods of nanofabrication to build improved materials atom by atom or molecule by molecule. "As we increase our understanding of charge transfer, this 'bottom up' approach should allow us to design and build materials with greater control and increased efficiency," said Brookhaven chemist Carol Creutz, program coordinator for the second initiative.

BNL's Unique Facilities Brookhaven Lab houses some of the world's most sophisticated research tools and an interdisciplinary team of research scientists, making it an ideal setting for these studies.

  • The Lab's National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), which can supply extremely intense beams of light in wavelengths ranging from infrared to ultraviolet and x-rays, is renowned for its ability to probe small scale structures. The intensity of the x-ray source also allows scientist to follow structural phase transitions and chemical reactions in real time.
  • Brookhaven's Laser-Electron Accelerator Facility (LEAF) studies chemical reactions by subjecting materials to pulses of high-energy electrons. This facility will help uncover charge-transfer dynamics at the nanoscale.
  • Other tools such as scanning tunneling microscopes, atomic force microscopes, and transmission electron microscopes will be used to further characterize and understand the composition and properties of materials on the nanoscale.

Brookhaven scientists are also working on a proposal to construct and instrument a new building to vastly expand the Lab's capabilities in the area of nanoscience. This Nanoscience Center would provide a focussed effort for resident researchers and visiting scientists from around the world.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies. Brookhaven also builds and operates major facilities available to university, industrial, and government scientists. The Laboratory is managed by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited liability company founded by Stony Brook University and Battelle, a nonprofit applied science and technology organization.