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Air Force Grant to Fund Research on Nanomaterials Shaping

Paras Prasad (University at Buffalo)

Paras Prasad (University at Buffalo)

Funding from the U.S. Air Force is supporting multi-disciplinary research on the ability of nanomaterials to change their shape in response to external stimuli, such as heat and light. The $2.9 million grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research will support a project that touches on chemistry, biology, computer science, and engineering, led by Paras Prasad (pictured left), executive director of University at Buffalo’s Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics.

Prasad and colleagues from Buffalo, University of Miami, and Deakin University in Australia will examine the ability to change the internal structure of nanomaterials in response to heat, light or other external stimuli. The team expects to design new types of materials from inorganic nanoparticles with certain optical or electrical properties and peptides that bond to these nanoparticles. Connecting the inorganic nanoparticles and peptides will be molecules called spacers that bend in the presence of heat, light, or other triggers.

The ability to reshape nanomaterials could be applied to sensors that change colors, as well as plasmonic circuits that can switch the direction of light. Plasmonics are a promising technology for new generations of optical processors based on nanoscale structures.

The research expects to test seven types of nanoparticles — gold, silver, silica, iron-oxide, iron-platinum, cadmium-sulfide, and zinc-sulfide — with spacers of different sizes. The scientists expect to use high-throughput experiments and data-mining techniques to screen and analyze the vast number of possible combinations of nanomaterials, peptide/biomolecular linking elements, and various assembly conditions.

Prasad says one of the project’s goals is “to contribute to the fundamental understanding of how the spatial arrangement of nanoscale components in materials affects their optical, magnetic, and plasmonic properties.” He adds that the team will borrow the high-throughput analytical techniques from bioinformatics, since they “also have extraordinary promise in the exploration of advanced materials.”

To process the large quantities of data generated by the study, the team will employ the computational capabilities of Buffalo’s supercomputing center. The university was recently designated as a New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics.

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