New Joint Research Deal to Advance Carbon-Based Nanomanufacturing Industry

The nascent industry of carbon-based nanomanufacturing will benefit from a new cooperative venture between scientists at Rice University and its Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology and scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Md.

NIST announced a $2.7 million, five-year cooperative research agreement to study how nanoparticles – particularly fullerenes (aka buckyballs), nanotubes and graphene – operate and interact with other materials at the molecular, even atomic, scale.

"The payoff will be grand," said Rice engineering professor Matteo Pasquali, the principal investigator of the new cooperative agreement to advance methods of measurement and characterization of nanomaterials. The goal is to enable the manufacture of high-end products that incorporate carbon-based nanomaterials for enhanced optical, electrical, mechanical and thermal properties.

"With this agreement, we're building and expanding on several successful years of collaboration between NIST and Rice," said Pasquali, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and of chemistry at Rice. "Up to now, the research has focused primarily on the separation, spectroscopy and rheology of carbon nanotubes, but we will now go further to enable products and devices to be manufactured that include many types of carbon nanomaterials."

"A lot of the research we've already done we can map onto the long-term goal of benefiting U.S. manufacturing," he said.

The range of products that could benefit from advanced nanomaterials is vast, Pasquali said. The new research will help kick start advances in energy, health care, materials science and national security.

"We look forward to leveraging our combined scientific, engineering and standards leadership in nanomaterials to help the U.S. lead in the race toward commercialization and manufacturing," said Kalman Migler, leader of the Complex Fluids Group of the Materials Science and Engineering Division at NIST.

"The opportunity to work closely with Rice faculty will quicken the pace of realizing carbon-based nanoelectronics," said Angela Hight Walker, project leader in the Semiconductor and Dimensional Metrology Division at NIST.

Migler and Hight Walker are technical leads from NIST on the joint project.

The Rice grant will be administered by Pasquali and his colleagues, Vice Provost for Research Vicki Colvin, the Kenneth S. Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor of Chemistry and a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Junichiro Kono, a professor electrical and computer engineering and of physics and astronomy.

The agreement builds on two earlier cooperative research agreements and a series of NIST workshops at which industry, government and academic researchers were polled about obstacles that remain in the path of efficient manufacturing with nanoscale carbon, from production of components to integration.

The agreement allows Rice to hire a team of postdoctoral associates and researchers who will study ways to disperse and characterize nanomaterials for specific uses, control and measure nano-network structures and create systems for in-line measurements during manufacturing. The new team will be primarily based at NIST headquarters in Maryland, where they will work closely with NIST scientists while also drawing on Rice expertise as they develop new methods.

Carbon at the nanoscale has become one of the most-studied materials by labs around the world since the discovery of the buckyball at Rice in 1986, which brought the Nobel Prize to Rice's Richard Smalley and Robert Curl. Since then, nanocarbon has taken on new forms with the discovery of the carbon nanotube in the late '90s and graphene, the single-atomic-layer form of carbon that won a Nobel for its discovers two years ago.

Pasquali's lab has deep experience working on the dispersal and characterization of carbon nanotubes and graphene, which group members are working toward extruding into fibers that could become essential components in the advanced energy grid envisioned by Smalley.

Kono's lab focuses on the physics and applications of carbon nanomaterials, with recent breakthroughs on the fabrication of devices based on aligned carbon nanotubes and graphene to control terahertz waves. "We've been working closely with NIST scientists Ming Zheng, Jeffery Fagan and Angela Hight Walker on the chirality separation and spectroscopy of single-wall carbon nanotubes," Kono said. "Their successful enrichment of armchair carbon nanotubes has led to a significant advancement in our understanding of the electronic and optical properties of these one-dimensional metals."

Colvin's group has expertise in how nanoparticles interact with the environment and living systems and has recently demonstrated nano-based technology to remove arsenic from drinking water in Mexico.


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