Planned for operations to begin at the end of 2004, just before the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) goes online, the Department of Energy’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS) at ORNL will be a productive union of neutron science and the emerging field of nanoscale research and development (R&D).
“The CNMS will integrate nanoscale research with neutron science; synthesis science; and theory, modeling, and simulation, bringing together four areas in which the United States has clear national research and educational needs,” says Doug Lowndes, a corporate fellow in ORNL’s Solid State Division. Lowndes is leading the project to build a 7,400 m2 (80,000 ft2) facility that will be co-located with the SNS and the Joint Institute for Neutron Sciences at ORNL.
Intense neutron beams that will be available from the SNS and the upgraded High Flux Isotope Reactor will reveal nanoscale phenomena to researchers as never before. “The CNMS will help the neutron science R&D community assume a leadership role in emerging research on nanoscale materials and processes,” Lowndes says.
Researchers envision nanotechnology as developing from complex assemblies of molecules that in some cases order themselves so that they have especially useful properties or can perform tasks. But for nanotechnology to develop, basic science must lay the groundwork of understanding. Neutron diffraction experiments, including some that Lowndes hopes will be ready to go when the SNS comes on line in 2006, will be an indispensable tool for understanding how these self-assembling molecules work and how they may be further manipulated to create functional nanoscale materials and structures.
The CNMS will include the Nanofabrication Research Laboratory (NRL), the most complete facility of its kind in the Southeast. The NRL will enable research focused on integrating “soft” and “hard” materials, understanding nanoscale self-organization, and using directed self-assembly as a “bottom-up” approachone that will link nanoscale materials and phenomena with conventional lithography and materials processing on the microscale and above. Other specialized equipment to be housed in the CNMS includes extensive synthesis facilities, scanning probes and electron microscopes for nanoscale imaging, and the NRL’s lithography and templating capabilities for materials manipulation and fabrication of electronic and other devices at the nanoscale.
Another branch of the CNMSthe Nanomaterials Theory Institutewill provide a needed focus to stimulate U.S. leadership in the use of theory, modeling, and simulation, both to design new materials and to investigate new pathways for their synthesis. The institute will make accessible the teraflop-speed supercomputers of DOE’s Center for Computational Sciences at ORNL and will stimulate and support the use of these computing capabilities for nanoscience research. The vision is that coupling synthesis with theory, modeling, and simulation will enable the creation of new generations of materials.
The center’s research will be focused on three scientific areas. One area will involve the study of nanodimensioned “soft” materials, such as DNA, proteins, gels, polymers, and aerosols. Michelle Buchanan, director of ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division, leads the soft materials area. In another scientific area, ORNL-University of Tennessee Distinguished Scientist Ward Plummer will lead research into complex nanophase “hard” materials systems, including the crosscutting areas of interfaces and reduced dimensionality that become scientifically critical on the nanoscale. Finally, Peter Cummings (now with Vanderbilt University) will lead the theory, modeling, and simulation effort and the Nanomaterials Theory Institute.
Lowndes says the diversity of disciplines represented by ORNL researchers and their university collaborators will fuel the potential for discovery at the nanoscale. He adds that the center will give the Southeast a much needed resource for controlled synthesis at the nanoscale and integration of soft and hard materials. Although a number of southeastern universities have begun to actively focus on nanoscale science and technology, the closest state-of-the-art facility for nanofabrication is at Cornell University.
“Of the seven universities in the Southeast with federal research expenditures of more than $100 million per year, only one is more than a six-hour drive from ORNL, and three of them are less than three hours’ driving distance,” Lowndes says. “Having a combined materials synthesis, characterization, modeling, and nanofabrication research facility will prove very attractive to researchers in the region.”
In fact, ORNL’s strategy to partner with universities was a strong selling point in its proposal for the center. As a result, ORNL was selected as a preferred site for the $65-million nanoscale science research center by DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences.
Construction of CNMS on the SNS site is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2003, with initial occupancy at the end of 2004. Two planning workshops for the CNMS already have been completed. Further information is available at the center’s workshop web site: www.ssd.ornl.gov/CNMS/workshops/.B.C.
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