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News Archive 2001 - 2010

Engineering Faculty Secure U.T. System Advanced Research Grants

May 16, 2008

Five University of Texas at Arlington College of Engineering faculty members will receive almost a half-million dollars in funding through the University of Texas System’s Advanced Research Program to further their research projects. The program supports research designed to attract and retain the best students and researchers, and to help provide the knowledge base needed for innovation.

Bioengineering Assistant Professor Young-tae Kim will receive $120,000 for his project – Tissue-engineering-enabled Biomimetic Corneal Stroma. The cornea of the eye covers the iris, pupil and lens and helps shield the eye from harmful matter. Approximately six percent of blindness in the United States is caused by cornea-related injury or disease. Corneal transplants are the most successful of all transplant procedures, but are limited by three factors: the availability of donors, the risk of transmissible diseases, and the increasing prevalence of corrective surgery (e.g., LASIK), which results in unsuitable donor corneas.

In this project, Dr. Kim proposes to develop biomimetic corneal tissue (stroma), based upon an understanding of the corneal tissue’s highly-arranged structure. Biomimetic materials mimic natural tissue, reducing or eliminating the immune system’s normal attack on foreign substances.

If successful, Dr. Kim’s biomimetic corneal stroma would provide unlimited transplantable corneal tissue equivalents for millions of patients suffering from corneal blindness, unlimited corneal tissue equivalents for the pharmacological industry to use as a tool for developing new drugs, and basic scientific tools for researchers seeking answers to cornea-related questions.

Electrical Engineering Assistant Professor Michael Vasilyev will receive $150,000 for his project – Plasmonic Metamaterials for Nonlinear-Optical Signal Processing. Speed and power consumption are key issues in any computing and communication system, which is why optical signal processors are the next wave of innovation. They use light as a carrier, just as transistors and diodes use electric signals. Current optical processing enables an extraordinary increase in data rates compared to state-of the-art electronics, but requires huge amounts of power. The metamaterials (artificial materials that gain their properties from their structure rather than directly from their composition) proposed by Dr. Vasilyev can solve this problem.

Dr. Vasilyev’s metamaterials will consist of highly nonlinear nanoparticles (polymer molecules or quantum dots) embedded into sub-wavelength metal nanocavities surrounded by corrugations. Surface waves excited by the corrugations channel light into the nanocavities, where nonlinear-optical interaction, required for signal processing, dramatically increases due to tight light confinement.

These novel nanostructured metamaterials will reduce the power required for nonlinear-optical signal processing by three-to-five orders of magnitude, making it practical for a wide range of applications.

Materials Science & Engineering Assistant Professor Yaowu Hao will receive $150,000 for his project – Magnetic Detection of DNA Nanoarrays. DNA microarrays (or ‘gene chips’) are the most widely used technologies now available to detect specific DNA targets. They allow researchers to conduct thousands of different DNA sequence tests simultaneously on a single sample. Thanks to the rapid development of nanopatterning technologies, so-called “DNA nanoarrays” have been successfully fabricated. These have a much higher spot density than microarrays, so much less material is needed for an analysis, which is very important since samples are often scarce.

However, the nanoarrays’ small size makes them difficult to detect. Dr. Hao proposes to develop a magnetic detection method based on the hard drive read head found in a personal computer, well known for its capability of detecting extremely small magnetic objects. In this project, DNA nanoarrays will be labeled using magnetic nanodisks, and hard drive read heads will be used to scan the nanoarray surface to directly obtain an electrical signal. This magnetic detection scheme offers several advantages, including portable and cheap detection components, high-sensitivity and a stable labeling system.

Materials Science & Engineering Professor Efstathios Meletis and Assistant Professor Jiechao Jiang are working with colleagues at UT San Antonio and the University of Houston on their project – Nanofabrication of Novel Sensors via Self-Assembly of Anisotropic Epitaxial Oxides. The total value of the grant is $148,000, with $60,000 going to Drs. Meletis and Jiang.

This project will capitalize on results of an on-going, four-year project funded by the National Science Foundation to develop a fundamental understanding of the self assembly of epitaxial oxide nanopillars. Self-assembly is a desirable “bottom-up” or atom-by-atom fabrication method to create new nanostructures. Self-organized oxide nanostructures exhibit novel magnetic properties.

The team proposes to fabricate nanopillars with a high perpendicular anisotropy (exhibiting variations in physical properties along different molecular axes), resulting in new materials with properties not currently available and offering an enormous potential for the development of new devices within the frame of current oxide-based nanotechnology, including new nanocomposites and sensors based on flexoelectric and magnetoelectric effects.

An additional objective of this project is to create a “Texas Nano Team” including three major universities located in the largest metropolitan areas in Texas. Inter-disciplinary, inter-institutional collaborations such as this encourage groundbreaking discoveries and innovations.