Nanoscience is the science of the very small. It is the study of physics and chemistry of materials, as well as biochemistry, engineering, medicine & pharmacology. It investigates the building blocks of the material and biological world. CRANN seeks to understand things on the scale of individual atoms and molecules, where things are measured on the nanoscale i.e. 10-9m. Nano is derived from the Greek word for dwarf, Nanos. It means a billionth of something. In nanoscience research it typically means sub-100nm size material. Materials exhibit very different properties at the nanoscale, which is why it is so interesting. Gold, which at the macroscale is inert, is highly reactive at the nanoscale, silver is to a lesser extent. Copper becomes insulating at the nanoscale, whereas it is renowned for its conductive properties at macroscale.
Nanoscience discoveries will have huge impact on technology both ICT and bio i.e. nanotechnologies in the very near future, in fact already are.
CRANN, the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices is the first purpose built nanoscience research institute in Ireland. CRANN brings together researchers from the Schools of Physics and Chemistry in TCD as well Pharmacy, Medicine and the Department of Chemistry in UCC.
CRANN's research is focussed on three themes:
- Spin electronics and sensors
- Integrated nanoscale devices
- Bionanoassay and sensing
Selected examples of CRANN research
One of CRANN's main research areas is manipulation of electron spin i.e. replacing electrons as the information carrying agent in electronic devices, and investigating novel structures to test spin based devices. Spin-polarised electron transport in nanoscale devices and spin electronic properties of magnetic oxides are under investigation. The new science of spin electronics will deliver smaller, faster devices with novel properties and with reduced energy dissipation.
Carbon nanotubes (CNT) are 1nm in diameter and can be as long as centimetres. They are the strongest and most electrically conductive materials on earth. CRANN is investigating the unique optical, electrical and mechanical properties of CNTs. These could be used in flexible displays, components in intergrated circuits, and composites to provide ultra-strong materials.
Nanoimprint is an efficient new way to make nanometre scale patterns on surfaces. It is based on moulding plastic with some similarity to how music CD's are made, only at sub-20 nm scale. It may be used in the future to make the next generation of computer chips, cheap medical diagnosis devices, and new types of camera lenses.
Polymer templating is concerned with the self assembly of nanomaterials. Polymer templates facilitate the growth of arrays of nanomaterials, by aligning the growth, and thus producing ordered structures with sub-10 nm feature sizes. This has the potential to be a key platform for the fabrication of new nanodevices for the electronics industry.
The body is essentially a nanomachine – with many of our constituent parts dimensionally on the nanoscale e.g. cell membranes, organelles. Nanobiophysics is the use of nanotools as sensors, which have been developed by biophysicists, for genomics, proteomics and bacteria detection. CRANN is developing sensitive diagnostics to facilitate the detection of e.g. proteins without labelling or costly processing.
CRANN is an SFI funded CSET (Centre for Science, Engineering and Technology).