By Anna Lynn Spitzer
Irvine, Ca, April 6, 2007 -- Orange County Register technology reporter Colin Stewart toured several UC Irvine nanotechnology facilities last week to research microfabrication for an upcoming article. One of his stops was Calit2, where he interviewed graduate student researcher Yen Peng Kong.
Kong, a chemical engineering and materials science Ph.D. candidate, is a member of former division director Albert Yee’s research team. His work includes testing tiny nanostructures – extremely tiny structures measured in millionths of millimeters – comprised of polymers to determine their strength and mechanical properties.
As polymeric structures become smaller and smaller, the surface-to-volume ratio gets larger. Kong is seeking to determine whether that will make them stronger and more useful in fabricating plastics, pharmaceuticals and other products.
A polymer is a chemical compound made of smaller, identical molecules called monomers that are linked together. Some polymers, like cellulose, occur naturally, while others, like nylon, are artificial. Most biological tissues are polymers with extremely high molecular weights. Thus polymers are useful in a wide variety of applications.
Kong uses a hybrid atomic force microscope probe comprised of a commercial silicon cantilever tip and a platinum nanobeam. The platinum beam is fabricated in the Zeiss 1540 EsBCrossBeam system in the Zeiss Center of Excellence in the Calit2 Building.
The hybrid probe tip is part of an atomic force microscope system that can mechanically test polymeric specimens with dimensions from 500 to 30 nanometers. “We hope that we will be able to quantify the mechanical properties in the nanostructures accurately … with this system,” Kong says. “This will provide engineers with the ability to design and fabricate polymeric nanostructures as small as 30 nanometers that are functional, mechanically robust and stable.”