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  NanoMaterials  
 
Although nanomaterials come in many flavors (e.g., nanoparticles, nanotubes, films of nanoholes, etc.), they are all designed and assembled in controlled ways to achieve specific functionalities. Institute researchers are working on the development of nanomaterials with potential applications in a variety of areas.

For example, nanomaterials are being developed to improve contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging. These nanomaterials are being designed with superparamagnetic cores encased in surfactant shells, which are capable of penetrating only diseased cells. The resulting imaging would enable more accurate diagnosis. Researchers are also working on the development of polymeric nanoparticles with functionalized surfaces capable of targeted drug delivery.

Carbon nanotubes are nanomaterials with outstanding optical, mechanical, and electronic characteristics. Institute researchers are using thin films of single-walled carbon nanotubes in transistor device applications, while others have invented a process enabling the fabrication of large quantities of carbon nanotubes with the same structure and properties.

IIN researchers are also exploring the influence of non-spherical shapes on the optical properties of nanostructures. Mesoscale metallic pyramids with very sharp tips (2 nm radii) and thin films perforated with holes (diameters ranging from 100-250 nm) have been fabricated from the same nanolithography procedure. The well-defined edges and anisotropic shape of the nanopyramids have produced orientation- and polarization-dependent scattering spectra that could not previously be achieved with spherical or symmetrically shaped nanoparticles. Additionally, multiple layers of materials may be stacked together to form sandwich structures that can affect their optical and chemical functionality.

The phenomena of nanoparticles of the same materials exhibiting different properties based upon their size and shape is being investigated and exploited by researchers for a variety of uses. For example, Institute researchers have found that silver nanoprisms with designed edge lengths can cause solutions to exhibit some of the colors of the visible spectrum. When combinations of these and other nanoparticles are joined together through molecular DNA or protein binding, the larger agglomerations cause a shift in the plasmon resonance frequency, which produces a visual color change of the solution. This phenomenon is proving important for disease diagnostics or detection of other bio-markers.