by Tom Parisi
The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded NIU Physicist Zhili Xiao a three-year grant totaling $486,000 to continue his investigations of superconductivity at the nanoscale.
Using high tech equipment at Argonne National Laboratory, Xiao’s group is developing methods to synthesize a new class of free-standing superconducting nanowires and nanoribbons that are stable in atmosphere.
“This would enable the exploration of superconducting properties and potential applications of individual nanostructures,” Xiao said. Other members of his current research team include postdoctoral associate Jiong Hua and Ph.D. candidates Sevda Avci, Qiong Luo, Xiaoqiao Zeng and Sriharsha Panuganti.
Superconductivity is a fascinating phenomenon that has drawn intense interest in the scientific and technological communities.
Many materials, including pure metals, alloys and compounds, behave as superconductors when cooled to below certain temperatures. Superconductors conduct electricity with no resistance, or no energy dissipation, and superconducting electromagnets are used in such devices as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines, particle accelerators and magnetically-levitated trains.
Nanotechnology aims to develop tiny devices made of components no bigger than 100 nanometers. By comparison, the thickness of a single human hair equals about 100,000 nanometers. It will be advantageous to use superconducting nanowires to connect these devices.
“In electrically activated nanodevices of the future, the use of superconducting interconnects will be highly desirable, because they would circumvent the damaging heat produced by energy dissipation,” Xiao says.
Argonne boasts world-class research facilities that allow scientists to study the universe at the nanolevel, which can’t be observed with traditional high powered optic microscopes. The U.S. Department of Energy had previously provided Xiao’s team with $220,500 for the development and study of superconducting nanowires.
“The objective of this renewal proposal is to continue our successful efforts,” Xiao said.
Xiao holds a joint appointment as a professor in the Department of Physics at NIU and a physicist in the Materials Science Division at Argonne. He also is an associate of the Institute for NanoScience, Engineering and Technology at NIU.
In addition to this DOE funded project, Xiao’s group is pursuing new phenomena in shape-controlled mesoscopic superconducting crystals. That project is funded by the National Science Foundation ($300,000).
Xiao and his co-workers also have been developing sensors based on nanotechnology. R&D Magazine named an ultra-fast hydrogen sensor developed by the team as one of the world’s top 100 scientific and technological innovations of 2005.