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Drexel University

A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute

Model of folded graphene sheet.
Image Credit: Slava Rotkin and Yury Gogotsi, Drexel University

The A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute (DNI) was established in January 2003 to coordinate interdisciplinary research, education and outreach, and strategic partnerships in nanotechnology for all of Drexel University.


  - A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute


Carbon Nanopipes for Nanofluidic Devices and In-situ Fluid Studies

The research focus is on the application of carbon nanotubes in different areas of engineering and understanding the fundamental issues at the nanometer scale. The research areas include fluid flow inside nanotube channels to create carbon nanopipes for nanofluidic devices, loading of nanoparticles inside carbon nanotubes to functionalize them for various applications such as drug delivery, magnetic assembly etc., non-thermal plasma discharge in metal salt solutions for controlled localized deposition of nanoparticles on nanotubes and nanopipettes, and synthesis of conductive coatings with nanotubes that has the potential to replace the existing ITO industry.

Caribide Derived Carbon

The research focus is on the discovery of new methods for synthesis of carbon coatings on the surface of silicon-carbides and nanoporous materials with tunable pore size. This research will allow the comparison of different techniques for the extraction of metals from carbides. The comparison will then make it possible to increase the understanding of carbon growth mechanisms. The coatings developed as a result of this research will find uses in new protective coatings for sensors and tools, intermediate thin films for further chemical vapor deposition of diamond, molecular membranes for sensors, et al. Porous materials will be used for hydrogen storage, methane storage, gas separation, water desalination, and other applications.


Nanodiamond produced by detonation is the latest and hottest member of nanocarbon family with a great potential for applications such as:
• Polishing
• Lubricants
• Thermal spreads
• Electroplating additives
• Biomedical applications including bioimaging, drug delivery systems etc.
• Polymer- and metal-matrix composites with improved mechanical and thermal properties

W.M Keck Institute for Attofluidic Nanotube Based Probes

The project objective is to develop probes based on engineered carbon nanotubes capable of metering and transferring fluids with volumes of approximately one attoliter (10-18 liter), while performing electrical, optical and mechanical measurements of the probe environment. Such tiny and versatile tools will create opportunities in areas such as minimally invasive intra-cellular probing and drug delivery, single-cell surgery, molecular scale manufacturing, and environmental sensing. The Drexel University has assembled a dynamic team of researchers, including those who were the first to study fundamentals of fluid behavior in individual nanotubes. The proposed project will leverage the researchers' experience to build carbon nanotube-tipped pipettes capable of controlled transfer of attoliter fluid volumes. The proposed devices feature controlled surface functionality of carbon nanotubes, magnetic properties permitting remote manipulation and control, and embedded nanoparticles for sensing and imaging. Success of this work may lead to breakthroughs in the development and application of subcellular tools that can be used to directly detect and treat disease, such as cancer, at the cellular level, and to dramatic improvement of our ability to detect toxins in air and water at the single molecule level, identifying possible biological attack and other threats.


TiO2 (titania) is an interesting material which possesses unique photoinduced properties like high oxidative power and superhydrophilicity. Titania's excellent chemical and physical stability along with its abundance make it the most promising photocatalytic material which can be used as a self-cleaning and antimicrobial material. The biggest disadvantage of titania is its insensitivity to visible light, which limits its use. Drexel is investigating the effect of doping titania with various elements to obtain visible light activity. They prepare titania films by sol-gel for this purpose, on glass or silicon substrates and subject them to various tests to obtain a more efficient photocatalyst.


Q: Explain the role of nanotechnology in the development of your organization or department.

Transmission electron microscopy of etched SiC whiskers.
Image Credit: Z. Goknur Cambaz and Gleb Yushin, Drexel University

Although much has changed since Drexel University was founded in 1891, the original mission of the university still rings true today, and the introduction and use of new technologies is at the forefront of Drexel University initiatives.  As such, nanotechnology provides a platform for students and faculty to explore new interdisciplinary research, maintain a cutting-edge knowledge-base in curriculum development, and further opportunities for regional as well as international collaboration.  

Q: How has nanotechnology impacted the products or services you provide?

The rise of nanotechnology has enabled new collaborative and team research projects, and invigorated our Engineering curriculum.  Nanotechnology has become integrated with many of our research activities, curriculum, and faculty interests.    

Q: Has your organization made any significant contributions to nanotechnology? 

Transmission electron microscopy of etched SiC whiskers. 
Image Credit: Z. Goknur Cambaz and Gleb Yushin, Drexel University

Drexel University is focused on two main nanotechnologimplementations: conducting research and development and enhancing education to include research results and advances.  In the past few years, we have come to be recognized as leaders in this field.


Recently, Drexel University College of Engineering researchers developed Drs. Adam Fontecchio and Gennady Friedman, both of Drexel’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Dr. Yury Gogotsi, Department of Materials Science and Engineering and three Ph.D. students have successfully developed carbon nanotube-tipped pipettes that could become key to cell biology in-situ DNA sequencing and organelle-targeted drug delivery. This work was published in a  March 2007 paper, “Magnetically assembled carbon nanotube-tipped pipettes,” published in Applied Physics Letters, (Appl. Phys. Lett. 90, 103108 2007). This development makes it possible to perform injections or probe the fluid, not just inside a cell, but in specific regions inside the cell, maybe even specific organelles. The probe has the possibility of transferring fluids through the carbon nanotube (CNT) into and out of the pipette, thereby bridging the gap between existing microscale technologies and nanoscale interactions.

Another groundbreaking contribution is nanotube shish-kebabs invented by Dr. Christopher Li, a Materials Science Professor at Drexel. Dr. Li’s paper on this topic appeared in a recent issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

“Nanoplasma in liquid” serves as another major fundamental discovery that received full-page coverage in Nature magazine (D. Staack, A. Fridman, A. Gutsol, Y. Gogotsi, G. Friedman, Nanoscale Corona Discharge Probes for Optical Emission Spectroscopy in Liquids, Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed., 47, 8020 ­8024, 2008).

In nanotechnology education, an article about an NSF IGERT student advised by Prof. Yury Gogotsi, Mr. John Chmiola, was featured as #2 among 2008 Readers' Favorites in the January/February 2009 issue of the NSF newsletter.  Mr. Chmiola worked on carbide-derived carbons for supercapacitors and was the first author on a paper in Science.  This work was also invited for a review article for Nature Materials.

Scanning electron microscopy of nanoindentation. 
Image Credit: Adrian Gurga, Drexel University

Two grants from NSF in the area of Nanoscience Undergraduate Education (NUE), with Drs. Adam Fontecchio (NSF EEC-0532499) and Chris LI (EEC-0304024) as the Principal Investigators, were instrumental in inserting nanotechnology into the mainstream engineering education of the Drexel undergraduates.  These projects have resulted in an interconnected curriculum that introduces nanotechnology across the undergraduate engineering curriculum and additionally serves as a basis for outreach activities to Middle and High School students.

Furthermore, Dr. Yuri Gogotsi’s Nanomaterials Handbook (Y. Gogotsi (Ed.), Nanomaterials Handbook, CRC Press, Boca Raton, 2006, 800 pp.), is a CRC Press bestseller; it has had 2 spin-offs (Carbon Nanomaterials and Nanotubes and Nanofibers, both published in 2006 by CRC Press) and received excellent reviews in journals such as Nature Nanotechnology.

These items are particularly of interest for IEEE not only because this is electrical engineering as related to nanomaterials for electrical energy storage but also because it represents the high quality of work done in Academia.


Q: Briefly describe a current project involving nanotechnology, and what your anticipated outcome will be (new process, new product, etc.)


Scanning electron microscopy of nanofibers. 
Image Credit: Kristopher Behler, Drexel University


In the Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept., Prof. Adam Fontecchio and his graduate student Jared Coyle are developing a photovoltaic paint composed of nano sized droplets of liquid crystal dispersed in a polymer.  This ‘Solar Paint’ has the potential to revolutionize how we power our homes and vehicles in the future.  We are currently explring methods for incorporating the photovoltaic material into commercial and residential paints, roofing shingles, and transparent coatings for windows on both homes and vehicles.  When applied, the products will transform surfaces that are currently aesthetic into active components that better all of our lives.    

Q: Where do you see nanotechnology applications leading in the future? 

Transmission electron microscopy and models showing graphite vs. nanotube structure. 
Image Credit: Slava Rotkin, Joseph Libera, Yury Gogotsi, Drexel University

The opportunities for nanotechnology are endless, spanning traditional disciplines, inter-disciplinary activities, and projects involving unique combinations of skills not yet envisioned.  In the next 20 years, we should expect to see innovations in renewable energy, clean water, computer technologies, and biomedicine, to name just a few.      

Q: What advice would you offer to someone who wanted to work at your organization in 3-5 years?  

Anyone interested in nanotechnology would do well to take courses in math, physics, and chemistry.  In addition, participating in research activities related to nanotechnology can provide a good background for graduate work in the area.  I would also suggest to students that they keep up with current trends in technology – there are plenty of sources of information that are accessible to everyone regardless of background or technical education, and a few of my favorites to recommend include Wired magazine, The New York Times technology section, and Science Friday on National Public Radio (available as a podcast as well as live on the radio).

Scanning electron microscopy of SiC whiskers.
Image Credit: Katya Vishnyakova and Gleb Yushin, Drexel University

Q:  What industry do you think has been impacted the most by nanotechnology thus far? Why?

At this point the biggest impact has been in the biomedical field.  New pharmaceuticals to fight cancer, viruses, and many other diseases have stemmed from nanotechnology research.  In addition, nanocharacterization methods such as Scanning Probe Microscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy, and X-Ray Spectroscopy and Diffraction are providing clues as the fundamental processes of biological systems.  We are currently experiencing breakthroughs in DNA analysis and sequencing of the Human Genome, which will offer new possibilities in individualized medicine.

Q:  What industry do you think has the greatest future potential to be impacted by nanotechnology?  Why?  

The growth in biomedical nanotechnology will continue to grow and impact all of our lives.  At the same time, alternative energy generation and storage is seeing advances in basic research and development that will grow to impact the whole world.  The current world economic difficulties in addition to the finite petroleum reserves force us to consider new ideas and techniques to provide electric power through photovoltaics; energy scavenging systems based on thermal gradients, vibrational energy, and waste thermal discharge.  These breakthroughs will be driven be global necessity, and the impact of nanotechnology on alternative energy will be as great as we are currently seeing in the biomedical field.

(Content source: Drexel University website, press releases, and interview.)