NSF CAREER grant to help UO chemist study carbon nanotubes

George Nazin
George Nazin

Using a newly awarded National Science Foundation career grant, George V. Nazin plans to focus his lab's one-of-a-kind microscope on the development of next-generation materials needed to improve the efficiency of electronic and optoelectronic technologies.

CAREER Awards, as they are officially known, represent the NSF's most-prestigious recognition of top-performing young scientists in the early stages of their faculty careers. Nazin, an assistant professor in the UO Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, will receive $640,933 over five years in his grant from the NSF's Chemical Measurement and Imaging Program.

With the funds he will expand his atomic-scale, real-time exploration of the physical and chemical properties of carbon nanotube-based materials for use as charge and energy conduits in electronics, optoelectronics and photovoltaics.

"We can simultaneously look at the atomic structure of nanotubes and also their optical properties with our recently developed microscope," Nazin said. "Our unique experimental approach allows us to probe optical properties of materials at atomic scales, a capability that was not available to researchers until very recently. Our approach allows us to directly visualize the connection between the properties of elementary optical excitations and local chemical structures of materials."

The work is done with an ultra-high vacuum scanning tunneling microscope coupled to a closed-cycle cryostat, which was built for use in Nazin's lab with support from the NSF and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.

"We will be trying to help other people understand the structure they would want in an application," Nazin said of his lab's new direction. "What we learn should allow us to alter the structures of carbon nanotube materials with chemical alterations for use in specific products."

Nazin's career grant also provides financial support for an existing educational outreach program that helps middle and high school students from the Springfield School District fulfill their science requirements. The outreach program was created amid budget cuts and furlough days during the recession.

Nazin and chemistry colleagues Shannon Boettcher and Michael Pluth, who received an NSF CAREER grant announced earlier, worked with area school districts and community sponsors, including the Eugene Water and Electric Board, Lane Transit District and TrackTown Pizza to establish on-campus study and lab activities for area middle and high school students to do on furlough days. The program is detailed in a paper placed online by the Journal of Chemical Education.

With an improving economy, the program is now an after-school or early release opportunity for students interested in chemistry, physics and computer science. Nazin's part has students studying electricity and electromagnetism, conducting simple experiments and assembling basic devices, such as radios or alarms, with electronic circuits that go together much like Lego products.

—By Jim Barlow, Public Affairs Communications