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Nanotechnology: Microscopic Particles Provide Insight into Larger Questions
Lead Image: Chris Kelly '03 and Yumi Ijiri

by Sue Kropp

More About the Project

Chris Kelly '03 operates the physics department's new magnetometer

JUNE 24, 2002--Physics major Chris Kelly '03 is spending the summer looking at magnetic nanoparticles--very small particles of iron with unusual magnetic characteristics.

"Our research is primarily concerned with finding new types of magnets," says Yumi Ijiri, assistant professor of physics and Kelly's honors advisor. "Ultimately, these materials can be used to create computers that allow us to store more data in a smaller space. It might also be possible to use nanoparticles as localized heaters to kill cancer cells or address hypothermia."

Before this technology can be put to use, however, scientists need to get a better idea of how atoms communicate with each other, and how they become magnetic at a microscopic level. Ijiri's research will add to the growing body of literature on this topic, and contribute specific information about how the size and shape of nanoparticles influence their behavior.

"We can use these nanoparticles to test how magnets behave if you make them smaller," says Ijiri. "In other words, at what size does a particle become magnetic? And what interactions occur to make this happen? The study of these nanometer-size materials is part of a growing interest in what's now called nanoscience or nanotechnology."

Ijiri's experiments have produced data that clarifies how nanoparticles "talk" to each other. Using the physics department's new magnetometer, obtained through a grant from National Science Foundation, she will be able to get a better picture of the overall magnetic properties of nanoparticles and how they interact with one another. She has also participated in neutron scattering experiments at the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Center for Neutron Research in order to understand more about these interactions.




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