From Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech physicist's work in molecular electronics earns NSF Career Award BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 18, 2002 -- Massimiliano Di Ventra of Virginia Tech's Department of Physics has received a Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop and use novel atomic-scale first-principles approaches to enhance scientists' understanding of the non-linear transport properties of molecular wires.
CAREER awards are presented annually to a select roster of young faculty nationwide who have the potential to make significant contributions to engineering and scientific research and instruction. Di Ventra's award is for $300,000 over five years.
At the nanoscale level (one billionth of a meter) scientists potentially can develop revolutionary ways of making materials and products that will greatly increase the speed of electrical processes and reduce the power needed to run electronics devices. Di Ventra does computer simulations in the area of molecular electronics, which could change the practice of science in the 21st century. "A fundamental understanding of the electron transport properties of molecular structures at the atomic level is vital for the development of molecular electronics," Di Ventra said.
Molecular electronics involves developing immensely fast and powerful computing circuits based on trillions of individual building blocks, each no larger than a single molecule, Di Ventra said. These molecules have to perform functions identical or analogous to those of transistors, diodes, conductors, and other key components of today's solid-state microelectronics.
"Chemists, physicists, and engineers have actually shown that individual molecules and molecular wires can conduct, switch electric current, and store information," Di Ventra said. "However, in order to further advance this new technology, we need to understand how molecular devices work both singularly and when connected together. This in turn requires understanding how electrons behave when traveling into regions as small as a few atoms."
Last year, Di Ventra and experimentalist Randy Heflin received Nanoscale Exploratory Research grants from the NSF as seed money to begin to explore the nanoscale world through computer simulations and a combination of optics, thin-film technology, and analytical biochemistry. With the CAREER award, Di Ventra will use newly developed atomic-scale first-principles approaches to study some of the most fundamental issues of transport in molecular wires that can have a major impact in the development of molecular electronics. These include current-induced forces, local heating and heating dissipation, fluctuations of current, and interference effects at the molecule-leads contacts.
In addition to conducting his work in concert with experimental studies, Di Ventra will integrate his research program into undergraduate and graduate education by developing a new course on career opportunities in nanotechnology. To compare theoretical predictions and experimental results, Di Ventra will collaborate with Heflin of physics and Harry Dorn of chemistry, all in Virginia Tech's College of Arts and Sciences, as well as with experimental groups at Yale University and IBM's J.J. Watson Research Center.
Collaborations with experimentalists will help advance the new technology and provide input for future developments in molecular electronics, Di Ventra said. By providing theoretical models, Di Ventra will help shorten the experimental time needed for selecting materials and structures with specific transport properties. "The concept of materials and devices ‘by design' will be finally realized," he said.
Collaborations both within and outside the university will lead to a multidisciplinary effort in the development of molecular electronics. Di Ventra also will provide interested researchers around the world with the computational tools developed in the project, a move that will facilitate worldwide collaborations and exchange of scientific ideas and foster improved tools for the development of new technologies.
Di Ventra came to Virginia Tech in the summer of 2000. A former research assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, he has been a visiting scientist at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center since 1998. In 2001 he received the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award from Oak Ridge Associated Universities.
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