Army research team recognized at international nanotechnology conference

September 11, 2014

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • IEEE Nano is one of the largest nanotechnology conferences in the world
  • Award is the result of a multi-tier level of review by researchers both in and out of the field
  • ARL's work represented the convergence of biology and engineering to achieve the impressive goal of ultra-low threshold detection in a rapid manner

Researchers from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory received the best conference paper award at the 14th IEEE International Conference on Nanotechnology held in Toronto, Canada, Aug. 18-21.

IEEE Nano is one of the largest nanotechnology conferences in the world, bringing together the brightest engineers and scientists through collaboration and the exchange of ideas. There were a total of 263 conference proceeding papers submitted for the conference; 180 oral presentations and 83 posters.

The winning paper was one of the seven finalists selected. It was entitled "Gold Nanocluster-DNase 1 Hybrid Materials for DNA Contamination Sensing," and was co-authored and presented by Dr. Abby West, biochemist, ORISE postdoctoral fellow at the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate.

West's co-authors on the paper were fellow researchers, Drs. Mark Griep, Dan Cole and Shashi Karna.

"At the awards ceremony, all of the finalists were called up on stage one by one. The tension was palpable as all of us stood on stage waiting to hear the announcement for best paper. When the title for the best talk was displayed I was too stunned to really recognize the title and it wasn't until Travis (Travis Tumlin, a fellow researcher in our lab who also attended the conference) yelled out in excitement that I realized I had won. I was so excited and happy and shocked, it was such an exhilarating moment," said West.

West continued: "Being able to attend and present at the conference in front of the international audience of experts was such an amazing opportunity for me. I love the work that I am able to do here at ARL and I am so happy that I was able to share some of that work with an international community. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to show the international nanoscience community some of the really exciting work we do here at ARL. This research that we are doing now should open the doors and enable further research into areas like traumatic brain injury, where we hope to be able to actually measure pressure waves in real time as they move through a material."

Andrea M Armani, Fluor Early Career Chair and Associate Professor Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, University of Southern California, was one of the program committee chairs. She indicated the papers underwent an additional level of scientific review by the award committee and then the final decision was made based on the technical presentation. She said this award is the result of a multi-tier level of review by researchers both in and out of the field.

"Even among the award finalists, the research presented by Dr. Abby West and colleagues at ARL truly stood apart," said Armani. "This work represented the convergence of biology and engineering to achieve the impressive goal of ultra-low threshold detection of DNA in a rapid manner. Despite the complexity of the concepts, Dr. West did an impressive job of clearly explaining her innovative approach to the diverse audience. I look forward to seeing how this research evolves in the future."

West's mentor and fellow researcher, Dr. Shashi Karna, further explained the research that he and his team are working on.

"Our work at ARL is focused on designing, modeling, synthesizing and studying the fundamental structure-property-function relationships of nano and hybrid bio-nanomaterials. At nano and sub-nano scale, materials exhibit a great deal of novel properties that are not shown at the bulk level. For example, at nanoscale, materials exhibit very similar properties as isolated atoms and molecules, often called obeying 'quantum laws.' What it means is that the electrons are placed in discrete energy levels that manifests in discrete energy absorption and emission, which can be utilized in controlled light emission, imaging, and ultra-small and ultra-fast electron tunneling devices. These applications make nanoscale materials highly attractive for future Army technologies," explained Karna.

Karna explains what this research means to the Warfighter.

"In the short term, our research will be able to establish a baseline for pressure-induced injuries to neuronal cells, which may then allow us to develop protection technologies for our Warfighters exposed to hostile blast environment. In the long term, we hope to develop a complete understanding of the structure property relationships, synthesis conditions, and hierarchical assemblies of electronics, power storage, and even communications technology devices using bio-nanomaterials," said Karna.

Dr. Mark Griep, materials scientist at WMRD, helped initiate the Bio-Nano program at ARL in 2011 and is currently lead of the Bio-Nano Materials team.

"As a biomedical engineering undergrad at Michigan Tech, I was fortunate to get directly involved in nanomaterials related research projects, which in turn led to receiving nano-related NSF research fellowships at Penn State and the University of Michigan. This solidified my interest in nanomaterials research and pursuing graduate studies in the field," said Griep. "I initiated our work into biomediated nanoclusters in early 2013 after hearing a few fascinating talks at IEEE Nano 2012 on the potential of atomically controlled cluster materials. With our foundation in bio-nanomaterials, we were able to hit the ground running and rapidly make new material advancements in the field. In under a year, we were already uncovering fundamental material properties and engineering novel materials designs towards mild traumatic brain injury applications (attracted the interest of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command), resulting in multiple publications and new customer funding."

Griep said he believes this award demonstrates the importance that the scientific community places in the future impact of engineered bio-nanomaterials, and shows ARL's leadership in this field.

"This award also exemplifies the exceptional creativity and relentless work ethic of Dr. Abby West in the design/testing of a multifunctional bio-nano system that seamlessly harnesses the functionalities of both the biomolecular and nano components to address real-world problems," said Griep. "Our future work will build upon our foundation in exploring the intersection of biology and nanomaterials and developing Army-relevant bio-nanomaterials. A key impact will be engineering new materials that will open cutting edge experimental possibilities towards elucidating fundamental mTBI formation mechanisms."

Dr Dan Cole, a materials science research engineer with ARL's Vehicle Technology Directorate, has been collaborating with WMRD for more than four years on projects with cross-directorate interest, including multifunctional structures and nanoscale materials characterization techniques.

VTD's contribution to the team is helping to characterize the structure of the nanoclusters through transmission electron microscopy, instrumented indentation and atomic force microscopy.

"Ultimately, our team's goal is to understand the fundamental mechanisms of traumatic brain injury by studying overpressure in single neurons. From a VTD perspective, we are also interested in this research for biologically inspired self-healing structures for future Army vehicles," said Cole. "I am excited for the team, and especially happy for Abby, who led this research effort," said Cole. I'm really lucky to work with such a great group of people!"

Karna said receiving this award means a great deal for the recognition of ARL's quality of fundamental research in the exploration and developing applications of novel materials, especially in the area of nano and hybrid bio-nanomaterials.

"ARL has had a tradition of conducting and providing the community with the cutting edge research of fundamental importance in science and transitioning them to novel technologies for enhancing the Warfighting capabilities of our Soldiers," said Karna.


Last Update / Reviewed: September 11, 2014