Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Self-assembly, science of the future

Sun, 06 Apr 2008 22:20:47
By Patricia Khashayar, MD., Press TV, Tehran

In 2007, Dr Babak Amir Parviz was chosen by the MIT Technology as one of the top innovators under the age of 35, for developing the self-assembly manufacturing method.

The Genome Technology Magazine selected him as a star young genomics investigator. He has also received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award.

In his last year of high school, Amir Parviz won the Kharazmi award for designing a single-engine airplane along with Reza Amirkhani and Amir Hossein Samakar.

The same year, he won a bronze medal from the 22nd international physics Olympiad.

Dr Amir Parviz holds a BA in English Literature from the University of Washington, a BS in Electronics Engineering from the Sharif University of Technology, an MS in Electrical Engineering and Physics as well as a PhD in Electrical Engineering from University of Michigan, and a Postdoctoral training degree in Chemistry and Chemical Biology from Harvard.

He is currently a faculty member at the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Washington (UW) and the Associate Director of the Micro-scale Life Sciences Center at UW.

Q. What is Nanotechnology?

A. Nanotechnology is about understanding the behavior of structures with length dimensions in the nano meter scale, and the ability to design and make them.

Q. Can you explain the importance of Nanotechnology in different sciences?

A. This is a fundamentally new capability that has opened a number of new venues in science and technology. If we can engineer and build structures, devices, and eventually systems in the nano-scale, in principle we can:

- Make materials with unique properties that do not exist in nature,

- Interface with the biological world, esp. with the human body, at the cellular and sub-cellular level,

- Make exceedingly small computing, telecommunication, ... devices,

- Have access to extremely fast devices among other things.

Q. Can you explain self assembly for us?

A. Self-assembly is a fundamentally and radically different way to make structures. If we look at the more conventional engineering, for example in building a car, what is done is that all the parts of the final product are made and then they are assembled (by a human or a robot) to make the final structure of the automobile.

Although this process is the most widely used one today to make engineered structures, this is not the way nature makes things. In nature, the "parts" of a final system find each other and bind on their own to form a plant, an insect etc. In nature structures 'self-assemble'.

Our group works on developing methods that would allow us to use self-assembly for building various things. For example, we have deployed a number of self-assembly techniques to build a range of functional devices from nano-scale optical waveguide to flexible circuits.

Q. Tell us more about the sciences and project which will benefit from self assembly?

A. Self-assembly is a widely applicable approach to making things. My guess is that in principle it is possible to improve the current state-of-the-art in manufacturing by orders of magnitude in terms of the minimum part size, the maximum part count, and the available material diversity if self-assembly is used.

Q. What attracted your interest in this field?

A. During my PhD I was working on building miniature jet engines. As I worked through my project, it became progressively clearer that our conventional approaches to making things may be reaching their limits and it might be a good idea to explore other methods.

Q. How do you see the future of this field? Do you think that scientists will be able to rebuild injured individuals someday?

A. It is very hard to predict how fast and along what direction the leading-edge of technology will proceed. I am very heartened by the recent advances in tissue engineering. Even now, many things can be rebuilt in the body of an injured person and I am pretty confident that in the next couple of decades, our ability to heal and repair will grow exponentially.

Q. What other projects and research fields are you involved in?

A. Here is a brief and itemized list of areas that I have research interest in:

Research at the interface between biology and electrical engineering(ultra-fast genome sequencing; direct conversion of molecular recognition and binding events to electrical signals; using bio-molecules for self-assembling engineered structures; hybrid microorganism/solid-state devices and systems; developing tools for the study of biology at the single cell level; ultra-low cost diagnostic tools).

Engineered Self-assembly(design and construction of self-assembled structures and devices in the micro- and nano-scales; self-assembly as an engineering concept; self-assembly across the size-scale; developing self-assembly as a method for mass manufacturing; self-assembly for heterogeneous system integration).

Nanotechnology (design and fabrication of nano-scale electronic, photonic, and mechanical devices; investigation of novel nano-scale phenomena for device design in the nano-scale).

MEMS(large area and low-cost micro fabrication; green micro fabrication; biodegradable micro devices; micro devices for human performance augmentation).

Q. Do you have any advice for our readers?

A. There are a lot of interesting and exciting events in progress both in science and technology. For the younger readers who are considering their career options and what subject to study, I strongly recommend both science and engineering.


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