Representative Research Projects

University of New Orleans Advanced Materials Research Institute
Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program
Funded by the National Science Foundation
(NSF Award #DMR-1262904).

Representative Research Projects - 2014

From Chemistry Lab to Magnetic Hard Drives. Dr. Leonard Spinu, University Research Professor of Physics and Materials Science. In this summer project we will involve undergraduate students in our research program pursued in AMRI’s Measurements laboratory. Essentially this activity with undergraduate students will be integrated in our research of developing novel magnetic materials with superior properties to be used for high density magnetic recording media. The main objective of this summer project is to develop the skills of undergraduate students so that they learn the scientific approach necessary for a productive research activity. Specifically, the students will learn all the steps involved in magnetic and structural material characterization:

  • In the chemistry lab, materials will be synthesized, and the samples will be prepared for magnetic study.
  • The samples will be magnetically characterized through various magnetic measurements using equipment in AMRI’s measurements lab: SQUID magnetometer, VSM magnetometer, or Physical Property Measurement System (PPMS).
  • Structural analysis will be performed using AMRI’S main facilities: X-ray diffraction, Transmission Electron Microcopy, Magnetic Force Microscopy.
  • Correlation between the magnetic characterization data and structural properties will be performed.
  • Based on the results obtained new material designs will be pursued.

An important part of the project will be devoted to training the student in operation of the above mentioned research tools. The laboratory and characterization activities will be enhanced with other formative activities such as bibliography search, preparation of scientific papers, and preparation of scientific presentations. By the end of this project the undergraduate will gain fundamental practical and theoretical knowledge in magnetism, magnetic characterization techniques, and cryogenic techniques.

Fabrication and Characterization of Multiferroic Composites. Dr. Leszek Malkinski, Professor of Physics and Materials Science. The student or the high school teacher will be working under supervision of Dr. L. Malkinski on fabrication and characterization of multiferroic composites. These composites consist of ferroelectric and ferromagnetic phases bound in one functional material with unique properties. Ferroelectric phase must exhibit good piezoelectric properties, whereas ferromagnetic phase must be highly magnetostrictive. Combination of these two materials makes it possible to convert magnetic energy into electric energy or vice versa. The transfer of the energy occurs through stress generated at the interface between the two phases by either electric or magnetic fields. This mechanism is distinctly different from the energy conversion in transformers and electromagnets which require currents to generate or change magnetization. Magnetoelectric coefficient is the measure of the efficiency of the mutual energy transfer. The students (or high school teacher) will use thin film deposition techniques available at AMRI’s Thin Film Technology to fabricate layered multiferroic heterostructures. They will also use advanced equipment such as electron microscopy, multiprobe scanning microscopy, vibrating sample magnetometry and ferromagnetic resonance techniques to characterize the structure and properties of the composite samples.

Electronic and Thermal Transport in Nanocomposite Materials, Dr. Kevin L. Stokes, Professor of Physics. Our research is concerned with electronic and thermal transport properties of nanocomposite materials and assemblies of nanometer-sized particles. These materials are being investigated for applications in thermoelectric devices used for power generation from waste heat, hybrid solar/thermoelectric power conversion, energy harvesting (from natural environmental temperature gradients) and even large-scale power generation. Specifically, we are measuring electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, Seebeck coefficient and Hall effect on nanostructured materials and films made of electrically connected semiconductor nanoparticles. The detailed physical properties measurements are correlated with structural and chemical properties to better understand electron and phonon transport in these complex materials. We are focused on investigating intrinsic quantum confinement effects on the Seebeck coefficient as well as increased phonon scattering, minority carrier filtering and preferential majority carrier transmission. The undergraduate students will be involved in all aspects of this research including measuring the electronic and thermal transport properties, preparing samples for electron microscopy, and analyzing the data. The students will learn how to perform electrical/thermal transport measurements on solids at low (cryogenic) temperatures and high temperatures (~800°C). Equally important, students will learn how to document scientific research. They will also learn some solid-state physics - the basics of electronic and thermal transport in semiconductors and metals, how these macroscopic physical phenomena are related to the intrinsic and extrinsic properties of a real solid material, and what effect, if any, does reduced dimensionality have on these properties.

Synthesis of Novel Nanocomposites for Photocatalysis, Dr. Matthew Tarr, University Research Professor of Chemistry. Titanium dioxide (titania) is a useful photocatalyst that can be used for pollutant destruction or for killing disease cells or pathogens. We produce and characterize titanium dioxide nancomposites with various metals, such as gold, silver, platinum, palladium, or copper attached to the titania. Subsequently, we test their ability to serve as photocatalysts for pollutant degradation. In separate studies, we functionalize the nanoparticles with antibodies and test their ability to selectively kill disease cells such as cancer cells. In addition to pure titania, we utilize modified titania with improved near UV and visible absorbance in an effort to increase the efficiency of solar-driven photocatalysis. This project involves preparation of nanocomposites; characterization of nanomaterials using transmission electron microscopy (TEM), X-ray powder diffraction, and absorbance spectroscopy; and determination of photocatalysis rates using spectroscopic and chromatographic techniques.

Low Temperature Preparation of New Oxides, Dr. John B. Wiley, President’s Research Professor of Chemistry. Our group has successfully developed a series of low temperature methods for the synthesis of new non-molecular compounds. The participant that works in our lab will continue research in this area with a focus on the synthesis and characterization of new oxides. He/she will be exposed to a variety of traditional and nontraditional solid-state synthetic methods as well as the techniques commonly used in the characterization of such materials including X-ray powder diffraction, thermal analysis, magnetic and electronic characterization and elemental analysis. We have extensive experience in this chemistry so that the project assigned to the participant will be one with a high level of success in a short period of time.

Electron Microscopy for Nanomaterials Research. Dr. Weilie Zhou, Associate Professor, Materials Chemistry. Electron microscopy is a valuable tool in materials chemistry research. Nanomaterials structural determination can be performed using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Furthermore, electron lithography patterning can be used for fabrication of nanomaterials, nanodevices, and nanosensors. While electron microscopy is a complicated field, we have previously trained high school students and teachers on its use. These students and teachers have successfully utilized electron microscopy in completing independent summer research projects. Undergraduate students will be trained to operate the scanning electron microscope (SEM) and transmission electron microscope (TEM). They will also receive basic training on the fundamental theory of electrons and their use in materials chemistry. Students will prepare samples using cutting, grinding, and polishing machines. The precise dimpling machine and ion milling machine will also be employed to prepare plane and cross-sectional samples for semiconductors, magnetic thin films, and superconductors. Scanning electron and transmission electron microscopes will be used for structural characterization. The student will utilize our dark room or digital imaging system to perform structure analysis and our state-of-the-art electron lithography patterning system to perform pattern and array writing on various wafers. The undergraduate participants will gain valuable skills in electron microscopy. In addition, they will learn basic laboratory techniques for manipulating chemicals and equipment for new materials fabrication and characterization.

Single Crystal and Powder X-ray Diffraction Studies of New Materials, Dr. Edwin Stevens, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry (some projects in collaboration with Dr. Cheryl Klein at Xavier University). This research project will involve experimental determination of the molecular structure of crystalline samples using X-ray diffraction. Samples for study will be selected from the synthetic research projects of AMRI and Chemistry Faculty. The samples may include compounds being designed for anti-cancer activity, antagonists for cocaine, energetic materials, novel chemical catalysts, and other compounds of current synthetic interest in AMRI and the Chemistry Department. Students will recrystallize samples if necessary, select crystals suitable for study by microscopic examination of samples provided, mount the crystals on a state-of-the-art automated X-ray diffractometer, monitor data collection, and process, solve and refine the data collected on PC's located in the X-ray laboratory. Students will prepare graphical displays of the structure and prepare the final results for publication in appropriate scientific journals. Students participating in this project will gain hands-on knowledge of the three-dimensional nature of chemical compounds. They will also be exposed to concepts in the structure-based design of new compounds with desirable chemical, pharmaceutical, or materials properties. Manipulation of samples and crystallization are additional skills that will be learned by the participants.

Environmental Biochemistry of Fish. Dr. Bernard Rees. Professor of Biological Sciences. The Rees lab uses inter-disciplinary approaches to understand how fish respond to natural and made-made stressors in the aquatic habitat. An example of a natural stressor is low oxygen, which brings about a suite of molecular biological responses in fish and other aquatic organisms. To study changes in protein expression during low oxygen exposure, students in the Rees lab separate proteins by electrophoresis and, in collaboration with faculty in Chemistry, use mass spectrometry to identify proteins whose abundance is affected by oxygen availability. With respect to man-made stressors, one project is designed to evaluate the effects of pollution on fish development, physiology, and molecular biology. Techniques of analytical chemistry are used to identify and quantify specific pollutants in water and in biological tissues, and a variety of biological end points are measured in fish exposed to these pollutants.

The Role of Enzymes in Phycobiliprotein Biosynthesis. Dr. Wendy Schluchter, Professor of Biological Sciences. The brilliantly colored phycobiliproteins, major components of the light-harvesting complexes used for photosynthesis in cyanobacteria, are composed of two different polypeptides. Each protein subunit carries at least one (and as many as 3) covalently attached bilin chromophores. The long-term goal of this research project is to understand how cyanobacteria synthesize and degrade phycobiliproteins and their bilin chromophores. A major goal is to characterize enzymes that are involved in attaching the bilins to phycobiliproteins. The role of enzymes in phycobiliprotein biosynthesis will be characterized through the generation of knock-out mutants and by enzyme assays. Students will be involved in cloning genes and in purifying enzymes we believe are important in this process, learning molecular biology and biochemical techniques.

Development of New Approaches for the Simulations of Materials and Biological Systems. Dr. Steven Rick, Professor of Chemistry. Atomistic computer simulation is a powerful method for understanding and predicting the properties of matter. Such simulations require a force field, a mathematical description of the interatomic interactions. In order to be useful for large systems, these force fields need to be relatively simple as well as accurate. Our work force field development is currently in two areas. First, we are interested in the supercapacitors as a method for energy storage. These materials are built from carbon nanotubes aligned in parallel on a solid surface (“nanotube forest”) with an electrolyte solution surrounding the nanotubes. We are currently optimizing force fields for these systems, through a comparison of experiment and high level theory data. Applications of our models to these systems is ongoing. The second area involves the development of a new class of force fields which include charge transfer. The transfer of small amounts of electronic density from one atom or molecule to another has long been shown to be an important component of interparticle interactions, but these effects are not typically not treated in force fields. We have developed an efficient method for treating charge transfer and are developing these models for ions, aqueous systems, and protiens.s.

Micromagnetics Simulation of Magnetic Nanostructures for Nonvolatile Memory Applications. Dr. Leonard Spinu, University Research Professor of Physics and Materials Science. Magnetization dynamics is one of the central issues in the physics of mesoscopic magnetic systems and its understanding is important not only for its evident fundamental interest but also due to the big impact on the information technology, more specifically on magnetic information storage. Magnetic recording is rapidly approaching the nanometer scale as storage densities are projected to increase to a terabit per square inch. High volume of data requires higher data transfer rates. These present new challenges and opportunities in nanometer scale materials engineering and in understanding the magnetic properties of nanometer scale magnetic materials. Among the critical issues is the manner and speed which the magnetization direction can be reversed from one stable configuration to another. Also, for the Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory (MRAM), unlike present forms of nonvolatile memories, they must have switching rates and rewriteability properties surpassing those of conventional RAMs. This can be achieved only by first understanding and then controlling the magnetization dynamics of very confined magnetic elements. This summer research project focuses on investigating the magnetization dynamics in confined magnetic structures in the nanosecond range (0.1 ns to 100 ns) by micromagnetic simulations. The theoretical background of spin dynamics on the nanosecond range is provided by the Landau-Lifshitz-Gilbert equation . LLG formalism can explain the temporal evolution of magnetization and is the basic tool for both time-domain and frequency-domain experimental data analysis. During the summer research project the summer interns will use the LLG Micromagnetics Simulator commercial software to design and simulate the magnetization dynamics in several nanosized magnetic systems as discs, rings and nanowires in different configurations which are relevant for non-volatile memory technologies. By the end of this project the interns will gain fundamental practical and theoretical knowledge in computation techniques, magnetism and magnetic characterization methods.

Bending and twisting of multilayered micro-origami patterns, Dr. Leszek Malkinski, Professor of Physics and Materials Science. Undergraduate student or high school teacher will perform computer simulations of deformation of strained multilayered film patterns. Variety of 3-dimensional microobjects and be formed by bending and twisting of multilayered film structures depending on the choice of constituting materials, the thickness of the layers and the shape of the patterns. In addition the effect of the convoluted shape on magnetic properties will be studied. These structures have potential applications in multifunctional sensors and in micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS). Commercial multiphysics sotfware COMSOL will be used for the simulations. Some background in mechanics and basic computer skills are appreciable in this project.

Computational Chemistry Methods to Address Materials Science Problems, Dr. Dhruva Chakravorty, Assistant Professor of Chemistry. Research in the Chakravorty group focuses on providing a structural and energetic basis for the development of design-strategies for technologically significant materials such as energy storage devices, superconductors, and magnetoresistive materials. While some projects in the group utilize existing computational chemistry methods, others require developing new approaches to help answer materials science questions. The first project involves working on novel enzymatic biofuel cells containing glucose oxidase, an oxidoreductase enzyme, that helps convert chemical energy directly into electrical energy. We are particularly interested in improving the electron transfer rate in fuel cells by constructing enzymatic electrodes, which have direct electron transfer between the redox center in the enzyme and the electrode support. A second project in our group involves developing computational chemistry approaches to simulate the effects of building metal-nonmetal “interlayers” on the electronic properties of an existing perovskite structure. A third project involves the study of bio-inspired porous metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) that can chemical catalyze reactions. In this work we will build classical and polarizable metal ions force fields coupled with ab initio molecular dynamics methods in order to investigate the breathing motion and the chemical reaction catalyzed by these frameworks. These studies will start with work on existing frameworks such as MFU-1, and will ultimately lead to the design of new catalytic MOF architectures.