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Geckos Inspire New Electronic Printing Method

gecko printing

Geckos are masters of sticking to surfaces of all kinds -- and easily unsticking themselves, too. Inspired by these lizards, a team of engineers has developed a reversible adhesion method for printing electronics on a variety of tricky surfaces such as clothes, plastic, and leather.

Researchers from Northwestern and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) designed a square polymer stamp that allows them to vary its adhesion strength. The stamp can pick up an array of electronic devices from a silicon surface and move and print them on a curved surface. The research was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"Our work proposes a very robust method to transfer and print electronics on complex surfaces," said Yonggang Huang, Joseph Cummings Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at the McCormick School. Huang, co-corresponding author of the PNAS paper, led the theory and design work at Northwestern. John Rogers at UIUC led the experimental and fabrication work and is a co-corresponding author of the paper.

Key to the stamp are four pyramid-shaped tips on the bottom, one in each corner. They mimic the micro- and nanofilaments on the gecko's foot, which the animal uses to control adhesion by increasing or decreasing contact area with a surface. Pressing the stamp against electronics causes the tips to collapse against the stamp's body, maximizing the contact area between the stamp and the electronics and creating adhesion. The electronics are picked up, and, with the force removed, the soft tips snap back to their original shape. The electronics now are held in place by just the four tips -- a small contact area. This allows the electronics to be easily transferred to a new surface. "Design of the pyramid tips is very important," Huang said. "The tips have to be the right height. If the tips are too large, they can't pick up the target. If the tips are too small, they won't bounce back to their shape."

The researchers found the changes in contact area allow the stampÕs adhesion strength to vary by 1,000 times. They also demonstrated their method can print layers of electronics, enabling the development of a variety of complex devices.

The National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy supported the work.


McCormick Scholarships

McCormick students were extremely successful in receiving fellowships and scholarships in 2009-10. Several undergraduates received high-profile competitive scholarships, and 14 graduate students received National Science Foundation fellowships -- the most ever for McCormick.

"These scholarships are extremely competitive," says Stephen Carr, associate dean for undergraduate engineering. "Our students have been successful in pursuing and receiving national and international accolades that help them push their education and research to the top level."

Kelsey StoerzingerKelsey Stoerzinger (materials science and engineering '10) was awarded a Churchill Scholarship to pursue graduate studies at the University of Cambridge. The scholarship provides a year of support for a postgraduate degree in engineering, mathematics, or the sciences at Cambridge. Stoerzinger will be working toward a research-based master of philosophy degree in physics.






Samantha Dale StrasserSamantha Dale Strasser (biomedical engineering, applied mathematics '11) was one of four Northwestern students to receive a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, which encourages outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering and to foster excellence in those fields. Strasser hopes to obtain her PhD in biomedical engineering.






Isabelle Ji Isabelle Ji, a senior working toward a combined bachelor's degree in environmental engineering and a master's in chemical engineering, was awarded a Udall Scholarship, given to students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy, or Native American health care. Ji is interested in a career in business strategies for sustainable development. On campus she leads education and outreach for Engineers for a Sustainable World.








Other McCormick students who earned scholarships and fellowships include the following:

  • Phillip Brunner, a graduate student in materials science and engineering, and Lisa Felberg (chemical engineering '11) received DAAD German Research grants.
  • Mark Ison, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, received the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals and Erasmus Mundus scholarships.
  • John Sheppard (biomedical engineering '10) received an NIH-Oxford-Cambridge scholarship.
  • Aaron Young, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, received the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate fellowship.
  • Danielle Proffit, graduate student in materials science and engineering, received the Department of Energy Graduate fellowship.
  • Gregory McGlynn (computer science '11) received the NASA Aeronautics Scholarship.
  • 14 graduate students received National Science Foundation research fellowships.



Professors receive $39 million in stimulus funding

McCormick School professors are part of research projects that have received more than $39 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The act, passed by Congress in February 2009, allocated billions for scientific research. Professors in every department at McCormick have applied for and received awards that range from $50,000 to more than $19 million.

"The success of McCormick's research awards is a consequence of our commitment to excellence in research and education," said Julio M. Ottino, dean of McCormick. "Our professors are at the leading edge of science and technology in preparing students to address the most challenging global problems. We are poised to make a difference."

The largest grant -- $19 million Ñ funds the new Non-Equilibrium Energy Research Center led by Bartosz Grzybowski, the Kenneth Burgess Professor of Physical Chemistry and Chemical Systems Engineering. Its focus is to synthesize, characterize, and understand new classes of materials under conditions far from equilibrium that are relevant to solar energy conversion, catalysis, and storage of electricity and hydrogen.

"Many of these awards are research projects that cross disciplines and schools," says Rich Lueptow, senior associate dean for operations and research at McCormick. "This sort of effort is part of the culture at McCormick, and it is essential to the innovation our country needs in this economy."


Two Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Monica Olvera de la Cruz

Two McCormick professors in materials science and engineering -- Monica Olvera de la Cruz and David Seidman -- have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious honorary societies and independent policy research centers.

Seidman is a Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. His research aims to understand physical phenomena in a wide range of material systems on an atomic scale. He and his research group are studying aluminum-, nickel-, and iron-based alloys for possible high-temperature and structural applications and metal silicide/silicon reactions pertinent to solid-state devices.

Olvera de la Cruz is the Lawyer Taylor Professor of Material Science and Engineering and professor of chemical and biological engineering and of chemistry. She has developed theoretical models to determine the thermodynamics, statistics, and dynamics of macromolecules in complex environments, including multicomponent solutions of heterogeneous synthetic and biological molecules.

David SeidmanOlvera de la Cruz was named by the Department of Defense as a fellow in its National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship program, one of only 11 faculty scientists and engineers from across the nation in the program's 2010 class. She will receive up to $4.25 million of support for up to five years for her research project "Paradigms for Emergence of Shape and Function in Biomolecular Electrolytes for the Design of Biomimetic Materials."

Seidman and Olvera de la Cruz are 2 of the 229 leaders in the sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, the arts, business, and public affairs who were elected to AAAS this year. Joining them were three other faculty members from Northwestern, including University President Morton Schapiro.


Detecting Colon Cancer in Women

Vadim Backman

A team led by Vadim Backman, professor of biomedical engineering, found that combining novel optical technologies with a common colon cancer screening test may allow doctors to more accurately detect the presence of colon cancer, particularly in women. The study, done in partnership with colleagues at NorthShore University HealthSystem, combined a polarization-gating optical probe alongside traditional flexible sigmoidoscopy to measure the early increase in blood supply in rectal tissue as a marker for colon cancer. The results were published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy examines the lower third of the colon for cancer. It's quick and affordable, can be conducted by a primary care physician, and requires simpler bowel preparation than that of a colonoscopy. However, the test isn't widely used for colon cancer screening because it examines only the lower third of the colon.

Women are more likely than men to have cancerous lesions in the proximal colon, a section of the colon not examined during flexible sigmoidoscopy. By itself that method detected only a third of colon cancers in women, according to previous studies.

The Northwestern researchers combined the flexible sigmoidoscopy with an optic probe that measures how light scatters through tissue and detects subtle changes in the tissue that can indicate the presence of cancer. The technology makes use of a biological phenomenon known as the "field effect," a hypothesis that suggests the genetic and environmental milieu that results in a neoplastic lesion in one area of an organ should be detectable throughout the organ and even in neighboring tissue. The combined technique identified with 100 percent accuracy each person who had a neoplasia in the proximal colon. Researchers found that the early increase in blood supply was a particularly robust marker for proximal neoplasia in women.

This result provides hope that the technique could provide a mechanism to improve discrepancies in the accuracy of colon cancer screening between men and women.


A New Home for the Center for Leadership

The Center for Leadership at Northwestern has a new academic home at the McCormick School. McCormick will host the center's academic offerings, serve as a springboard for the center's connections with the University community, and provide faculty appointments to its leadership team.

"We're excited to join McCormick because we think that leadership will complement the other offerings of the school," says Adam Goodman, director of the Center for Leadership. "McCormick students will be called upon to be leaders in their careers, so it's important for the school to introduce them to the concepts of effective leadership throughout their education."

The Center for Leadership started in 1990 as the Undergraduate Leadership Program. For 20 years the program provided a popular undergraduate certificate program in leadership, and more than 2,500 students have participated in the program.

"The Center for Leadership is an excellent addition to the curricular and extracurricular activities offered to our students," says Dean Julio M. Ottino. "Combined with other new initiatives at McCormick -- such as the Segal Design Institute and the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship -- we are building offerings to create whole-brain™ engineers. Our students emerge with deep technical knowledge, which is at the heart of engineering, but we must also instill leadership, entrepreneurship, and design skills into their thinking in order to prepare them to have maximum impact on the world."


Pens Promise Low-Cost Rapid Nanofabrication

Nano pen technologyA Northwestern research team has drawn 15,000 identical Chicago skylines with tiny beams of light using an innovative nanofabrication technology called beam-pen lithography. The team was led by Chad A. Mirkin, professor of biomedical engineering at McCormick, the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and director of Northwestern's International Institute for Nanotechnology. Details of the method were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Researchers simultaneously patterned 15,000 replicas of the Chicago skyline over a few square centimeters of space using 15,000 tiny pens. Each skyline pattern was made up of 182 dots, with each dot approximately 500 nanometers in diameter -- the diameter of each pen tip. The time of light exposure for each dot was 20 seconds, with the entire process taking about a half an hour. The method results in structures as small as 150 nanometers, though refinements of the pen architecture likely will increase resolution to below 100 nanometers. Conventional nanopatterning technologies, such as electron-beam lithography, can make similarly small structures but are inherently low throughput and cannot do large-area nanofabrication.

Beam-pen lithography could lead to the development of a sort of desktop printer for nanofabrication, giving individual researchers a great deal of control over their work. The method offers a means to rapidly and inexpensively make and prototype circuits, optoelectronics, and medical diagnostics and promises many other applications in the electronics, photonics, and life sciences industries.


Nanofiber "Noodle Gel" Promises Better Tissue Regeneration

A Northwestern team is the first to demonstrate a method that delivers cells in the same alignment as the cells found in tissues, a technique that could jumpstart new growth and healing. The findings were published as the cover story in the July issue of the journal Nature Materials. The paper's senior author was Samuel I. Stupp, Board of Trustees Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Chemistry, and Medicine and director of the Institute for Bionanotechnology in Medicine.

The researchers produced centimeter-long, noodle-shaped strings of nanofibers containing living cells aligned in linear fashion.

These gel-like strings are flexible, biodegradable, and can be made into different lengths and widths. They could be surgically placed on damaged tissue, where they would adhere naturally.
 
To create the noodle gel, Stupp and his team start with aggregates of specially designed peptide amphiphile molecules in water. Heating the solution causes the molecules to emerge as sheets suspended in water. When cooled, the sheets break into bundles of fibers, forming an unusual liquid crystal. The researchers then mix cells into the liquid crystal and, using a pipette, draw it by hand across a salt solution, causing the liquid crystal to gel immediately. The result is like a piece of cooked spaghetti composed of aligned nanofibers with huge populations of encapsulated cells.

Stupp is collaborating with other researchers on studies using the noodle gel for stem-cell delivery. One project focuses on the use of the aligned structures as highways to divert stem cells from parts of the brain where they are abundant to others where they might be needed to cure diseases, such as Parkinson's.


Donald N. FreyDonald N. Frey, 86, professor of industrial engineering and management sciences, died in March. At McCormick he taught courses on innovation, entrepreneurship, and information systems; he also taught first-year engineers in the Engineering Design and Communication sequence -- "to keep my foot in reality," he said. Frey also mentored doctoral students.

Frey enjoyed a long and illustrious industrial career -- with Ford Motor Company, General Cable Corporation, and Bell & Howell Company -- before joining Northwestern in 1988. Along with others, he came up with the concept and design of the Ford Mustang, a car that became an American icon. Frey was an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering and received the National Medal of Technology from President George H. W. Bush in 1990.

In 2001 Frey established the annual Margaret and Muir Frey Prize at McCormick. Named for his late parents, the prize recognized design creativity in the best senior capstone projects -- projects that are designed by a student or team of students and are related to known problems or credible new products or processes.