UF researchers in ‘Science’: Advancing simulation of nanostructures

Published: September 25th, 2009

Category: Announcements, InsideUF, Seen & Heard, Top Stories

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The pieces are falling into place to design and simulate new devices and structures at the nanometer scale, a capability that could lead to faster computer chips, better biological implants and more powerful and efficient jet engines, among other advances.

So suggest University of Florida materials science and engineering professors Simon Phillpot and Susan Sinnott in this week’s edition of the journal Science.

In an article titled “Simulating Multifunctional Structures” in Science’s “Perspectives” section, Phillpot and Sinnott say that increases in computer power combined with improved computer instructions, or algorithms, are now making possible the design, tuning and prototyping of nanostructures – the extremely small elements at the heart of computer chips and many other modern products. This modeling had been difficult until recently because these nanostructures often contained very different materials such as metals, oxides, or silicon, each of which had its own framework or paradigm that scientists used to describe or manipulate it.

“The way things had been described at that level had been very different,” Phillpot said. “We think that now, we have a common framework, or skeleton, in place in which to describe them all simultaneously.”

When scientists and engineers can model, test or simulate devices that are between 10 and 50 nanometers in size (50 nanometers equals one 1000th of the thickness of a human hair), they can speed the development of products vital to information technology, health care and many other areas, Phillpot said. That’s because such modeling and simulation reveal dead ends and reduce costly experiments, allowing developers to reach production more quickly.

“Something as simple as a hip replacement – typically, the socket is made of polyethylene, the ball of titanium, and it’s all embedded in the warm, wet, corrosive fluids of the body,” he said. “There are a lot of materials and all sorts of complex physical and chemical processes going on there, and we’d like to understand how it all works together.”

Phillpot earned his doctoral degree in physics from UF in 1985, then spent more than a decade at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois before joining the UF materials science and engineering department in 2003. Sinnott earned her doctorate in physical chemistry in 1993 from Iowa State University. She came to UF in 2000 from the University of Kentucky.


Aaron Hoover

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