• The new NanoMechanical Technology Laboratory is equipped with state-of-the-art machines for the study of atomic and molecular scale materials. Graduate students Yoonjoon Choi (left) and Krystyn Van Vliet of materials science and engineering work with a nanoindenter that can probe and measure the properties of materials' surfaces.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • President Charles Vest (left) and Professor Subra Suresh, head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, preside at the dedication of the NanoLab.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • Glass walls and plasma screen displays inform passersby in the Infinite Corridor of the activities of MIT's new NanoMechanical Technology Laboratory in Building 8.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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NanoMechanical Technology Lab first at Institute to test tiny devices

A new NanoMechanical Technology Laboratory at MIT will allow Institute researchers to probe the mechanical properties of surfaces and devices at the atomic and molecular scale.

The laboratory "will have unique capabilities for studying the properties of the tiny world," said Subra Suresh, head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE). For example, it will be home to the Institute's first nanoindenters, machines that probe and measure the properties of surfaces of engineering and biological materials.

The dedication ceremony for the new facility was held on Monday, March 18.

"It's currently the most prominent and visible laboratory along MIT's Infinite Corridor," said Suresh, the R. P. Simmons Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. Glass walls and plasma screen displays of educational and research information will inform passersby of the activities of the laboratory.


The study of tiny systems consisting of only a few hundred atoms is key to a variety of applications. These include the atomic and molecular level design of surfaces, mini "reactors" for the production of new materials, insights into atomic-scale contact and wear that can affect the performance of magnetic storage media such as hard disks in our computers, and the development of new drug delivery devices and biological materials. The lab also will have facilities devoted to computer simulations of atomic-scale events.

At least a dozen faculty from more than five departments will be actively involved in the "NanoLab," Suresh said. In addition to Suresh, faculty with research and teaching ties to the lab are Lallit Anand, professor of mechanical engineering; Jesus del Alamo, professor of electrical engineering and computer science; Lorna Gibson, the Matoulas S. Salapatas Professor of Materials Science and Engineering; Klavs Jensen, the Lammot Du Pont Professor of Chemical Engineering and professor of materials science; Nicola Marzari and Christine Ortiz, both assistant professors of materials science and engineering; Ram Sasisekharan, associate professor in the Biological Engineering Division; Martin Schmidt, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and director of the Microsystems Technology Laboratories; Mark Spearing, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics; Edwin Thomas, the Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science; Carl Thompson, professor of materials science and engineering; Jackie Ying, the St. Laurent Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering; and Sidney Yip, professor of nuclear engineering.

Also contributing to the NanoLab will be Angela Belcher and Chris Schuh, two new faculty members joining DMSE in the fall. Schuh will be assistant professor of materials science and engineering and Belcher will be an associate professor with appointments in DMSE and biological engineering.

Suresh also noted that the new lab complements MIT's Microsystems Technology Laboratories . "MTL makes the materials and the NanoLab provides facilities to probe their properties," he said.

The NanoLab is expected to play an important role in the activities of the newly announced Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies , which will be directed by Thomas.

Suresh stressed that in addition to research, the lab also will be key to a number of educational activities. "Lab components will be added to a variety of subjects taught in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Courses taught Institute-wide could also benefit from the presence of the lab," he said.

For example, preliminary plans are under way to link the NanoLab to the WebLab , the online microelectronics lab developed by del Alamo.

The NanoMechanical Technology Laboratory was made possible by a combined donation of $500,000 from Harold Hindman (S.B. 1939 in chemistry; S.M. in mechanical engineering) and George Burr (S.B. 1941 in physics), cofounders of Instron Corporation; a pledge of $500,000 in cash and equipment from Instron Corporation itself; and an equipment grant of $500,000 from the Department of Defense to purchase the nanoindenter. Additional funding came from the Institute and the Lord Foundation of Massachusetts, Inc.

For more information, click here.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 20, 2002.

Topics: Nanoscience and nanotechnology


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