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Defining New Interfaces
An example is the interface of medicine and the physical sciences, which is becoming a key focus of many research efforts at Rensselaer. “As an engineering school, we are trying to define new interfaces, and one of the interfaces is nanomedicine,” Nalamasu says. “The nano toolbox is a unique medium to be able to understand this particular interface.”
Shekhar Garde, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Pawel Keblinski, associate professor of materials science and engineering, discovered that heat may actually move better across interfaces between liquids than it does between solids, which could have immediate practical application for cancer therapy. “Scientists are developing cancer treatments based on nanoparticles that attach to specific tissues, which are then heated to kill the cancerous cells,” Keblinski says. “It is vital to understand how heat flows in these systems, because too much heat applied in the wrong spot can kill healthy cells.”
To create artificial bones and other biomaterials, scientists need specially designed scaffolds that can direct how cells grow into body tissues. Siegel and his colleagues are conducting a study that could provide much-needed insight into this process at the intersection of biotechnology and nanotechnology. They are examining the behavior of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which are derived from bone marrow, on a number of ceramic materials that could be used as scaffolds. They have found that the size and chemistry of the nanoparticles that make up the ceramic materials has an impact on the way MSCs stick to the surfaces, and that one protein is primarily responsible for this impact: vitronectin, one of the major adhesive proteins found in human blood. This fundamental knowledge will help tissue-engineering researchers design the next generation of biomaterials for orthopedic applications, according to Siegel.
And nanotechnology researchers of all fields received a major boon with the establishment of the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI)a partnership between Rensselaer, IBM, and New York state to create the world’s most powerful university-based supercomputing center (see page 7). The $100 million project will provide a platform for researchers to perform a broad range of computational simulations, from the interactions between atoms and molecules up to the behavior of the complete device. These simulations will employ new computational tools that are becoming increasingly central to scientists’ efforts to manipulate matter at the atomic level. In much the same way as cars and planes are designed with computer models before they are built, the tools will allow researchers to build simulations of new nanotechnology-based products.
“The computational and intellectual resources at CCNI will be made available to companies from New York state and across the globe,” Nalamasu says. “The goal of this center is to define a new engineering design paradigm that will provide chip manufacturers the ability to predict device performance through integrated nanoscale simulation and fabrication.”
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