Trojan Family

The Art of Nano-Blacksmithing

02/01/07
They say the West could not have been won without the humble blacksmith. On the frontiers of nanoscience, a new kind of smithy is much in demand.
Nanotechnologists of the past and present, truth be told have had to dream up their own approaches and manufacture their own nano-components from scratch. But those of the future will have help.

Last fall, USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering introduced a new undergraduate course, CHE 487, “Nanotechnology and Nanoscale Engineering,” taught by C. Ted Lee of the Mork Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.

“The National Science Foundation has estimated that in the next five to 10 years, some 2 million new jobs will be created worldwide in the nanotechnology field,” reads Lee’s course description. “Will you be ready to capitalize on this inevitable trend?”

Twenty students, mostly chemical engineering majors, stepped forward and are now learning the fundamentals of “nano-blacksmithing” and “how to mix individual atoms and molecules in the proper proportions to make a desired nano-composite.”

The USC course is not the first of its kind in the country, says Lee, but it’s unique in combining and integrating both sides of the engineering mix: theory and laboratory modules providing practical, hands-on experience in methods.

It deals with both the “hard” side of nano nano-crystals, quantum dots and the “soft” materials micelles, polymers, proteins, composites that are attracting such intense interest from medical researchers.

“This course will be unlike any other you have taken,” Lee promises his students. “Today’s class assignment,” he told a reporter who called him, “was to determine under what conditions quantum would become localized in cancer cells.

“We’re doing organic, inorganic, biological,” Lee says. “You have a lot of possibilities when you play nano. The students can take what we give them to follow their interests where they lead.”

Eric Mankin