Science + Technology

UCLA Among Six Universities to Collaborate in Study of Biologically Assembled Quantum Electronic Systems


The U.S. Defense Departmentis awarding a team of nine professors from six universities $6 million overfive years to exploit precise biological assembly for the study of quantumphysics in nanoparticle arrays. This research will help to produce a fundamentalunderstanding of quantum electronic systems, which could impact the way futureelectronics are created.

The UCLA Henry Samueli Schoolof Engineering and Applied Science is teaming up with leading researchers atthe University of Minnesota, New York University, the University of Texas atAustin, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University to developbiological strategies combining DNA, proteins and peptides with chemicalsynthesis techniques to construct arrays of nanoparticles. (A nanoparticle array consists of metal particles with adiameter of 0.5 to 5 nanometers. The interactions among them producehighly correlated behaviors.)  

Joining biological to man-madematerials is the first step toward an entirely new materials assembly techniquethat will operate on the nanoscale. Interactions between precisely arranged metallic nanoparticlescould lead to new physics discoveries, as well as to new mechanisms forcomputing, signal processing and sensing.

"Highly interacting andcorrelated systems will be extremely important in creating future robustnanoscale electronic devices," said UCLA Engineering's Kang Wang, one of theteam members involved in the research.

Basic studies of nanoparticlearrays have in the past been hampered by the need to fabricate test structureswith extreme control and precision. Most semiconducting devices, such as computer chips, are made from thetop down; patterns are imposed on the material and etched into it. Thebiological assembly technique aims at building from the bottom up, atom by atomor molecule by molecule.

"By exploiting biology toprecisely control size, spacing, composition and coupling in the arrays, wewill be able to examine the effects of electronic, magnetic and opticalinteractions at much smaller dimensions than in the past," said Richard A.Kiehl, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota, who is leading the effort. "Thiswill open a wide range of unbroken ground for exploring new physics."

Kiehl has wide-rangingexperience in investigating the potential of novel fabrication techniques,physical structures and architectures for electronics.

The team members include twoprofessors from the UCLA Henry Samueli School ofEngineering and Applied Science, Yu Huang, professor of materialsscience, and Kang Wang, professor of electrical engineering, as well as UCLAprofessor of biochemistry Todd O. Yeates, New York University professors AndrewD. Kent (physics) and Nadrian C. Seeman (chemistry), University of Minnesotaprofessor Richard A. Kiehl (electrical and computer engineering), University ofTexas at Austin professor Allan H. MacDonald (physics), University ofPennsylvania professor Christopher B. Murray (chemistry), and ColumbiaUniversity professor Colin Nuckolls (chemistry).

Kiehl and Seeman previouslycollaborated on the first demonstration of metallic nanoparticle assembly byDNA scaffolding, which will be central to this project. Seeman will exploit DNAnanotechnology to construct 2-D and 3-D scaffolding for the nanoparticlearrays, while Huang and Yeates will use peptides and proteins to makenanoparticle clusters for assembly onto the scaffolding. Murray and Nuckollswill synthesize metallic and magnetic nanoparticles with organic shells thatwill self-assemble to the scaffolding and control the interparticle coupling.Kent, Kiehl and Wang will carry out experiments to characterize the electronic,magnetic and optical properties of the arrays.

Kiehl and Wang have beencollaborating for the past four years at the Center on Functional EngineeredNano Architectonics, a multi-university center headquartered at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and AppliedScience. MacDonald will provide theoretical guidance for the studies andanalysis of the experimental results.

"While our goal is to usebiology to construct a 'nanoscale test vehicle' for the systematic study ofbasic physics today, this work could lead to a practical biological route forthe assembly of quantum electronic systems in the future," said Kiehl.

Quantum electronic systemsare strongly influenced by interactions both within and between nanoparticlesand hence are extremely sensitive to the quality and dimensions of thestructure.

Ranked among the top 10engineering schools among public universities nationwide, the UCLA HenrySamueli School of Engineering and Applied Science is home to seven multimillion‑dollarinterdisciplinary research centers in space exploration, wireless sensorsystems, nanomanufacturing and defense technologies, funded by top national andprofessional agencies

The research award, given bythe Army Research Office, is one of 36 granted under the Defense Department's highlycompetitive Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative. The department'snews release is at

About the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering andApplied Science

Established in 1945, the UCLAHenry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science offers 28 academic andprofessional degree programs, including an interdepartmental graduate degreeprogram in biomedical engineering. For more information, visit



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