Skip to main content

National Science Foundation award honors Posner

March 26, 2008

Innovation in research and education in nanotechnology and fluid dynamics at ASU is being recognized through a National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award to Jonathan Posner, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

The award will provide more than $400,000 over five years to help fund Posner’s research on colloidal crystal films, as well as education and outreach programs in science and engineering related to his research.

The NSF Career Award is among the most prestigious for scientists and engineers early in their careers. It recognizes researchers and educators for their potential to be leaders in their areas of expertise.

Posner joins several other ASU engineering faculty members who have received such awards in recent years.

Colloidal crystal films are made of stacks of nanospheres. Nanospheres are spherical particles with a diameter in nanometers – one-billionth of a meter. The films are stacked in particular cubic patterns that give them unique photonic (light) and fluid properties. A common example of the optical effect of colloidal crystals is the colorful light diffraction from a butterfly’s wings.

These properties could provide improved functioning and performance in a diverse range of applications, Posner says. Examples are integrated optical circuits (similar in principle to electrical integrated circuits, but achieved by combining many miniature versions of optical components); biochemical separations (techniques available for separating and purifying biomolecules); and optofluidic devices (a class of devices that integrate both microscopic optical and fluid systems.).

Colloidal crystal films currently are plagued with unwanted defects that limit their applications. Colloidal crystals are formed from a fluid deposition process. The defects in the films arise in large part because of a lack of fundamental understanding of the physics that govern the way in which the crystals are assembled. Posner’s research addresses these limitations by observing these films in three dimensions and in real time.

“These colloidal crystal films remain in the laboratory instead of in use in real-world applications because we cannot make them without defects,” he says. “Understanding how the films are made will improve of many technologies, from optical computing to medical diagnostics to fuel cells.”

The award funding also will support an educational outreach program aimed primarily at introducing Hispanic and Native American Indian middle school students to various aspects of science and engineering related to Posner’s work. Posner and ASU graduate students who assist him will visit middle school classrooms to give students hands-on demonstrations of fluid phenomena. The demonstrations of visually appealing physical phenomena will be designed to inspire young students to study science, math and engineering, he says.

In addition, middle school teachers will be invited to work in Posner’s lab for a summer and receive financial support from the NSF. The teachers will acquire first-hand experience of working on cutting-edge research.

The classroom demonstrations in fluid dynamics will be packaged and distributed to middle school teachers so that they can provide hands-on experiences for students beyond the five-year period funded through Posner’s NSF award.

Posner’s work also will expand university undergraduate research opportunities for Hispanic and Native American Indian students. These groups have low representation in engineering nationwide. He is working with the Center for Engineering Diversity and Retention in the school of engineering to recruit undergraduate students to conduct research in his lab.

“The NSF CAREER program offers a unique opportunity to integrate research with education and outreach,” he says. “My goal is to inspire a few young people, who otherwise would not have exposure to academic research, to make science and engineering a lifelong pursuit.”  

Sidra Omer,
Fulton School of Engineering