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New ASU center makes big deal of nanoionics

March 09, 2007

What happens on an incredibly small scale is a big deal at ASU. A new Center for Applied Nanoionics (CANi) promises to provide major new collaborations and advances in this burgeoning field, which focuses on the behavior of materials on an atomic scale.

Nanoionics involves materials and devices that rely on ion transport and chemical change at the nanoscale (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, or 0.000000001 meter). Ions are atoms or groups of atoms that possess an electrical charge. Researchers are finding that these minute amounts of materials have interesting and useful properties when they are confined to nanoscale device structures.

“Nanoionics is the ion analog to nanoelectronics,” says Michael Kozicki, an ASU professor of electrical engineering and director of the new center. “Whereas nanoelectronics works with electron movement through materials on an incredibly small scale, nanoionics deals with the movement of ions on this minute scale. We are finding that ions have all sorts of interesting properties at the nanoscale that lead to a range of potential applications that are beyond the capabilities of nanoelectronics.”

Kozicki says the new center, which is built upon more than 10 years of pioneering work at ASU, will act as a focal point for a wide range of faculty and researchers.

He adds that an important role of the center is to foster collaborations.

“People who are interested in this area do not know where to go to get more information. The center will provide that point of contact,” Kozicki says. “But we also want to get people together so they can collaborate, write papers and proposals, and work together across industry and academia in this exciting field. To date, almost two dozen affiliates have allied themselves with the center (including IBM, Samsung and the Juelich Research Center in Germany ), and more will be brought on board over the next year.”

“CANi will work with as many researchers as possible, regardless of their affiliations,” he says. “Not just in the United States , either, but in the U.K. , Germany , Korea and other nations. We want to provide an international focal point for this research.”

Kozicki foresees a broad spectrum of research activities at the center, from materials modeling, synthesis and characterization to device and system design and analysis. Some of the promising applications of nanoionics include solid-state electronics, especially in memory devices, data storage and logic; use in micro-electromechanical systems, which combine electronic and mechanical devices operating at small scales; use in optical switches and displays; and use in microvalves and other fluid control devices, which can lead to lab-on-a-chip devices and medical implants.

Kozicki said the most advanced application of nanoionics is in memory devices, where they promise very low energy consumption and are being developed by several semiconductor companies for use in digital cameras, MP3 players, cell phones and other portable electronics.

“While the first applications will be in memory devices, we foresee a wide range of products based on nanoionics,” Kozicki says. “We believe we are just scratching the surface in terms of applications for nanoionics.”

Kozicki adds that an emphasis of the center is on applied research.

“The research will be use-inspired,” he says. “We are looking at building actual, usable devices and systems based on nanoionics.”

This is no idle claim, Kozicki adds, as the ASU research work in nanoionics over the past 10 years has resulted in 24 issued U.S. patents, with a similar number of foreign counterparts, several technology licenses and a spinoff company (Axon Technologies Corp.).