Snapshot, FAQs, and Spin-Offs

Snapshot, FAQs, & Spinoffs

Released on 09/21/2012, at 12:00 AM

Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Voelte-Keegan Nanoscience Research Center

Lincoln, Neb., September 21st, 2012 —

A snapshot of exciting areas UNL researchers are exploring within Nanoscience.

Materials of the future

Faculty members: Xia Hong, assistant professor of physics; and Alexander Sinitskii, assistant professor of chemistry

Their goal: Hong and Sinitskii are among the UNL researchers working with graphene, which has been called the material of the future. Graphene was discovered in 2004, which led to the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics. It is a natural two-dimensional material in which electrons can travel much faster than in other two-dimensional conductors. This will mean enhanced data transfer rates for devices that use radio-frequency transistors, like cell phones, satellite communication, radar systems and portable radios. Graphene’s flexibility, transparency and resiliency also is expected to revolutionize digital displays, which could someday make computer screens or tablet devices flexible enough to fold and put in your pocket.

Nanomaterials for Energy

Faculty members: David Sellmyer, director of the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience; Ralph Skomski, research professor; and Jeff Shield, professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

Their goal: Using nanotechnology to work at the atomic scale, they are developing materials with stronger magnetic properties. Stronger magnets produce more energy for powering wind turbines and hydroelectric generators. They also reduce the size and power consumption of everything from hybrid and electric cars to computer memory storage devices. Lighter-weight vehicles increase gas efficiency and reduce exhaust emissions.

Creating new forms of matter

Faculty member: Xiao Cheng Zeng

Recent discovery: Zeng is part of a team of scientists from The Carnegie Institution of Washington in Argonne, Ill, Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Labs, and Brookhaven National Laboratory that have recently found that by using the right solvent at the right pressure, they can create a new form of matter from buckyballs (spherical molecules that have a cage-like structure) that that’s so hard it can dent diamonds, the hardest known substance. It's a new form of matter not seen before. The fact that the new, super-hard form of matter preserves its high-pressure structure is very important for possible future practical applications.


Faculty members: Christian Binek, associate professor of physics; Peter Dowben, professor of physics and chemistry; and Kirill Belashchenko, associate professor of physics

Their goal: They are focused on changing electrically how an electron or a group of electrons spin to create an advanced generation of electronic devices. Like that of many other UNL nanoscientists, one goal of this research is to create the technology that will make devices smaller, and capable of storing more data and using less energy. Such work will set a new direction for computers, smartphones and portable data storage devices, among other advances.

Biomedical applications

Faculty members: Yongfeng Lu, who is Lott Professor of Electrical Engineering, and team

Their goal: Lu’s team will use new, state-of-the-art equipment in the Voelte-Keegan facility for greater 3D bio-imaging and sensing in their spectroscopy work. They are eager to use these tools to advance biomedical applications such as detecting cancer and investigating the structure of abnormal tissue.

Affecting bioactivity at the nanoscale and single-cell level

Faculty members: Ravi Saraf, who is Lowell E. and Betty Anderson Distinguished Professor with UNL Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and team

Their goal: Among other things, Saraf and his team are focused on making nanodevices that are sensitive to biochemical activity at the single-cell level. This research seeks to produce energy more efficiently, discover mutant properties and find biochemical features not yet known. Working with the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience, Saraf’s team is understanding and managing materials for volt processing and structural analysis at the nanoscale level.

Frequently Asked Questions about Nanoscience

Q: What is nano?

Nano is the scientific term meaning one-billionth. So a nanometer is one one-billionth of a meter. A human hair measures about 50,000 nanometers in size. When objects are below 100 nanometers in size of on a nanoscale, they exhibit unexpected chemical and physical properties such as remarkably lower resistance to electricity or faster chemical reactions.

Q: What is nanotechnology and why is it important?

Nanotechnology is the manipulation of material at the nanoscale to take advantage of these properties. It is changing life as we know and has the potential for groundbreaking discoveries well into the future. It has paved the way to major advances in the fields of medicine and technology, to developing new materials for manufacturing and other uses. In turn, those developments affect our economy, culture and the environment.

Q: What are some applications?

Nanotechnology is responsible for making computers, cell phones and similar electronic and communication devices smaller, more energy efficient, and capable of storing more data. In medicine, the technology is used in drug delivery, tissue engineering, and to make contrast agents for use in the imaging of and therapeutic treatment of certain cancers. Nanotechnology is also responsible for increasing the efficiency of energy production. It allows for the advancement of solar power, for example.

Q: What is NCMN’s mission?

The Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience (NCMN) strives for excellence in research, graduate and postdoctoral education and service in materials science, engineering and nanoscience and is on the forefront of research in one of the nation’s highest priority national programs.

Q: Who studies nanotechnology?

The exploration of nanotechnology is going on around the world and includes researchers from many different fields including physics, chemistry, material sciences, engineering, biology and medicine. At UNL, more than 80 faculty members from the colleges of Arts and Sciences and Engineering have ties to NCMN.

SPIN-OFF Companies

J.A. Woollam Co.

Description: Worldwide leader in spectroscopic ellipsometry. Overview of products and basic description of ellipsometry:

Location: Lincoln (Haymarket)

Founded: 1987

UNL connection: John Woollam, professor of electrical engineering

Company website:

Rieke Metals, Inc.

Description: Manufactures high-quality research compounds

Location: Lincoln

Founded: 1992

UNL connection: Reuben Rieke, emeritus professor of chemistry, founded

Company website:


Description: Manufactures nanoparticles and nanofibers for applications including toxicology, tissue engineering, encapsulation and controlled release

Location: Lincoln (University of Nebraska Technology Park)

Founded: 2000

UNL connection: Gus Larsen, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, founded

Company website:

Philisa Technology Corporation

Description: Produces instrumentation for molecular diagnostics and microdevices. Assets bought by Omaha-based Streck Inc in 2010.

Founded: 2007

UNL connection: Henk Viljoen, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, founded along with then-Ph.D. student Joel TerMaat and post-doctoral fellow Scott Whitney

Acquisition news release:

Ossient, Inc.

Description: Manufactures materials for joint replacement devices and nonrejectable composites


Founded: 2009

Faculty founder: Jody Redepenning, chemistry

Rare-Earth Solar

Description: Nebraska’s first solar panel manufacturer

Location: Beatrice

Founded: 2011

UNL connection: Chin Li “Barry" Cheung, assistant professor of chemistry and then-doctoral student Joseph Brewer developed the technology that replaces the typical semiconductor materials now used in solar cell manufacture with rare earth elements. Brewer is founder and chief technology officer. Allen Kruse is co-founder and CEO.


Major NCMN affiliated Departments

Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering
Electrical Engineering
Mechanical & Materials Engineering
Physics & Astronomy