This project will address open scientific questions in nanotechnology leading to improved nano-scale sensors. The project will promote the progress of science and advance the national health, prosperity and security by enabling ultra-sensitive and robust nanoelectromechanical devices. Nanoelectromechanical sensors can easily detect single atoms and molecules, and are expected to provide powerful new approaches to medical diagnostics and environmental monitoring potentially with single-molecule sensitivity. This research project will vastly expand the operational parameters of nanoelectromechanical sensors and enable them to operate robustly in the nonlinear regime. The machinery and methods developed in this project will allow for widespread use of these microscopic machines and facilitate rapid progress toward the various sensing applications. The project will also contribute to U.S. workforce development by significantly enhancing undergraduate education at Gordon College, a small liberal arts institution.
The overarching goals of this project are to resolve scientific questions pertinent to nonlinear operation of nanoelectromechanical resonators and to develop a toolkit for operating them. So far, nanoelectromechanical resonators have mostly been operated in the linear regime. In the linear regime, the widely-used resonance tracking techniques work by locking onto the rapidly-changing but smooth phase or amplitude response of a resonator around its mechanical resonance. However, such feedback techniques do not work in the nonlinear regime, because physical observables have discontinuous jumps due to bifurcations. Instead of focusing on complex control algorithms and controllers, this project will systematically investigate the possibility of finding novel physical observables, which may allow for controlling nonlinear resonators using standard controllers. In order to validate this project's approach, the team will develop a host of novel experimental techniques and instruments by combining nanoelectromechanical resonators with Field Programmable Gated Array (FPGA) electronics.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.