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What does NanoPhotonics do?

Quite a lot of things! This year we're going to be talking about nanomachines: how to interact with things at the nanoscale.

Why nanomachines?

At roughly human size (we call this the macroscale - anything from 1 mm to several metres), it is relatively simple to interact with things. If you'd like to move something, you can simply poke it. If you would like to make a light switch on and off, you can get a single LED to do that. If you want to change colours, you can get three LEDs (red, green, and blue) and adjust the brightness of each to get the colour you want.

But what happens if you want to move a very small object around?

You could poke it with the end of a pen maybe. But if the object is so small you can't see it? You need a nanomachine that can do the job for you.

The same is true if we want materials which can automatically change how bright a light is, or what colour it is. We need to control many small components all at once - it's much better to design a nanomachine to do the job for us.

What are nanomachines?

Good question… There are quite a lot of answers to it. Here, we are taking a very broad view and defining a nanomachine as anything which can make changes to objects at the nanoscale.

Think of it like the muscles in your body. A muscle is made of individual muscle cells, each of which pull a very small amount. A whole muscle is capable of exerting large forces on the macroscale but it is made of lots of small cells which work together. We are designing something small, like a muscle cell, which can be useful on its own or alongside many others.

What will you see during our demo?

We have been filming some of our lab members while they make their nanomachine devices. You will get to see Aoife while makes moving structures out of carbon nanotubes.

You will also see Yuling while she makes colour changing nanoparticles controlled by electricity and Ji explains how an aerosol jet printer works.

What physics do we use in the demo?

In this demonstration we make use of optical microscopy, atomic force microscopy, plasmonics and electrochemistry.

Why is this work useful? 

There are many applications for nanomachines like automatic window shades that can make buildings environmentally friendly, targeted drug delivery, and advanced sensors. Conventional machinery (cogs, gears, and pistons) is hard to make and maintain at small scale, and impossible to make using normal methods at the nanoscale. We are performing exploratory research to investigate new and creative ways to make this kind of machinery in the future.