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Nanotechnology minimizes UW's beloved mascot

Madison, Wis. - One week before Badger football begins its 2005 season, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found a new way to demonstrate their school spirit. The only fans who can appreciate it, however, are the ones with high-powered microscopes.

Last month a team of UW-Madison chemists led by professor Robert Hamers created "NanoBucky", an image of the university's mascot made of nanofiber hairs each only 75 nanometers long. With each nanofiber a thousandth the width of human hair, it would take approximately 9,000 NanoBuckys to cover the head of a pin.

Carbon Nanofiber Image,
Credits: Dept. of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin
NanoBucky was created using a special plasma reactor, where a mix of acetylene and ammonia gas is combined with electrical current and fed onto a nickel catalyst. The chemical reaction encourages a growth of carbon on selected areas of the nickel, which have been picked out using a process known as electron beam lithography.

"It's almost like a photographic process, except instead of using light you use a beam of electrons," Hamers said of the lithography. A scanning electron microscope picks out certain areas of a silicon wafer coated in polymers, and deposits nickel on finely patterned regions.

According to Hamers, the nanofibers have tremendous potential in the market due to the stability and high surface area of the carbon. Possible applications for the technology include creating miniature sensors that can detect individual molecules of chemical and biological weapons, and can also be converted for special batteries and capacitors.
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So why use the technology to create a miniature badger in a sweater? "Basically, we were trying to push to see how fine we can make patterns," Hamers said. "NanoBucky was something we did just for fun, but also a test to see how finely you can pattern and control this process."

Les Chappell is a writer for WTN based in Madison. He can be reached at les@wistechnology.com.


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