Yesterday, I officially completed the 12-week Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program at the National Institute of Standards of Technology (NIST). I never thought that I would find a place that loves infinite corridors, acronyms, and research as much as MIT, but alas, I did! My research was on Using Optical Tweezers to Create Nanowire Based Devices and I worked in the Manufacturing Engineering Lab.
So, see that picture? Those are zinc oxide nanowires growing on the edge of a silicon chip. My project was to find out how to remove those wires from the chip and then arrange them to create a nanodevice. Exciting, eh? In order to create complex mechanisms like nanorobots and nanocircuits that will revolutionize technology, we must start with the fundamentals and build our way up. The most basic building element is a point-like particle, which has limited possibilities to create sophisticated devices when used alone. However, line-like nanowires are much more versatile and are a fundamental building block of the simple nanoscale world. Nanowires can be used as a mechanical element, like a strut, or as an electrical component, like a conductor, or even as a waveguide to conduct light. We have many different kinds of nanowires available to us, but there are very few tools to directly manipulate and assemble them. One of the few such tools is optical tweezers, which work using the forces of radiation pressure, where radiation pressure is just the momentum imparted to an object from light. Basically, optical tweezers are the tiny functional equivalent of the tractor beams that you