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Using nanotech, 'U' scientists create Obama portraits

BY ELAINE LAFAY
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 18, 2008

Using hundreds of millions of tiny carbon tubes, University researchers used nanotechnology to craft a likeness of President-elect Barack Obama smaller than a grain of salt.

John Hart, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering who headed the project, said he undertook the project for fun but also as a way of making nanotechnology accessible, which is used to create everyday items like as batteries and electronics.

Hart came up with the idea about six months ago and found time to work on the “Nanobamas” in his spare time between other projects, finishing the first set five days before the presidential election.

Each Nanobama is composed of about a hundred million carbon nanotubes, which are hollow cylinders of carbon. Engineering graduate student Sam Tawfick, who worked on the project, said each nanotube is about 8,000 times smaller than a human hair.

Hart and his students also created Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s image out of nanotubes.

Hart said the researchers didn’t make nanotube images of the Republican candidates, Sen. John McCain or Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, but that the decision not to had more to with the fact that the word "Nanobama" rolls off the tongue better.

“I do support Obama, but I didn’t mean — I thought of Nanobama and it sounded cool, so we did that,” he said.

The scientists made the Obama likeness by first forming the nanotubes on silicon wafers by heating chemical catalysts in an oven filled with carbon gas. Once the oven reaches between 700 and 800 degrees Celsius, the gas turns into a solid nanotube.

The tubes shoot up quickly from the wafer. For comparison, if each nanotube were a tree one foot in diameter, it would grow at 500 miles an hour.

Nanostructures are often used for batteries and solar cells, better imaging inside the body for medicine and in high performance materials like cars and planes. Much of Hart’s research focuses on the formation of nanotubes.


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