Every spring DISCOVER: Marquette University Research and Scholarship showcases some of the most interesting research happening on Marquette's campus. Learn more through the links below.
Typical human hair Nanogap M arquette assistant professor of something, it really helps to understand it as a molecule. That’s the single building block.” Further fueling interest is the awareness that tiny particles of certain substances can prove particularly sensitive to heat or electric and magnetic fields, opening up exciting applications for them in sensors, transistors or other nanodevices. Captivating as it is, nanoscale electronics is not for the faint of heart. About a almost impossible,” says Lee. “And if you were lucky enough to do it once, you had to start all over again. It was very difficult to replicate your work.” Lee was among a few in the field who began approaching the problem from the opposite direction. If you could build a nanostructure with tiny electrode arms, you could use mists to drop desired particles into place. Then you’d know exactly where to look for them — right in the gap between the electrodes, ready to be electrified. Since coming to Marquette in 2008 from California State University at Fresno, electrical and computer engineering Dr. Chung Hoon Lee is going boldly where few have gone before. But it’s not the far reaches of interstellar space. In his fourth-floor lab in Haggerty Hall, he and student assistants explore the microscopic frontier of molecular electronics, honing their ability to apply electric current to particles as small as a single molecule. This corner of nanotechnology is seeing a flurry of research interest these days — in part, Lee says, because oversized insights tend to emerge from the study of substances in their smallest form. The advances are akin to what occurred when biologists began to understand human cellular structure in the 19th century. “You can try to understand the human body as a single object or you can look closer. ... You can see how liver cells differ from heart cells and how they function differently,” he explains. “The same principle applies with nanotechnology. If you want to understand “THROUGH CREATIVITY AND DESIGN, I’M ABLE TO MAKE SOMETHING LIKE NO ONE ELSE HAS BEEN ABLE TO MAKE IT.” half-dozen years ago, the only way to electrify a tiny particle was to isolate it within a massive ensemble, to spend hours or even days searching for it with a high-powered microscope and then to perform the even harder task of positioning electrodes just right to make a connection. The difficulty level was off the charts — like finding a snowflake on a hockey rink and positioning a Zamboni to touch it without crushing it. “It was Lee has developed the ability to build these very nanostructures out of metalcoated silicon, tens of thousands of them, on campus. It’s his contribution to an effort involving collaborators at Cornell University and Department of Defense grant support. In the past year, Lee has passed some exciting milestones. He has bridged his gap of between two to 10 nanometers (about 1/10,000th the diameter of a 10 Discover