Ben Beck has been performing research in Dr. Kidd's group on nanoscale systems since August 2011. For his first project, Ben was analyzing ring-like structures composed of bundled nanowires. Nanowires are fiber-like structures that are hundreds of times thinner than a single hair, but can be a few millimeters long. Ben was attempting to learn how some of these nanowires can spontaneously roll themselves up into the shape of a ring or spool of thread. This is a very rare occurrence, with only a few known materials forming these shapes. The small circular structures could have very interesting magetic properties. However, at present only a small portion of the samples we create actually form rings. Hopefully Ben's work in this area will lead to a better understanding of how they are created and give insight into refining the growth process to yield a greater amount of these ring-like structures and enable one to manipulate them with magnetic fields.
His second project has been to use a scanning electron microscope, an instrument typically used to measure very small structures, to actually write three dimensional nanoscale features into layered dichalcogneide materials. The dichalcogenides are a class of materials of interest for applications ranging from advanced lubricants to rechargeable batteries, and the technique Ben is using could be important for creating ultra-small devices composed of these materials. The patterns Ben generates can be seen using a simple optical microscope, and he uses an atomic force microscope to measure their structural properties with precision down to a single molecule.
As a research assistant in the physics department, Ben has been able to learn many advanced experimental and analytical techniques that should serve him well whether he decides to pursue a career in scientific research or as an engineer working with advanced materials. He has already presented his research at a regional meeting of the American Physical Society and will be presenting more of his work at the Spring meeting of the Iowa Academy of Science. His work is supported by a SOAR grant from the College of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences and the "20 Best On-campus Internship" program at UNI. Additional funding for his work has come from a grant for study of Hydrogen Storage materials from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence which supports a collaboration between Dr's Tim Kidd, and Mike Roth of the Physics Department and Dr. Laura Strauss of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.