UNF physics professor makes advances in nanotechnology, photon energy


A UNF physics professor has developed advances in optical components, using gold nanorods to manipulate data. The development has the potential to increase the speed by which people use technology through photonic energy.

Gregory Wurtz, a UNF temporary employee, was part of an international team of scientists that collaborated with King’s College London, Argonna National Laboratory, University of Massachusetts at Lowell and The Queen’s University of Belfast. Their goal was to determine the benefit of using photons – a basic unit of light – to transmit information across technologies.

Nanotechnology, the type of science used in his research, Wurtz said, is on the sub-microscopic level — the research requires a lot of equipment and skill.

In order to make the tiny rods designed in Wurtz’s research, scientists must use special equipment, including scanning electron microscopes and focused ion beams.

Research in this field has been underway for years, Wurtz said, and promotes advances in medical applications, telecommunications and encryption. Wurtz also said the advances in photon-based nanotechnology could benefit everyday uses like storing data on a hard drive. The reason for using photons is that light travels much faster than electricity.

With electric energy, heat generation limits the speed at which information can be transported, Wurtz said. This heat is caused by loose electrons colliding with other electrons to make heat, which slows down the reactions between hosts. The goal of the research is to reduce these collisions and allow faster processing speeds.

Wurtz was part of a team of researchers that recently had its work published in “Nature Nanotechnology.” In its research, the team designed a set of nanorods that were coupled together – meaning they were placed very close to one another — via photo exchange.

Gary Wiederrecht, group leader at the Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois, helped with the research. He said this coupling increased the speed of reaction.

Wiederrecht said the team decided to use gold for the nanorods because of its strong structure.

“It’s a very robust material, and we’re able to study it for months without having to worry about it decaying,” he said.

The research is incredibly basic, Wiederrecht said, but it could lay the groundwork for remarkable changes in how we use technology. He said this is an area of work where scientists may be able to take the next step and use photons instead of electricity.

“You’d have much faster operating devices, but that’s a long long way into the future,” Wiederrecht said.