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Small Miracles at Nanotecnology Hubs

March/April 1998

Using the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility, plant pathologists are learning just how the cells of rust fungi work. Cornell researcher Harvey Hoch and his colleagues used silicon to mimic the microscopic bumps and dips found on leaves. They discovered that the fungi grow according to the plant's own topography. In fact, the guard cells–no more than 500 nanometers in height or about 1/100 the width of a human hair–signal the location of stomata or pores, which act as entry points into the leaves.

It's a tiny discovery made possible by tiny technology, but by nano standards, the guard cells are big. Researchers are measuring results in terms of one nanometer (10-9 meters). With machinery that small, scientists can even play with atoms.

"The breadth of possibilities is immense," says NSF's Marvin White, Program Director of the National Nanofabrication Users Network (NNUN). They include minuscule transistors, nanosensors to find defects in the surface of silicon chips, and medical probes so small they won't damage tissues. "But we need to allow more people to build and use these nanostructures," says White. NSF provides nano-access through NNUN, a 10-year project co-sponsored by three of NSF's directorates–Engineering, Biological Sciences, and Mathematical and Physical Sciences. NSF sponsors nanotechnology hubs at Stanford, Cornell, Pennsylvania State, Howard and the University of California at Santa Barbara.
[February 1996]

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