Small Miracles at Nanotecnology Hubs
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.