A group of Engineering students and professors published a paper in the February 2009 issue of Review of Scientific Instruments, the most highly cited journal in instruments and instrumentation. The paper, “Automated spin-assisted layer-by-layer assembly of nanocomposites” is based on the research that the group undertook in ME 450, “Capstone Design and Manufacturing,” a senior-level course that aims to give engineering students an opportunity to work in teams on solving an open-ended design problem. The team was comprised of four Mechanical Engineering undergraduates, Matt Bachner, Yeh-Chuin Poh, Tom Serbowicz, and Steve Vozar; and three co-advisors, Chemical Engineering Professor Nick Kotov, Chemical Engineering PhD student Paul Podsiadlo, and Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor John Hart.
The team designed, built and tested the “Spin-Grower” system, which distributes multilayered thin films by centrifugal force for the creation of nanostructured materials like filtration membranes, solar cells, and batteries. The team used the system to build polymer-clay nanocomposites, and showed that not only did this method allow for faster production times than the traditional dip layer-by-layer (LBL) process, but the resulting materials had a higher structural order. The team designed a desktop system for laboratory use, but the apparatus can easily be re-scaled for commercial production.