February 2001

From Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech's Rick Claus named Virginia Outstanding Scientist

Blacksburg, VA, February 14, 2001 – A new process to manufacture thin films has "environmental, economic, manufacturing, and productivity implications for the multi-billion microelectronics industry," says F. William Stephenson, dean of Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, where the process was developed.

The work was done at the university’s Fiber and Electro-Optics Research Laboratory, directed by Rick Claus, a distinguished professor in the electrical and computer engineering department.

This work, in part, secured Claus’ receipt of Virginia’s Outstanding Scientist Award for 2001, announced today by the Science Museum of Virginia to the Virginia General Assembly. Claus was specifically cited for his work in fiber optics and nanotechnology, as well as in microelectronics. Stephenson nominated Claus for the award.

The thin films were made using a novel self-assembly process. These piezoelectric/electrostrictive films have the potential to be used to design microelectronic mechanical systems (MEMs), devices, and sensors.

Claus explains that these films have a number of advantages over previous technologies. Primarily, they can be synthesized at room temperature and pressure, resulting in very low-cost manufacturing. This process is also environmentally friendly, leaving no volatile organic compounds and consuming negligible power.

Applications include integrated circuit devices, power distribution and control devices, communication devices and networks, transportation systems, computer hardware systems, biosensing devices, and eyeglass lenses.

Regarding eyeglass lenses, Jim Barney, vice president of account management at The Magnum Group, who supported Claus’ nomination, says, "A market need exists in the eyecare industry for improved methods for thin-film coating of spectacle lenses with anti-reflective and protective properties, cosmetic tints, and other properties.

"Dr. Claus was invaluable in evaluating the specific optical industry needs and applying his research in nanotechnology that will represent a significant advance in the performance of organic/inorganic thin films."

Claus and his co-workers have also been successful in making nanoassembled, light-emitting diodes. And FEORC’s group has achieved the manufacture of uniformly sized nanoparticles at the two nanometer dimension. (10-20 nanometers is typical. A human hair is about 100 nanometers wide.)

Nanostructured materials -- in the form of an alloy such as a metal or a ceramic -- are made of the same atoms as their more common forms, but the atoms are arranged in nanometer-size clusters into specific molecules and sequences that impart remarkable electronic, optical, mechanical, and other properties. The trick in making such useful materials is to collect very large numbers of nanoclusters and then control them at the molecular level to form them into larger physical systems.

Claus also recently received the award for innovative technology development at the New Century Technology Council’s Tech Nite 2000. Claus was named the region’s top developer of commercially viable technology. This award highlighted his work in nanotechnology.

FEORC, Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology first Technology Development Center, was established in 1985. It has a proven track record for providing both the science and engineering aspects of new technology. As its director, Claus has submitted more than 100 patent disclosures and published more than 800 papers in lightwave technology and applications. FEORC is also currently supported by more than 30 research sponsors.

Among its major contracts, FEORC received a $6.5 million contract from the U.S. Department of the Navy in 1994 to study a range of fiber optic applications as they related to military and commercial uses. In 1998, FEORC received a $9.6 million grant from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) for an Optical Sciences Research program. Nanotechnology was included in the research focus of this proposal.

"Dr. Claus, as a recognized leader in his field, has secured more than $33 million during his 22-year career in academia. His work has contributed greatly to Virginia Tech’s listing as the only top 50 research university in the state," Stephenson says.

"Dr. Claus has quite possibly set a record for the number of spin-off companies from one research center. Since his initial funding from the CIT in 1985, 18 different companies have been spun off from his work with students. These companies employ more than 200 people in Virginia and they represent a number of high-tech jobs. Dr. Claus is helping to keep Virginia’s best scientists in this field as residents of the commonwealth," Stephenson adds.

The Science Museum of Virginia recognized two Virginia Outstanding Scientists for 2001. The second was Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Claus and Collins will be honored at a dinner April 23.

This article comes from Science Blog. Copyright © 2004

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