Dr. Amy Blum Receives 2006 Sigma Xi Young Investigator Award

12/18/2006 - 64-06r
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Dr. Amy Szuchmacher Blum, a research scientist in the Center for Bio/Molecular Science and Engineering, is the recipient of the 2006 Young Investigator Award from the NRL Edison Chapter of the Sigma Xi scientific research society. Sigma Xi's Young Investigator Award recognizes scientists for outstanding research within 10 years of their highest earned degree and their ability to communicate their research to the public.

Sigma Xi promotes the promise of science and technology and fosters interaction among science, technology, and society; encourages appreciation and support of original work in science and technology; and honors scientific research accomplishments.

Having demonstrated the viability of bottom-up construction of functional nanodevices using programmed self-assembly, Dr. Blum is recognized for "her contribution to the understanding of electron transport in single molecules and their controlled self-assembly on nanoscale." She built the first conductive networks under 50 nanometers by bridging gold nanoparticles with organic molecular wires on protein scaffolds, and has successfully demonstrated that these networks can be used as sensors. This work has the potential to create portable, sensitive, real-time biosensors, with easy-to-interpret electronic readouts.

Using biological or organic molecules to fabricate electronic materials is known as molecular electronics. In recent years, molecular electronics has been proposed as a way to develop lightweight, low cost, low-power, high-density nanoelectronic devices. With this technology, it may be possible to build hardware by "growing" circuits and devices in layers that "self-assemble," in much the same way that structures grow in living organisms. Devices for a number of applications could be constructed using techniques based on chemical attractions instead of the complex, high-cost methods now used to etch electronic circuits.

Molecular electronics requires the development of molecules that exhibit reproducible electronic properties. Once such molecules have been developed, significant challenges exist in assembling and interconnecting them to create nanoscale devices and in electronically addressing or measuring responses at the molecular level. Dr. Blum has been addressing these issues by first developing methods to measure the electronic properties at a single molecule level and then assembling them to measure the ensemble properties at the device level.

Self-assembly is one of the few practical strategies for making ensembles of nanostructures. Although several groups have demonstrated the usefulness of this approach, building ordered three-dimensional structures with this technique is difficult. Using viruses as nanoscale scaffolds for devices offers the promise of exquisite control of positioning on the nanoscale, using a particle that can either interface with lithographically defined structures, or undergo further self-assembly into extended structures by itself. Dr. Blum demonstrated the usefulness of this approach by designing, building, and measuring three-dimensional nanoscale molecular networks on a 30-nm diameter virus particle scaffold.

Dr. Blum has conclusively demonstrated conductance state switching behavior that is voltage-triggered and of molecular origin. Her experiments seem to suggest that these molecules are indeed programmable, a crucial claim for molecular electronics that had not yet been demonstrated for single molecules. This work was highlighted in the "News and Views" section of Nature Materials. Since its publication in February 2005, this paper has been cited 35 times, and has led directly to theoretical work in understanding molecular transport and switching by leading theorists in the field. This paper won the 2005 Alan Berman Research Paper Award in recognition of the significance of the work. Dr. Blum has been invited to speak about single molecule switching at the 2005 Gordon Research Conference on the Chemistry of Electronic Materials and the 2006 Gordon Research Conference on Electron Donor Acceptor Interactions. She has also prepared an invited review article with Dr. James Kushmerick for a special issue on Molecular Electronics that was published by Analytica Chimica Acta in July.

As the first clear demonstration of hierarchical self-assembly for building nanoscale devices, Dr. Blum's research was featured on the cover of the July 2005 Small, and won the 2005 Small best cover design contest.

Dr. Blum has also developed scanning tunneling microscopy techniques for rapid determination of the molecular decay constant (which is an indication of the molecular conductance) for single molecules inserted into a self-assembled monolayer. This technique, which can be used for rapidly screening molecules designed for electronics purposes, has attracted much interest since its publication earlier this year.

Dr. Blum joined NRL in 2001 as a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow and began working as a government employee in 2003. She received her B.A. in chemistry from Princeton University in 1994 and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Washington in Seattle in 2000. Dr. Blum is a member of the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the Materials Research Society (MRS). She served as chair for the ACS Fall 2005 session Electron Transfer Processes: Making Connections, and as chair for the MRS Fall 2005 session Nanostructures for Biology and Medicine III. Dr. Blum has also served as a reviewer for Science, Journal of the ACS, Small, and the Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

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