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Pomona College Professor and Student Achieve Nanomechanical Breakthrough

Over the last 20 years, micro-mechanical devices have been creeping towards what is theoretically the minimum size possible, a single layer of atoms. Pomona College Professor David Tanenbaum and Ian W. Frank (pictured), Pomona Class of 2008, are part of a research team that has, for the first time ever, achieved this ultimate limit in thickness for a nanomechanical device. Their work is described in the Jan. 26 Science Magazine article “Electromechanical Resonators from Graphene Sheets.”

In the study, the research group created mechanical resonators made from a single atomic layer of carbon known as graphene and performed detailed studies of its properties. Findings that graphene is an electrically active material with a small mass and reasonable dynamic range, indicate that graphite resonators would make excellent mass and charge sensors. “These unusual properties make it an ideal candidate for a new class of ultra-thin sensors,” says Tanenbaum.

As with electronics, smaller mechanical devices are faster, operating at higher frequencies, than larger mechanical devices. “You can visualize a typical device being like a string in a musical instrument, a diving board, a tuning fork, or a membrane like on a drum or a tambourine. All of these devices resonate at some set of established frequencies,” explains Tanenbaum. “Faster, high-frequency devices can be used as sensors in a variety of different systems. The most common one on the market today would be the sensor in cars that determines if you have been in a collision and starts the process of deploying an airbag.”

The work is part of an ongoing collaboration between Pomona College’s Prof. David Tanenbaum and the research groups at Cornell University led by professors Paul McEuen, Jeevak Parpia, and Harold Craighead. The work is supported by the National Science Foundation under grants to the Cornell Center for Materials Research, the Cornell Center for Nanoscale Systems, and the National Nanofabrication Users Network.

Pomona College, founded in 1887, is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts colleges and is known for close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research.

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David Tanenbaum
Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy
Pomona College
Phone: (909) 621-8122