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Center for Nano-enabled Device and Energy Technologies (CNXT)

Elias Towe photo
    Director Elias Towe
  • Grobstein Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
  • Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
    Contact Information
  • Email: towe@ece.cmu.edu
  • Phone: 412-268-8091
  • Fax: 412-268-0648
    Mailing Address
  • 147 Roberts Engineering Hall | Carnegie Mellon University | 5000 Forbes Avenue | Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Mission
The mission of the Center is to work on real-world problems that can potentially be solved with appropriate nano-enabled technologies. Practical problems of interest from a utility point of view almost always do not fall within traditional academic disciplinary boundaries. As such, the Center draws heavily on expertise from departments across the colleges of engineering and science. It pursues basic research in science and engineering activities at the nanometer-scale. The overarching goal of these activities is to enable the design of innovative systems. The unifying theme of the Center is nanometer-scale materials that are deliberately synthesized, self-assembled, assisted to self-assemble, or structured by engineering know-how to create novel properties, processes, or principles. It is the new properties or principles that are taken advantage of in the design and engineering of innovative (i) devices, (ii) arrays of devices, and (iii) ultimately systems. The Center’s current approach to creating unique materials is two-fold. The first approach relies on solid-state synthesis and structuring to produce nanostructures with new physics or chemistry that lead to novel devices. The second approach is based on chemistry, where chemical synthesis creates unique molecules that are used to make novel materials. These, in turn, are used to produce structures with novel function or utility.

Curent Work
The current focus of the Center is on nano-enabled device and energy technologies. This focus is intended to address some of society’s most important problems. This focus also takes advantage of existing strengths in skill set at Carnegie Mellon. Energy, as an example, is probably one of the most pressing issues of our time. The dwindling world energy resources, combined with a growing world population with a voracious appetite for energy will lead to an unsustainable world order if no new or alternative energy resources or more efficient ways of using the resources that we do have are found. The other problems are the quality of the environment, water, food, and more recently, terrorism and war. Nano-enabled device or sensor technologies can be brought to bear on some of the latter problems. The sensor work at the Center is on chemical and biological sensors, physical sensors, and imaging sensors. Nanostructured materials offer unique approaches to the design and fabrication of sensors for detection of chemical and biological species. Sensing and identification of biological and chemical species is often important in many areas of healthcare and in the life sciences. For harmful gaseous chemicals, for example, nanostructures can provide large surface to volume ratios that could be useful in the amplification of trace concentrations of the species before transduction into electrical or optical signal form that is useful in ultra-sensitive sensor systems. In these types of sensors, one often needs to innovate on both the materials used in the transduction as well as on the device structure. In energy, the interest is on technologies for clean energy generation and storage. Specifically, there are on-going projects on fuel cells, as well as storage capacitors. In addition, there are others on spectrally broadband photovoltaic cells for solar energy conversion.