Yoshitaka Ishii, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, sees a big future in the microscopic world of nanotechnology. His work in characterizing the structure and functions of the molecular building blocks for these tiny devices may play a key role in making this future a reality.
The National Science Foundation has just underscored its belief in Ishii's work by presenting him with a five-year, $558,000 CAREER Award -- a prestigious grant for young professors whose research holds exciting promise and potential.
Ishii intends to develop solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance or NMR methods for studying the molecular and atomic structures of certain nano-level building materials known as paramagnetic metal organic complexes and peptide nano-assemblies.
Better understanding of such materials may lead to a spectrum of wondrous advances ranging from finding ways to create nano-scale electronic circuit or molecular devices such as artificial photosynthetic systems, to revealing unknown molecular mechanisms in development of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.
"There are a lot of studies about how to make nanomaterials, but the problem that remains is how to characterize them," said Ishii. "We can get an image of a large nanostructure, but if you want to do things at the molecular level, it's really difficult. Solid-state NMR is one of the most powerful methods known for studying this."
Ishii has been working in this area for about a decade and is already well-known in the field. During that time, rapid advances have occurred both for the field in general and his work in particular.
He plans to use his NSF CAREER grant to hire graduate assistants and to develop a new piece of equipment called an NMR probe that will produce highly purified chemical samples that can be used for analysis. Ishii will work in collaboration with Ago Samoson at the Estonian National Institute of Physical Chemistry and Biophysics. Samoson is one of the world's leading scientists in NMR probe design.
Ishii will also use his grant to more fully incorporate his research methods into the UIC chemistry curriculum and to begin a student exchange program with leading research institutions in Japan.
A native of Japan, Ishii earned his bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees at Kyoto University. He joined the UIC faculty in 2001 after serving as a research fellow at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.
By providing a better understanding of the chemical building blocks required for nanotechnology, Ishii hopes his work will help open the way to rapid development of this emerging technology.
"We want to develop new ways to characterize these kinds of structures and show how the molecules interact," he said. "That should give other scientists ideas about how to modify these molecules to improve the properties of nano-materials."
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