Stacking 240 batteries on a thread – Big ideas at a microscopic level

The University of Tulsa’s Institute of Nanotechnology is taking big ideas and applying them on a microscopic level — an atomic and molecular level, to be exact.

Nanotechnology creates products and materials with atomic precision. Designing and building these machines and devices, which can only be seen with the help of powerful microscopes, is a unique challenge that requires expertise in many fields, including chemistry, engineering and physics.

It’s an exciting time for this research, according to Dale Teeters, a professor in chemistry and director of the Institute of Nanotechnology. Just last year, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three scientists for their groundbreaking work in nanotechnology.

“The potential of these machines to benefit society and medicine and building things is really great,” Teeters said. “Here at The University of Tulsa, we want to contribute to that.”

TU faculty and students, both undergraduate and graduates, are collaborating on several nanotech projects.

One of the projects involves building microscopic batteries, which could be used to more effectively power nanomachines, like computers and medical devices.

“We’ve made batteries that are so small that you can stack 240 of them in the diameter of a human hair,” Teeters said.

Students are also applying nanotechnology to solar power, working to improve the individual cells that convert light energy into electricity.

“They’ve found that if they design these cells on the nanotech level, on the very small level, that they can improve their efficiency,” Teeters said.

Students are also working to apply nanotechnology in medicine. Their work includes developing sensors that can reveal damage that occurs on the DNA level. This could allow doctors to get a clear picture as to what’s happening at the cellular level and provide critical insight to cancer researchers.

“We have students who are working on all these levels, and we pride ourselves on having students working in those areas,” Teeters said. “The future really is bright for nanotechnology.”