Major energy and nanotech meeting

September 28, 2007

September 21, 2007---AVS holds its annual International Symposium and Exhibition in Seattle October 14-19, 2007. Formerly called the American Vacuum Society, AVS is a professional society devoted to scientific research in a number of technology fields, such as surface science, nanotechnology, and controlled environments, including the creation and manipulation of vacuum or plasmas. Highlights from the 1,200 papers will be provided below. The full meeting program can be accessed at

The symposium features sessions on a wide variety of high-tech areas, especially those based on equipment at the microscopic and nanoscopic level. Indeed the proliferation of tiny electronic and other gadgets sometimes overwhelms meeting attendees (and journalists). Consequently there will be an "ask-the-experts" booth in the exhibit area. So save up your questions (Exhibit Hall Aisle 100 Booth 126).

A meeting within the AVS meeting, the Industrial Physics Forum (IPF), sponsored by the American Institute of Physics (AIP), is dedicated this year to energy research and policy (the website for sessions is See more details below. A topical conference on a related topic considers energy efficiency ( Another self-contained conference is devoted to the homely but important topic of marine anti-fouling treatments (


The AVS Pressroom will be located in Room 601 of the Washington State Convention Center. Pressroom hours are: Monday-Thursday, 8:00-5:00 pm. To register as a member of the press, please complete the online form ( by October 3. Press Kits containing exhibiting company's new product announcements and other news will be available on CD-ROM in the pressroom.



The main plenary will be delivered by James Heath (Caltech) who, as a graduate student, was involved in the discovery of carbon-60 fullerene molecules. He will discuss the use of nanosystem tools in the study of cancer. (Lab website,; recent press release concerning Heath's research, In addition, there will be a session of plenary talks devoted to biomaterials. R.V. Durvasula (University of New Mexico) will speak on the use of genetic modification of symbiotic bacteria associated with the vectors that carry deadly diseases; W.R. Rodriguez (Harvard) on the use of nanotechnology---especially MEMS, microfluidics, and nanosensing-for mitigating the huge toll on global health of certain infections, such as HIV and TB; and P. Yager (University of Washington) on using cheap point-of-care diagnostics methods in the developing world.


The Industrial Physics Forum meeting-within-a-meeting is grouped around four energy sessions.

  1. The automotive session features invited talks on low-carbon fuels, hydrogen, and the "re-electrification of the automobile."
  2. The energy efficiency session features talks on solar cells, thermoelectric materials (which turn heat directly into electricity), solid state lighting (set to break through into use in general lighting), and energy policy.
  3. Nuclear energy talks concern fusion reactors, high-temperature gas, nuclear waste, and nuclear policy.
  4. Cleaner energy talks: ethanol biorefineries, wave power, and the geology of carbon sequestration.


The Industrial Physics Forum also hosts a Frontiers in Physics Symposium, showcasing some of the top speakers on some of the hottest topics in physics. This year's symposium speakers are as follows: Gerald Gabrielse (Harvard) about establishing a much more precise value for the fine structure constant, the parameter that sets the inherent strength of the electromagnetic force; Nader Engheta (Univ Penn) about electronic circuits that operate at optical frequencies; William Bottke (Southwest Research Institute) on near Earth objects; J.J. Kasianowicz (NIST) on nanopores & systems biology. (


At the nanoscale, a particle's size, shape, and even orientation can have a significant impact on a material's resulting properties. Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley have found that size, shape and orientation can also have a significant impact on catalytic processes, such as benzene hydrogenation. Benzene is a colorless, flammable liquid industrial solvent used as a precursor in the production of drugs, plastics, synthetic rubber, and dyes, as well as detergents, explosives, pesticides, and napalm. It is sometimes used as an additive in gasoline, to increase octane levels and reduce knocking, although federal regulations currently limit the amount of allowable levels. However, benzene is also a toxic carcinogen that can lead to leukemia, among other adverse health effects, so finding better ways to convert benzene and other aromatic hydrocarbons into less harmful hydrocarbons is a critical issue in terms of both human health and environmental concerns.

Two common byproducts of benzene hydrogenation are cyclohexene and cyclohexane, solvents commonly used in industrial manufacturing. The UC Berkeley work builds on previous studies of benzene hydrogenation on two types of single platinum crystals: Pt(111) and Pt(100). (Platinum is a popular, environmentally friendly catalyst used in fuel cells, for example.) Those earlier studies found that while cyclohexane is produced on both surfaces during the hydrogenation process, cyclohexene was only produced on the Pt(111) surface. Ultimately, the UC Berkeley researchers are interested in better understanding chemical catalysis at the molecular level by conducting spectroscopic studies to determine which surface chemical intermediates are present during the catalytic process. "If we can understand which surface intermediates are responsible for different catalytic processes, we will better understand how catalysis works and, perhaps, better engineer new catalysts for specific reactions," said UC Berkeley team member Kaitlin Bratlie.


Engineers at Creare Incorporated are developing miniaturized vacuum pumping technologies for NASA and other organizations. Tiny mass spectrometers and other analytical instruments have already been developed for space-based missions such as the Mars Science Lab. However, the vacuum systems required to support these instruments are still too big, heavy, and power hungry for feasible use in space. Among the engineering challenges to be overcome are designing small diameter vacuum pumps, precision machining of various components, and building very high-speed, efficient electric motors to power such vacuum systems.

R.J. Kline-Schoder and P.H. Sorenson will report on their recent progress designing two small prototype high vacuum pumps ideal for space-based missions. One is the size of a soda can and is slated for use on the Mars Science Lab mission in 2009, while the other is about the size of a C-cell battery. The smaller version could be ideal for portable applications here on earth, such as detecting hazardous materials or detecting leaks in commercial settings.


Chagas' Disease is a vector-borne illness transmitted by blood-feeding insects called traitomines, commonly known as "kissing bugs." After feeding on the victim's blood, they will leave a "fecal droplet" at the site. The droplet is mostly water, but it also contains a parasite, T. cruzi that flourishes in the insect's gut. If the victim scratches the site or rubs his eyes, the parasite enters the bloodstream. Between 16 and 18 million infected persons worldwide. Several countries managed to almost eradicate Chagas' disease by spraying households in endemic areas" with pesticides. But the toxic pesticides cause health problems in human inhabitants, including pediatric asthma and neurological problems such as weakness and numbness. Also, the insects gradually develop resistance to the pesticides. Ravi Durvasula of the University of New Mexico has developed an alternative control measure that focuses on the transmission phase. Using a process known as paratransgenesis, he and his colleagues have created a genetically altered version of T. cruzi that acts as a kind of Trojan Horse, producing a protein that destroys the parasite.

The tricky part is getting the genetically modified version into the gut of the kissing bug. Kissing bugs need the T. cruzi and other gut-friendly bacteria, just like human beings need certain types of "good" bacteria in our own digestive systems. Baby kissing bugs aren't born with said bacteria: they acquire them shortly after birth by probing the fecal droplets left by adults nearby. This gave Durvasula and his colleagues the idea for an innovative delivery mechanism: a decoy version of the fecal droplets. They created Cruzigard, a synthetic, dung-like paste, which contains a massive dose of the transgenic bacteria. Those altered bacteria take up residence in the insect's gut; should the Chagas parasite appear, it is quickly wiped out. On a broader scale, paratransgenesis is a potentially powerful technique for combating the spread of all manner of so-called vector-borne diseases. ( )


Just as living organisms are now known to thrive in extreme environments, so too the microscopic minions of the electronic world must also be able to sustain harsh environments such as high temperatures, high pressure and corrosive media. Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), which included tiny sensors and labs-on-a-chip, have to be hardened to some demanding conditions. One example from the MEMS Reliability in Harsh Environments session is Roya Maboudian's resonant sensor that can survive corrosive environment and still operate reliably. In collaboration with Prof. Pisano at Berkeley and Prof. Mehregany at Case Western Reserve, the team has also demonstrated strain and pressure sensors that can survive high temperature and high g shock. Maboudian (UC Berkeley, says that these developments pave the way for a variety of devices for extreme conditions, such as in-cylinder sensors. (Lab website, http://

AVS is a not-for-profit professional society that promotes communication between academia, government laboratories, and industry for the purpose of sharing research and development findings over a broad range of technologically relevant topics. Founded in 1953, AVS was originally a group of scientists, technicians, and equipment manufacturers focused on the rapidly emerging field of vacuum science and technology. Over the years AVS has broadened and evolved into an interdisciplinary society covering topics related to both vacuum and emerging technologies in the materials, interfaces, and processing fields.

Today, AVS papers showcase experiments not only in vacuums but also in many other "controlled environments." These controlled environments include so-called "underwater surfaces," or carefully prepared samples immersed in liquids, which are the natural environment for many biological structures. In addition, AVS members study and manipulate the boundaries or "interfaces" between liquids and solids to make state-of-the-art fuel cells and better batteries. Crucial processes for making computer chips, such as chemical vapor deposition, are now being done at atmospheric pressure where vacuum pressure was once necessary. Add to the list atomic- and molecular-scale microscopy, which is routinely done in air and liquid, and you'll get a sense of the many controlled environments that AVS members create and study for a whole host of applications over the entire spectrum of science and technology.

American Institute of Physics

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