Engineering across length scales

The unifying theme of our work is  the development and application of manufacturing and fabrication technologies to discover new science and solve important global challenges.  We currently have two families of projects:  1) Development of atomic-resolution MRI  and 2) engineering solutions to catastrophic climate change (www.meerreflection.com). 

Climate change solutions Immediately ending carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will not be enough to solve the climate crisis; we also need to stabilize the Earth's temperature by compensating the loss of albedo from short-lived anthropogenic aerosols.  An immediate loss of aerosols, as we are currently experiencing  in 2020, will lead to a rapid (~3-5 years) raise in global average temperature by about 1oC, where r is the fractional reduction in anthropogenic fossil fuel emissions.  On current trajectory, projected increases in average temperature and increasingly frequent and more severe thermal extremes will render many regions uninhabitable to functional human societies starting well before 2040.  The inconvenient truth of cooling by anthropogenic aerosols and the importance of timescales and kinetics of the current crisis have been consistently shunned in public discourse.  The unfortunate result of the lying by omission is that all mainstream climate mitigation proposals, including CO2 capture, forest-based natural solutions, and renewable energy transition without temperature mitigation are inefficient based on first-principle analysis and empirical data of ecosystem responses to thermal stress.

With a realization that the simple, humble mirror can efficiently decouple the omnicidal temperature stressor from a much more benign, but mitigation-resistant CO2 stressor, our lab is developing a comprehensive framework that provides a detailed prescription of how human societies might avoid species-level extinction by building global glass mirror-based infrastructures of various configurations that perform the functions of temperature regulation, aquatic food production, ocean de-acidification, atmospheric methane mitigation, and solar thermal energy production and materials processing.

Atomic resolution MRI Noninvasive and rapid access to the structure of matter is a fundamental need in science and technology.  This need is currently served by the families of scanning probe microscopy, high-resolution electron-microscopy, diffraction methods, and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).  Unique advantages of the latter have, for example, revolutionized medical research and clinical practice by enabling non-invasive access to um-scale structural and functional information on single-copies of samples. 

Our research aims to improve the resolution and the user-friendliness of magnetic resonance force microscopy (MRFM), a ‘nanoMRI’ technique and a 3D variant of atomic force microscopy (AFM), by surmounting key hurdles through nanoengineering.  

As with standard AFM, MRFM signal is transduced through a force between the probe and the sample.  In MRFM, however, the relevant forces are many orders of magnitude smaller than those measurable by conventional AFM sensors.  To measure the force generated by biologically-relevant single nuclear spins like 13C and 31P, for instance, would require force sensitivities on the order fo 10-20 N.  Such a minute signal is equal to the gravitational pull between a person in Boston (USA) and another person in Zurich (Switzerland).   We currently have the capability to detect forces down to 10-19-10-18 N range.  Our current efforts are focused on improving force sensivity by a couple more orders of magnitude, a challenging but realistic goal.