Women in Nanoscience


Women in Nano Blog

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Rosalind Picard develops computational tools to help children with autism

Posted on April 29, 2016 at 8:50 PM Comments comments (1)

Understanding human emotional responses remains quite a challenge. Finding solution to this problem is the purview of a new field of research called computational behavioral science. Computational tools are now being developed that can help monitor human emotions by keeping track of the subtle fluctuations in electrical signals produced by perspiration through the skin.

(Dressed as Captain Picard for reunion with her former graduate students, October 2015.)

Rosalind Picard, founder and director of Affective Computing at MIT is developing wearable wrist sensors that can effectively measure human emotional responses to social situations. Her group mainly targets children with autism and other non-verbal learning disabilities to help them understand and communicate their emotions and to be better understood by others. Picard’s group also works to develop software that facilitates participatory learning. For example, they have developed an interactive and customizable animated platform called StoryScape that creates digital storybooks. It can be downloaded for free on Android devices. Read more here.

(Laser tag with her group at MIT.)

Professor Picard is also the co-director of the Media Lab’s Advancing Wellbeing Initiative MIT Media Lab and faculty chair of MIT’s Mind+Hand+Heart Initiative. She is credited with starting a branch of computer science known as affective computing. She has authored/co-authored over 200 articles and book chapters and has multiple patents on topics like machine learning, pattern recognition, and human-computer interaction. Her work has been recognized through awards including a ‘best theory paper’ prize for human learning (with Kort and Reilly, 2001), ‘best Face and Gesture paper’ prize for work with facial expressions (with McDuff, Kaliouby and Demirdjian, 2013) and ‘best UBICOMP paper’ for an automated conversation coach (with Hoque et al., 2013). CNN named her one of seven "Tech SuperHeroes to Watch in 2015."

 (Professor Picard having fun with her friend in Italy.)


(Rosalind with her husband and sons at her mother’s wedding, April 2015.)

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Provided by and used with permission from Prof. Rosalind Picard).

Olga Ovchinnikova sandblasts her way to produce novel 2D materials

Posted on April 20, 2016 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (1)

The fabrication of 2D materials is a very hot research topic in the semiconductor industries. To continue the decades-long scaling of device performance with Moore’s Law, there is new progress from Olga Ovchinnikova at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences Division. 2D devices are attracting attention nowadays due to their promise of low power consumption, high efficiency and mechanical flexibility.

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Resist-based lithography is currently the preferred technique for nanofabrication. Instead, Ovchinnikova’s group used a helium ion microscope (HIM) that uses an ion beam of helium to introduce localized defects in the process of nanofabrication. This leads to clean and resist-free processing. But it can also be used to control the distribution of ferroelectric domains, enhance conductivity and grow nanostructures. "Our method opens pathways to direct-write and edit circuitry on 2D material without complicated current state-of-the-art multi-step lithographic processes," she said.

Ovchinnikova and her colleagues used this microscope as an atomic-scale “sandblaster” on a layered ferroelectric surface of a bulk copper indium thiophosphate to create a new 2D material which could potentially replace silicon in phones, photovoltaics, optoelectronics, flexible electronics and displays. She believes that 2D-based devices could reduce power consumption very significantly: "Imagine having a phone that you don't have to recharge but once a month.” Read more here.

Olga Ovchinnikova is a scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory where she works on local tuning of materials properties using ion beams and finding correlations between chemical composition and material functionality using multimodal imaging platforms.

Figure 1: Effect of helium ions on the mechanical and electrical properties of a layered ferroelectric. a) Disappearance domains in the exposed area – as the mound forms, yellow regions representing ferroelectricity gradually disappear, b) Mechanical properties – warmer colors indicate hard areas, cooler colors indicate softer areas, c) Conductivity enhancement- warmer colors show insulating area, cooler colors show more conductive areas. Picture credit: ORNL

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

Kudos to Obama for celebrating Equal Pay Day on April 12th

Posted on April 13, 2016 at 8:55 PM Comments comments (0)

As WiN has noted before, there seems to be a growing impetus for addressing the "equal pay for equal work" drive.

It was clever to use a specific date, like April 12th, to show how far into 2016 women would have to work to earn the same money as men did in 2015. And how sad to learn that it's not just gender but ethnicity that affects this "equal pay date": For Latinas, this date is a shocking Nov. 1. African American women have to work until Aug. 23; Native American women, until Sept. 13.

As put succinctly by Lisa Maatz, VP of government relations at the American Association of University Women: "You can’t negotiate your way out of discrimination.” Keep the faith, sisters. Progress is happening.

- Written by Paulette Clancy

Bacteria-infested fabric? No sweat!

Posted on April 10, 2016 at 10:15 PM Comments comments (0)


The MIT Media Lab has pulled together a diverse team to incorporate living bacteria into synthetic clothing. The bacteria allow the fabric to respond to the production of human body moisture “within seconds,” says Lining Yao, the lead for BioLogic, the hybrid materials project in MIT’s Tangible Media Group. The team consists of Lining Yao (concept creation, interaction design and fabrication), Dr. Wen Wang (biotechnology and material science), Guanyun Wang (industrial design and fabrication), Helene Steiner (interaction design), Chin-Yi Cheng (computational design and simulation), Jifei Ou (concept design and fabrication), Oksana Anilionyte (fashion design) and Prof. Hiroshi Ishii (PI of Tangible Media Group). Yao explains that the team combines technology advancement and design, and were inspired by the living world and how bacteria adapt to external stimuli. The clothing they designed has multiple triangular flaps with millions of bacteria on top of them. When a person wearing the fabric begins to sweat, the bacteria expand, causing the flaps to open up. Once the skin dries, the bacteria contract which closes the flaps.

(From left to right): Patrick Yocum (dancer), Wen Wang (biotechnology and material science, MIT Chem.E.), Zach Both (video photographer), Hiroshi Ishii (academic advisor, director, Tangible Media Group, MIT Media Lab), Oksana Anilionyte (fashion designer, MIT Media Lab/Royal College of Art), Lining Yao (concept creation, interaction design and fabrication, MIT Media Lab), Jifei Ou (concept design and fabrication, MIT Media Lab), Chin-Yi Cheng (computational design and simulation, MIT Architecture ), Caralin Curcio (dancer).

And then there is an interesting connection to Japanese food delicacies… Natto is a famous delicacy in Japan since its discovery by a samurai about a millennium ago. Yao recalls B. subtilis natto fermented the samurai’s steamed soybeans inside their straw wrapping, while he was busy fighting a battle. Dr. Wen Wang, a scientist in Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT, accidentally discovered that Bacillus subtilis natto microbial cells could be used to fabricate actuators that sense humidity changes in the environment. Because of its extraordinary ability to respond so quickly to moisture, and the fact that it is not harmful to the human body, natto was a great choice for breathable textiles. The researchers think that the bacteria’s cellular structure with thin cell walls is responsible for the quick transport of water. With funding support from New Balance Inc., Yao and Dr. Wang collaborated with Helene Steiner and Oksana Anilionyte, fashion designers from London’s Royal College of Art to create beautiful full-body prototype garments. Computational team members and those involved in design research—Guanyun Wang, (designer, Zhejiang University), Chin-Yi Cheng, (architect from Department of Architecture (MIT), and Jifei Ou, (designer, MIT Media lab), helped automate the first step of the design process. They set up a new printer system which created the biohybrid film by precisely integrating the bacterial solution onto the fabric. This film is then cut into flaps and sewn into a wearable cloth. The team is now exploring how to make this material washable and suitable for wearing to the gym. See more here.

Photo Credit: Tangible Media Group/MIT Media

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Provided by and used with permission from BioLogic team).

Sharmila Mukhopadhyay and Shilpa Sant build carbon-based scaffolds to regenerate damaged muscle tissue

Posted on April 3, 2016 at 9:10 PM Comments comments (1)

Regenerating muscle tissue is a challenge. Transplanting muscles or using satellite cell injections (rare mononuclear skeletal cells in muscles) hasn’t been very successful. They integrate poorly and rarely survival.

(Prof. Mukhopadhyay walking around an arboretum in Chicago.)

Professors Sharmila M. Mukhopadhyay (Wright State U.) and Shilpa Sant (U. Pitt.) have devised a new strategy to overcome this problem. After a trauma, progenitor cells (myoblasts) generally differentiate into myotubes. These tubes bundle up to form myofibrils which, in turn, organise into fibres and form muscles.

(Prof. Sant training young minds (high school students and undergraduates) in her lab.)

In their recent article, Sharmila and Shilpa have shown how to create a carbon-based scaffold to help with the needed hierarchical structure building. Carbon-based materials are known for their good electrical conductance and their ability to get fabricated in different structural forms. They designed two different scaffold structures; one with interconnected microporous carbon foams and another with aligned carbon fibre mats. They grew a “carpet” of carbon nanotubes (CNT) on top of these scaffolds to investigate the integrated effects of multilevel hierarchy on myoblast differentiation.

(Prof. Sant on a dinner outing with her family and group members in Pittsburgh in January 2016.)

While both types promoted the growth and differentiation of progenitor cells, only the fibrous CNT-coated mats triggered the formation of aligned myotubes. The directional nature of CNTs seems to play an important role in promoting the fusion of myocytes into myotubes. The authors state that: “Our materials demonstrate greater regenerative potential as a result of the synergetic effect of multi-scale structural and physicochemical features. The nanostructured CNT carpets offer fine control over nano-roughness and wettability facilitating myoblast adhesion, growth, and differentiation into myocytes. Combined with the microscale-aligned fibrous architecture of the carbon fabric substrate, this stimulates formation of multinucleated myotubes”.

(Prof. Sant loves acting in science fiction plays. This is her picture from a play called “Signal”. She performed it as a part of “Rang Sangeet” in front of Maharashtra Mandal, Pittsburgh.)

The authors believe that these scaffolds could be used in biosensors and assist in regeneration of electrically excitable tissues like skeletal muscles, as well as neural and cardiac tissues.

(Prof. Mukhopadhyay with Einstein statue at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in London.)

Sant is an assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Bioengineering. Her research interests involves developing tissue-engineered tumor models that can recreate the three-dimensional structure, cell-cell/cell-ECM (extracellular matrix) interaction, stromal environments, and signalling cues present in vivo. She currently serves as a member of American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, American Association of Cancer Research and Biomedical Engineering Society.

(Sant loves travelling and spending time with her family. This is her picture from her trip to Disney World.)

Mukhopadhyay is a professor of materials science and the Director of the Center for Nanoscale Multifunctional Materials at Wright State University. Her research work focuses on multifunctional nanomaterials and compact lightweight components for energy, environment, and biomedical applications. She is a former chair of the Electronics Division of the American Ceramic Society and is a Fellow of the American Ceramic Society.

(XPS Lab: Taken outside one of Prof. Mukhopadhyay laboratories, with a hint of special lighting for fun (Source: Wright State University)).

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Provided by and used with permission from Prof. Sharmila Mukhopadhyay and Prof. Shilpa Sant.)

Big rise in international graduate students in science and engineering since 2009

Posted on April 3, 2016 at 8:55 PM Comments comments (0)

The NSF today released a report on the numbers of graduate students in science and engineering and changes in those numbers since 2009. The talking points are that, while these numbers have risen over 7%, to almost 602,000 students in science and engineering graduate program, there are gender and ethnic differences, and a dramatic change in the way that graduate students are funded.


Between 2009-2014, there were 10% more male graduate students in science and engineering, but only 4.4% more women. There was a large rise in the number of Hispanic (+21%) and multiracial (+297%) students, but a small loss in black and African-American students (-1%).


There was a large increase (13%) in foreign graduate students in science and engineering, and a decline (-2.3%) in US citizens and permanent resident grad students. The decline in US grad students is more dramatic when you look at the raw numbers: almost 7,900 fewer students in 2014 than one year earlier (2013). These trends also affect (worsen) the number of women enrolled in S&E grad programs: Two-thirds of foreign matriculated students are male, whereas just over half of US citizens and PRs are men.


The way that we fund graduate students has also changed quite markedly: The number of grad students funded by Federal funds dropped over 8% (6,500 fewer federally-funded students), while the number of self-funded students increased by over 27%. Institutional funding for graduate students rose almost 12%. This transition is not much of a surprize to those of us watching the rise of self-funded MS programs and the low funding probabilities of federal proposals.


Engineering programs enrollment between 2009 and 2014 showed a 12% rise in numbers. But the results are highly major-specific: Computer science enrollment rose the most (+35%), materials science rose 27%, with strong (~20%) growth in chemical, biomedical, mechanical, and electrical engineering. Last year (2013-2014), the strongest rises were in computer sciences (+34%) and electrical engineering (+13%).

- Written by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Used with permission, credit to: Cornell University Photography).

Need a superhero who makes sure children are safe? Ask Vuong Mai

Posted on April 3, 2016 at 8:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Ms. Vuong Mai, a student at the Martha Ellen Stilwell School for the Arts, in Jonesboro GA, created a nanosuit-clad superhero "Nine" who tackles scary kidnappers in order to ensure children are home by nine. All the parents among us can relate to that superhero. Congratulations, Vuong, for being named a finalist in NSF's Small Science superhero comic competition this year.

- Written by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Credit to the artist Vuong Mai).

Madeleine Chang's female superhero RadioBlitz blasts garbage using nanoscience (NSF NanoComic competition finalist)

Posted on April 1, 2016 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Madeleine Chang, from Bergen County Academics in NJ, created a new female superhero called Radio Blitz, who blasts garbage with the nanogenerators in her skirt. See her wonderful images below. Madeleine's superhero was one of three finalists in NSF's Generation Nano Small Science competition.


Lisa Friedersdorf, the deputy director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office said: "These three finalists tell a great story -- all while they exemplify the combination of a sound technical basis for use of nanotechnology and artistic presentation. I think these comics will inspire other students to learn more about what is possible with nanotechnology."


Mihail C. Roco, NSF's senior advisor for science and engineering and the face of NSF's national nanotechnology initiative was quick to point out the excitement in nanoscience: "Since these high school students were born, more discoveries have come from nanotechnology than any other field of science, with its discoveries penetrating all aspects of society -- new industries, medicine, agriculture and the management of natural resources."

- Written by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Used with permission from NSF, credit to the artist: Madeleine Chang).

Elisa Riedo discovers ways of developing fully reconfigurable magnetic nano-patterns

Posted on March 30, 2016 at 10:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Magnetic metamaterials are engineered materials designed to interact with electromagnetic radiation in a way that natural ones do not. These materials offer special versatility in creating novel device architectures through controlled propagation of electromagnetic radiation and spin waves. Prof. Elisa Riedo of CUNY’s Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC), in collaboration with Prof. Riccardo Bertacco at the Politecnico of Milan, Italy, have recently developed a new technology to make nano-patterns with re-programmable properties without affecting either the chemistry or the topography of the magnetic metaparticles. This discovery can help us to control magnetism down to the nano level and can find interesting new applications in spintronics, a new form of electronics that does not utilize the movement of charges but instead the magnetic properties of a material. Read more here.

(Dr. Aruta (left) and Dr. Riedo (right) posing in front of a poster describing the use of TCNL for nanoelectronics applications with 2D materials and functionalized graphene.)

Conventionally, these materials are fabricated using lithography or ion radiation. But these methods are mostly irreversible and offer only limited control over the magnetic properties. What’s new about Prof. Riedo’s and her co-workers’ method is that they have employed a technique called ‘thermally assisted magnetic scanning probe lithography’ (tam-SPL) which works on the principle of local heating and cooling a ferromagnetic layer by bringing it in contact with the hot tip of a scanning probe microscope (SPM) in the presence of a magnetic field. The hot tip is then used to align the spins in the material in any desired direction. Riedo says: "The same pattern can be written and reset many times, with the resolution and versatility of SPL….this work is gaining momentum as a key nanofabrication method for the next generation of nano-devices, from biomedical sensing to sprintronics."

Riedo moved from Georgia Tech to ASRC as part of their Nanoscience Initiative in August 2015. She is widely recognized for her pioneering work in thermochemical nanolithography. She is also interested in liquids confined in nano-space and understanding the nano-mechanics of materials from nanotubes to DNA. She is a fellow of the American Physical Society.

Thermochemical nanolithography (TCNL) apparatus used to make nanoscale patterns of magnetic domains. The system consists of a scanning probe microscope adapted to perform TCNL, sitting on top of an inverted optical microscope connected to a Raman spectrometer. The system is located in the Nanoscience Advanced Science Research Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).

Behind the system from left to right: Dr. Annalisa Calò, a post-doctoral fellow in Riedo's group, Dr. Carmela Aruta, a visiting professor from the CNR-SPIN (National Research Council-Institute for Superconductors and Innovative Materials and Devices) in Italy, and Professor Elisa Riedo who is the director of the PicoForce Lab where the experiments where performed.

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Provided by and used with permission from Prof. Elisa Riedo.)

Ever wondered what it takes to achieve a truly diverse set of business managers? Looks like it will take white men to lead the way

Posted on March 29, 2016 at 9:00 PM Comments comments (0)


This is the result of a study by David Hekman (U. Col. Boulder), Stefanie Johnson, and others, published in the Academy of Management Journal. They evaluated managers on their “diversity-valuing behavior,” including their predilection to hire women and minorities, and respecting other cultures, religions and genders. “Much to our surprise,” Hekman and Johnson wrote in the Harvard Business Review, they found two results that should be no surprize to those of us in the trenches. (1) no one gets rewarded for promoting diversity at work, regardless of race or gender. (2) women and non-white executives were judged more harshly by their bosses when they promoted “diversity-valuing” behavior at work. What a sad commentary on our business society.

- Written by Paulette Clancy