This year, Suffolk University unveiled a new Nanoscience Lab. Nanoscience is the study and manipulation of matter at the atomic level or nanoscale.

“A nanometer is extremely small—one-billionth of a meter,” says Prashant Sharma, lab director and assistant physics professor. “For example, a single human hair is about 80,000 nanometers wide.”

Nanoscience and nanotechnology enable scientists and engineers to solve problems in new ways and build new products with enhanced properties, such as higher strength, lighter weight, and greater chemical reactivity. 

Award-winning, hands-on research

All physics undergraduate students at Suffolk engage in hands-on research with faculty outside of their regular classes, and will have the opportunity to work in the new lab. The lab features very sophisticated equipment, including a scanning electron microscope and an atomic force microscope. “At many universities, such labs are reserved primarily for graduate students,” explains Sharma.

Suffolk students are doing notable work in nanoscience. In 2010, Nathaniel Steinsultz ’11 won a prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship Award for Math, Science, and Engineering—a distinction bestowed upon the top 300 U.S. students in these fields.

This month, students Lee Wizda and Yosuke Sugashita won an undergraduate research award from Sigma Pi Sigma, the national physics honor society. With Sharma, the two students are studying how DNA self-assembles, and what kinds of nano-structures can be formed using DNA.

Pioneering work yields bacteria insights

Anurag Sharma, a visiting research scholar from the Carnegie Institution, is conducting pioneering research in the lab. His findings prove that ordinary microbes can live well beyond what was previously believed possible. “The implications are huge,” says Prashant Sharma. “This brings about new insights into how bacteria can survive stresses with profound impact on pressure sterilization of food. This is frontier science.”

Suffolk’s investment in the new lab aligns with national trends. The U.S. government’s National Nanotechnology Initiative encourages universities to strengthen both teaching and research in this area. Suffolk already offers an introductory undergraduate nanoscience course, and science students are registering in increasing numbers. Sharma expects business students to follow. “They will need to understand the basics of nanoscience in order to profit from this emerging field.”

The lab was funded in part by the generosity of alumni, including the late Francis Sagan, BS’56, MAE’57.

About 50 alumni, students, and other guests had the opportunity to learn more about the physics and business of nanoscience and to tour the facility at a special open house on February 10.