Congratulations, Secretary Locke; Good Job, Nano Researchers

By March 26, 2009Innovation

Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, a Democrat, was confirmed by the Senate Tuesday to be Secretary of Commerce, and we wish him well. As a pro-trade governor from a border state — familiar with all those customs and cargo inspection issues — he’s in a good position to promote an agenda of economic growth through commerce at the agency (tautologically enough).

There’s no Locke speech yet up at the Commerce Department’s website, only this routine release with the statement: “I’m honored to take on this challenge and will work every day to make the Commerce Department an engine for improving our competitiveness, encouraging innovation and creating jobs.” Competitiveness, innovation and jobs — Good!

We’ll check back later for the transcript of his remarks to the agency employees. For now, the webpage does have an exciting report about innovation from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in this case, improvements in an essential tool for developing nanotechnology, “Making a Point: Picoscale Stability in a Room-Temperature AFM“:

Forget dancing angels, a research team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado (CU) has shown how to detect and monitor the tiny amount of light reflected directly off the needle point of an atomic force microscope probe, and in so doing has demonstrated a 100-fold improvement in the stability of the instrument’s measurements under ambient conditions. Their recently reported work* potentially affects a broad range of research from nanomanufacturing to biology, where sensitive, atomic-scale measurements must be made at room temperature in liquids.

Atomic force microscopes (AFMs) are one of the workhorse tools of nanotechnology. AFMs have a sharp, pointed probe fixed to one end of a diving-board-like cantilever. As the probe is scanned across a sample, atomic-scale forces tug at the probe tip, deflecting the cantilever. By reflecting a laser beam from the top of the cantilever, researchers can sense changes in the force and build up a nanoscale topographic image of the sample. The instruments are terrifically versatile—in various configurations they can image electrostatic forces, chemical bonds, magnetic forces and other atomic-scale interactions.

Other good reports cover developments in iron-based superconductors, superfluidity and the use of stairwells in evacuations.

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