Research Insight: Nanostar

By Sydney Souder

Photo of Dr. Nieh posing with the Nanostar SAXS machine by BrukerDr. Mu-Ping Nieh hopes to discover elusive secrets in the nano-structures of functional materials using the new X-ray scattering machine he and his collaborators have secured for the University of Connecticut. His work focuses on the study of soft materials, and in particular, understanding their nanoscopic structures to optimize their functions. With the new, top-of-the-line Nanostar SAXS instrument, Dr. Nieh expects to take his research to the next level.

Acquired through a competitive National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Grant, the Nanostar SAXS is a sophisticated instrument that allows researchers to probe the nanostructures of materials in a large sample area. Specifically, it can identify the shape, size, aggregation behavior, polydispersity, interparticle interactions and surface (interfacial) area of a system.

The instrument works by sending an X-ray beam at a sample of interest. As the X-ray hits the sample, the beam diffracts and scatters into different angles. This scatter pattern can reveal information on the nanostructure of the sample. The method can be applied to a broad range of materials including liquids, solids, thin films and gels. This makes the tool valuable for those investigating the structure-property relationship substances. It also enables industry partners to perform fundamental research and to design and develop materials . Dr. Nieh hopes to build on this interest by establishing a regional center for nanostructural characterization for UConn and industrial partners.

Beyond current and collaborative research, having access to the instrument is also an invaluable opportunity for students. “The Nanostar instrument will be used to train the next generation of scientists and engineers through hands-on research experience,” says Dr. Nieh. “I encourage potential research and industry partners to contact me if they would like to learn more.” Dr. Nieh will teach a webinar course “Small Angle X-Ray Scattering (SAXS) for Nanostructural Characterization” to the public through the Institute of Materials Science’s Affiliate Program later this year.