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VCU School of Engineering receives NSF-funded magnetic nanomaterial characterization equipment

The device will be used to measure magnetic properties for materials with health and industrial uses.

A professor in the School of Engineering has joined with university and industry partners to brin...
A professor in the School of Engineering has joined with university and industry partners to bring equipment to VCU that would improve the study of magnetism for health and industrial purposes.

Magnetic nanomaterials are smaller than a pinpoint, but punch well above their weight. These structures are one one-billionth of a meter in size, but have a number of industrial applications — ranging from improving magnetic resonance imaging to destroying cancer cells. They are made of magnetic materials such as iron, nickel and the solid chemical element gadolinium.

For magnetic nanomaterials to be effective, their magnetic properties — magnetization, the ability to generate high and low temperatures and the flow of electrical charges within these materials — must be measured. Properties vary among magnetic nanoparticles and determine the use of these particles for specific purposes, said Ravi Hadimani, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of the Biomagnetics Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering in the School of Engineering.

Ravi Hadimani, Ph.D.
Ravi Hadimani, Ph.D.

Hadimani is one of several Virginia Commonwealth University researchers across multiple schools who work with magnetic nanomaterials. He and other researchers have partnered to secure National Science Foundation funding to obtain state-of-the-art equipment for the characterization, or the determination of properties, of magnetic nanomaterials. The device will be installed this month in the Nanomaterials Core Characterization Facility of the VCU Office of Research and is available for use by industry partners and other universities.

Hadimani said obtaining the equipment is a major step toward growing the university’s research enterprise.

“It was my dream to bring this equipment to VCU. It will enable our researchers and the surrounding academic and industrial communities to characterize new materials to be used in the development of new devices,” he said.

The purchase of the 9 Tesla Dynacool magnetic characterization system was funded jointly by VCU and the NSF. Hadimani partnered with Jayasimha Atulasimha, Ph.D., Qimonda Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering; Supriyo Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D., commonwealth professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Everett Carpenter, Ph.D., professor and director of the nanotechnology program in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences; and Shiv Khanna, Ph.D., commonwealth professor and chair of the Department of Physics in the College of Humanities and Sciences to apply for an NSF Major Research Instrumentation grant. The program allocates funding to institutions to purchase equipment that meets critical research needs. 

Outside research institutions collaborated on the grant, including the Jefferson Lab, a Department of Energy facility in Newport News, Virginia; the University of Virginia, the United States Naval Academy in Maryland, Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and Shepherd University in West Virginia. Hadimani said the equipment is key to the work of his collaborators, who are willing to travel to use VCU facilities.

“Characterization equipment is frequently prohibitively expensive, but it is necessary to use magnetism to its full potential, which is why so many different parties were willing to partner for access,” Hadimani said.

The power of magnetism

Hadimani is working to develop magnetic nanoparticles that can replace compressors — the main cooling mechanism in refrigerators. The researcher said the devices are inefficient and replacing them with a cooling system based on magnetics would significantly improve the efficiency of refrigerators.

Hadimani is also researching how to use magnetic nanomaterials to improve the resolution of magnetic resonance images. Colleagues Atulasimha and Bandyopadhyay are using magnetic nanomaterials to increase computer memory. 

As the number of applications grows for magnetic nanomaterials, the availability of technology that can measure magnetic characteristics in wide ranges becomes increasingly important, Hadimani said. The 9 Tesla Dynacool system measures magnetic fields from zero to nine Tesla, which is a measurement of field strength. It can also measure temperatures these materials generate, from roughly negative-270 degrees Celsius to nearly 700 degrees Celsius.

“This equipment will make VCU highly competitive in the study of magnetism, which is vital to advances in human health care and the development of devices that can improve comfort and quality of life,” Hadimani said.