Nanolithography Drives Johannes Towards Research Career

By Claire Cusick

Matt JohannesWhen deciding where to go to undergrad, Matt Johannes chose Duke – even though it was across the country from his home in Puyallup, Washington. He liked the atmosphere, and saw it as an opportunity to experience life on the east coast.

He entered Duke as an undergraduate biomedical engineering major, because he had considered becoming a doctor. But he also thought he might want to design prosthetics, so he thought BME was a starting point that would still let him take either career path.

During his sophomore year, Johannes’ interest in becoming a doctor waned, and he decided to go into an area that had always fascinated him – mechanics. He switched his major to mechanical engineering.

During his junior and senior years, Matt did a fellowship with Professor Robert Clark, the Senior Associate Dean for Research at the engineering school, and Director of the emerging Center for Biologically Inspired Materials and Material Systems. Clark's research interests at the time focused on control systems and dynamic systems modeling. Clark specialized in adaptive control for aeroelastic systems and active acoustic control to make spaces quieter. Controls are devices, design tweaks or programming designed to regulate activities-keeping everything in balance and functioning properly.

Johannes graduated in May 2001, just as Clark's lab was taking on a new challenge - studying how the biological world works at the nanoscale. He decided to stay and pursue a Ph.D. The newness, the unexplored nature of the research, working on a scale that can only be seen with the aid of instruments - it all appealed to him.

"It’s new science," Johannes said. "It’s cutting-edge science. It’s not like classical engineering."

In his research now, Johannes uses a custom-built atomic force microscope (AFM) that he built himself to study the effects of nanolithography – the addition or removal of materials at the nanometer scale.

"I am focusing on dip-pen nanolithography, a serial technique, as well as parallel techniques such as microcontact printing. Serial nanolithography is similar to a pen on paper, and parallel nanolithography is similar to an ink stamp on paper, covering more area all at once."

Dip-pen nanolithography uses the probe of an AFM to transport chemicals to a substrate (surface). Microcontact printing uses a polymeric "stamp" with raised features to transport chemicals to a substrate.

Mostly, Johannes’ work focuses on depositing chemicals and how their deposition changes the surface properties of the substrate. He also studies the changes of a physical structure when he introduces a bias current between the AFM probe and the substrate.

Johannes’ research has applications silicon chip manufacturing, but its more direct application will be realized within the research environment.

"It will create more tools for the researcher – especially the work I do with automated serial nanolithography," he said. "Overall application of this research might be realized in the development of smaller integrated circuits, biosensors, nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS), and the advancement of areas such as nanobiotechnology and drug screening and delivery.

And Johannes intends on sticking around to see this field grow.

"My ultimate desire is to hold a tenured faculty professorship at a university, most likely in a similar area," he said. "What I like about research is the ability to investigate creative ideas gathered by reading what other people have done, or have been able to do, and then saying ‘What if I try this?’" he said. "I also like that you can see your own ideas and develop something completely original yourself, and seeing the result."