The University of Newcastle, Australia

Nanoscale engineering

With mobile devices, everyone wants maximum memory on the smallest piece of technology. So scientists are locked in a constant battle to find the most efficient methods of storing data.

In 2009 Professor Reza Moheimani collaborated with researchers at IBM Zurich using a unique nanotechnology approach to create what was then hailed as a world record for data storage: 840 gigabits of information on just one tiny computer chip measuring one square inch.

The achievement won the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Control System Technology Award, the most prestigious international prize in the field and gained a world record for nanopositioning accuracy. The team designed a control system with an accuracy of one quarter of a nanometre – approximately the diameter of an atom.

This exciting new technology is based on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems, or MEMS. Also known as micro machines, MEMS is the technology of very small mechanical devices made from Silicon and driven by electricity.

"This technology can potentially allow people to carry huge amounts of information on a tiny portable device," Moheimani says. "So an engineer or architect, for instance, could carry all of their drawings in the finest detail around on a pocket-sized device."

For those more interested in using mobile devices for recreational purposes, Moheimani says the extremely dense data storage capacity could hold 25 DVDs on a chip the size of a postage stamp.

Within the University's Centre for Complex Dynamic Systems and Control, he heads the program in mechatronics, a field that combines mechanical, electronic, computer and software engineering disciplines with control theory. Its application is diverse, spanning everything from industrial goods and transport systems to the health sector and personal entertainment devices.

"Nanotechnology is everywhere," Moheimani says. "Most scientists use nanotechnology but we are the ones developing it."

Moheimani established the Laboratory for Dynamics and Control of Nanosystems, a multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art research facility that is at the cutting edge of nanotechnology. Based at the University's Callaghan campus, the laboratory is unrivalled in Australia and is renowned for attracting PhD students and academic visitors from around the globe.

A recent Australian Research Council infrastructure grant will enable a significant expansion of the laboratory providing MEMS researchers world-class capacity for characterisations of micro-machined devices, ensuring they remain at the international forefront of this emerging field.

Moheimani continues to collaborate with the IBM team on the project and received a prestigious Australian Research Council Future Fellowship for his work in the field.

Visit the Centre for Complex and Dynamic Systems and Control