Date: March 17, 2005
CONTACT: Scott Slemmons, scott.slemmons@ttu.edu

LUBBOCK - "Science," the international weekly scientific magazine, will publish a paper written by two Texas Tech University professors.

Gregory McKenna, Horn professor of chemical engineering, and Paul O'Connell, research professor of chemical engineering, wrote an article examining the properties of polymeric (plastic) materials at the sub-micron size.

McKenna said Texas Tech's research is important for the fields of computer development and manufacture and for nanotechnology, or the science of building electronic circuits and devices from single atoms and molecules.

According to McKenna, he and O'Connell discovered that the properties of certain polymer materials are much different at the microscopic scale than they are at larger scales.

"At the nano scale, we're finding that the rubbery plateau, which governs how stretchy or elastic a material can become, is actually a couple hundred times stiffer than it is at the macro scale," said McKenna.

McKenna said the discovery could eventually lead to faster-running and less-expensive computers.

"In nanotech, people are trying to use these materials at these very small size scales," said McKenna. "So the electronics industry has to make polymer films at that size scale to make computers run faster. If the properties are changing at the nano scale, then the material may not function as expected. So when you engineer new devices, it may not function properly the first time around, which increases the cost of manufacturing and development."

McKenna also said the research broke new ground by taking more precise measurements of material properties at the nano scale.

"We developed a method which gives us absolute measurements at the nano scale for mechanical properties, and that hasn't been done before," McKenna said. "Other measurements have been relative. This is important when you test theories that may say that bulk behavior is different than nano-scale behavior, but if you don't have absolute comparisons, it's very hard to determine that."

The technique developed by McKenna and O'Connell required them to inflate and accurately measure bubbles in very thin polymer films