Written by: 
Heather Noel

Through the high-powered instruments in UNT's Materials Research Facility -- one of the most advanced university research facilities in the nation for materials analysis -- faculty members and students from physics to photography are analyzing materials on the atomic- and macro-length scales.

Their work is helping them gain new perspectives on the relationship between humans and nature, nanomedicine, renewable energy and electronics. Enjoy a few photographs and learn more about a handful of research projects that require investigation on the nanoscale.


ornith Doherty, University Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Studio Art, drew inspiration from nature and humanity's relationship to it for the highly magnified scanning electron microscope image of phylloxera galls -- an insect pest of commercial grapevines -- featured in the banner above.


That photo and the one of native grapevine roots (right) are photos in series of stills featured in Doherty's Roundabout (Circuition), on display earlier this year at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa, California. The art installation explores American native grapes' role in rescuing European viticulture from a blight caused by phylloxera galls. It includes a two-channel video projection of wild and domestic grapevines and roots, along with metal panels displaying the magnified images of the insect pest printed in a lustrous sepia tone -- as a nod to the mid-19th century when photography was invented and the phylloxera blight occurred. "This exhibition brings to light the underlying socio-cultural and environmental questions present when considering human entanglement with botanical biodiversity, and more specifically, the role of agrobiodiversity in cultivating grapes for wine," Doherty says.


hese thin, tubed nanostructures shown above and to the right could hold immense potential for biomedical applications.

neda_habibi nano photography

They are created through a process called self-assembly, facilitated by a small peptide molecule known as diphenylalanine. In her nanomedicine laboratory, Neda Habibi, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is taking a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the applications of these nanotubes, which show promise as drug delivery carriers, specifically for encapsulating potent anticancer drugs. "By placing these drugs within the nanostructures, they could be effectively transported and targeted to breast cancer cells," Habibi says. "This targeted delivery system could enhance the efficacy of treatment while minimizing potential side effects." Additionally, these self-assembled peptides possess the capacity to form 3D networks that can support the growth and proliferation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), a type of cell in bone marrow that provides the building block for restoring skeletal tissues. This unique characteristic makes them valuable tools for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, as they offer an optimal environment for the development and differentiation of MSCs into various cell types.


esearchers in Professor Jingbiao Cui's Department of Physics lab are fabricating nanowires and nanotubes for possible use in electronic and photonic devices such as light emitting diodes (LEDs), photodetectors and solar energy harvesting.

Jingbiao nano scale photography

The transmission electron microscopy image of nanobarcodes with added green and red hues (below) is formed using silicon nanotubes filled with an isolated organic material. "Due to the reduced dimensions, the organic material is expected to have different functionalities as compared to the nanowires, thin layers or bulk materials," Cui says. "We're working to further the understanding of these nanowires and their potential for being applied in electronics and technologies in the future." Cui's research has garnered more than $20 million in external grants from federal and state agencies. His current research on organic nanowires is supported by the National Science Foundation.


he series of images to the right and below out of Xiao Li's lab illustrates the manipulation of asymmetric porous nanostructures in thin film, which can be used as an anti-reflective coating to enhance light transmission through glass.

Xiao Li nanoscale photography

Li, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, focuses her research on nanostructure design including the self-assembly of softer materials such as polymers, liquid crystals and elastomers. In this project, her team is exploring gradual changes in the properties of these nanostructures to better understand the fundamental principles of how they can be changed for new applications in the future. "The resulting nanostructural polymer film can be utilized to mimic moth eyes or squid eyes for achieving optical functionality," Li says. "We believe this film we produce could serve as a template to sculpt other classes of materials, such as metal or semiconductors."