August 9, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Tumbleson ǀ Operating Single Molecule Machines at Argonne National Lab

Ryan Tumbleson at Argonne National Laboratory (Photo courtesy of Argonne National Lab)

By Ryan Tumbleson ’20
B.S. Engineering Physics, Honors Tutorial College, B.S. Electrical Engineering, Russ College of Engineering and Technology

For the third consecutive summer, I had the chance to intern at the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. Working under the direction of Dr. Saw Wai-Hla, a professor of physics with a joint appointment in Ohio University’s Physics & Astronomy and Argonne I used scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) to image and manipulate molecular machines. My internship was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

My primary focus was on two molecules, one being a molecular propeller and the other being a nanocar. The molecular propeller consists of two segments that can rotate relative to each other. The nanocar consists of four wheels and a chassis that are weekly bound to each other as well as an intrinsic dipole that allows for translational motion when an electric field is applied. I measured the force required to induce motion for both molecules.

This research is important because molecular machines have the capability of increasing computing power, revolutionizing drug delivery and much more, but the research is still in its infancy. Here in Dr. Hla’s lab, we are studying the underlying quantum phenomena of molecular machines so that they can produce useful work.

We hope that the research will lead to a better understanding of the molecules that we are working with and to contribute valuable information to other researchers. Whether it is in our research group or another, we hope to develop more complex and useful molecular machine.

One of the challenges that I have had this summer is staying motivated when work is slow. Experimental research has a lot of give and take. Your schedule is completely determined by the equipment that you are using. Some weeks will go by where you do very little, whereas other weeks you will be working nonstop. In the down times, I found it useful to think ahead as to what the next big thing is that I need to accomplish and start to slowly work toward that. Even the slightest bit of momentum when things are slow can pay off greatly down the road.

The highlight of my internship has definitely been the people. Here at Argonne, I am surrounded by some of the top scientists in the world and I have had the opportunity to make many valuable connections. I have also had the opportunity to meet a lot of other interns who are working at Argonne in a variety of research areas. I have made many friends and colleagues that I expect to collaborate with in the future.

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