A University of Nebraska-Lincoln led research team has received a $4.5 million grant to research how to develop more useful electronics at a smaller scale.

The research team, led by Alexander Sinitskii, associate professor of chemistry, is currently building the foundation at an atomic level to create circuits for future electronics. The U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research gave the team the three-year grant.

The team will combine components of both graphene nanoribbons and DNA nanotechnology in order to explore how to make them into circuits, he said. 

According to Nebraska Today, graphene was discovered earlier this century and has applications in transparent conductive films, actuators, composites and electronic and optoelectronic devices.

Sinitskii said graphene is thin, strong and can be scaled down to a smaller size than silicon, the current smallest material for circuits, making it a good alternative to silicon.

Graphene can be difficult to place into the shapes needed for those circuits, he said, so the team is using DNA nanotechnology to change that. By nature, DNA can be programmed into a variety of desired shapes and engineered to fit different needs, he said.

He also said the research is based on new ideas, but builds off of similar projects that both he and members of his team have looked into in the past. The grant will support that research by funding new experiments, he said.

“It’s very uncharted territory,” Sinitskii said. “People haven’t explored anything of this nature yet.”

Ashley Washburn, director of research communications, said the physics and chemistry departments both have a national reputation, and Sinitskii’s research is critical to advancing new technologies, which DNA is able to do.

“We’re very fortunate to have the faculty expertise at Nebraska to carry out a project of this magnitude,” Washburn said. “Sinitskii is one of the leading experts in his field, in this area, and that made us very competitive for this award.”

Facilities at UNL like the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience make research projects like Sinitskii’s possible, she said. 

Sinitskii said the research will depend on partners and institutions to continue the work even though most research will occur at UNL. The team is comprised of collaborators of an established community of scientists from different universities and institutions, including Ned Seeman of New York University, who pioneered DNA nanotechnology in the 1980s, according to Nebraska Today.

Members of the team range from condensed matter physicists to electrical engineers, Sinitskii said, which allows for complementary expertise for the research.

“For a problem of this magnitude, it’s important to have people from different areas,” he said. “They can complement each other with their expertise and make a big project like this possible.”

Washburn said Sinitskii’s research allows UNL to remain relevant in a competitive research climate.

“He is one of our strongest researchers in this area,” she said. “We’re proud of the success this center has been able to have over the years and hope that we can continue this work.”

Sinitskii said he is excited for the future implications of the research and looks forward to what he and his team can accomplish.

“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for [everyone] involved and this field in general,” he said. “We can tackle scientific problems, which would be difficult to tackle otherwise if [we didn’t] have that level of support. It’s very exciting.”


This article was updated at 8:05 p.m. on Nov. 8 to correct the word "silicone" to "silicon."