BNL’s James Dickerson: facilitating nanotechnology

BNL’s James Dickerson: facilitating nanotechnology

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Researcher examines the relationships between the structure, size and optics of rare earth oxides

James “Jay” Dickerson isn’t sitting back and waiting for people to come to him. The assistant director at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Dickerson is actively looking to find ways for the technological powerhouse to collaborate with everyone from small-business owners with innovative ideas to scientists to multinational companies.

“We at CFN need to reach out to the industrial community in Long Island, New York state and the mid-Atlantic area,” he said. “We sometimes are guilty of saying ‘Hey, we’re here. Come and find us.’”

This problem is most evident, he said, with small businesses that may have brilliant ideas, but may not have the resources to use expensive equipment, the background, or the contacts to use nanotechnology characterization or equipment.

At CFN, he suggests they have waited for people from industry to come to them. He suggests a more efficient approach involves actively pursuing and engaging local companies through workshops to show them what is available.

A facility that’s about 10 years old, the CFN is housed in a two-story glass building on the BNL campus. The research ranges from electronic nanomaterials, including structures for photovoltaics and electrochemical energy storage systems, to soft and biological nanomaterials, theory and computation, electron microscopy and nanoscale catalysis and interface science.

“We are a Department of Energy facility,” Dickerson said. “That means our taxpayer dollars are paying for our facilities. My personal interest is not just helping out the scientific community, be it universities or national labs, but also helping out the commercial or industrial community.”

That could include facilitating companies to conduct research in areas that will help their bottom line, either through nonproprietary research, in which the results of the experiments are expected to be published, or through proprietary research, in which the results of the studies can remain privately held. In the latter case, the companies provide full cost recovery for use of the facilities, capabilities and expertise that the center would incur.

“If you’re a company that is a manufacturer of a type of material that might have a nanostructure, feel free to contact me,” he offered.

Since he arrived, Dickerson said he has worked with companies interested in proprietary and nonproprietary research, including electronic and biomedical materials device companies.

The physical, chemical and mechanical properties of nanomaterials tend to be different from the same properties for larger materials, even when the atoms of both are identical. Scientists explore ways to exploit those properties for new devices, processes, and materials.

Dickerson said he expects some of the products companies are developing with the CFN may become commercially available (either individually or as a part of something else) within the next 10 years.

In his own research, Dickerson has examined the relationships between the structure, size and optical properties of rare earth oxides, such as europium sesquioxide. Many cathode ray tube TV screens used europium-based compounds to produce red color. His work looks toward applications, such as in highly efficient display devices and X-ray intensifying screens.

“I’m really interested in understanding fundamentally how the structure, composition, and the physical properties of nanomaterials correlate with each other. Particularly, I’m interested in trying to understand how the structure of a material, down to very small nanoscale, relates to how magnetism evolves as you shrink materials further and further down, approaching a single molecule of europium and sulfur.”

A past chairman of the Committee on Minorities in Physics of the American Physical Society, Dickerson was a recipient of an APS scholarship in 1989 and 1990.

His participation on the committee was a chance to “help those students in kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as students in undergraduate programs, at junior colleges and graduate students in their progression to the next stage in their academic lives and careers,” he said.

The number of minorities in physics has grown over the last 25 years, he said, but it’s still not “exactly reflective of the demographics of minorities in greater society. That’s something we’re endeavoring to improve.”

He said the imbalance needs to be addressed not just for the sake of having a balance in the numbers, but to solve the nation’s need for more technology and science development.

A resident of Brooklyn, Dickerson is married to Courtney Martin, an art historian and professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Dickerson encourages anyone with an interest in BNL’s facilities, to meet their commercial or research goals, to reach out to him.