BANTech (Biological Applications of Nanotechnology)

Polymeric, Interfacial and Colloidal Technology & Science (PICTS) -

Microscopy and Spectroscopy Facilities - Introducing Scanning Near-Field Optical Microscopy and Confocal Raman Scanning Spectroscopy to the University of Idaho, fully integrated with Atomic Force and High-Resolution Optical Microscopy (AlphaSNOM/Digital Pulsed-Force Mode AFM by WITec & ICMAS, see below!)

Interested Graduate Students:
Please see our Chemical Engineering website for admissions information.

Always looking for resident Undergrads to work on research projects.
Prefer ChE; will consider ME, EE, Materials, Physics, Chemistry, Math/CS double majors, and others with appropriate background and/or training.
Will consider senior design projects; Occasional paid positions.

Contact Prof. D.E. Aston by e-mail at aston@uidaho.edu

Other projects include:  Growth and Mechanics of Nanosprings and Nanowires; Environmental Nano/Microsensors
Funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation Science and Engineering Grant, and the National Science Foundation

This and related projects are collaborations within highly interdisciplinary teams of undergraduates, graduates, postdocs, and professors from physics, chemistry, chemical, mechanical and materials engineering at the University of Idaho, Washington State, Idaho State, and Boise State Universities.

ARG (Aston Research Group): Student developed research webpage
{Last additions made 30 Jun 2008}

After joining the Chemical Engineering faculty at the University of Idaho in the summer of 2001, I have branched out into various areas of colloids, thin films, polymeric and magnetic materials, nanotechnology and nanomechanics using atomic force microscopy (AFM), Langmuir-Blodgett deposition, and other complimentary techniques.  I also teach ChE Thermodynamics and Separation Processes, as well as special topics courses each year--usually related to interfacial science, nanotechnology, and physics. In Spring 2007 and 2008, my colleagues and I (in BANTech) team-taught a course titled "Applications of Nanotechnology in Biomedical Engineering."  My personal attentions are mostly toward understanding the fundamental mechanics and other materials properties of ceramic and polymeric nanowires with diameters ranging from 200 nm to 20 nm, and on microscopic mapping of chemical properties using confocal Raman spectroscopy.  We are using the advanced material properties mapping capabilities of the Digital Pulsed Force Mode AFM, confocal and near-field optical instrumentation developed by WITec (Germany). Students who have worked with me recently are listed below.  Past and current collaborations also include projects in Materials Science and Engineering (MSE), Environmental Engineering, Environmental Science, and the Microelectronics Research and Communications Institute (MRCI).  My specific role is generally on interfacial phenomena, thermodynamics, and some materials synthesis and characterization at micro- and nanoscales.

Current Students & Scholars: Graduated & Former Students & Scholars: Tutorial Video Rough-cuts
1. Polypyrrole Nanowires
2. Nanowire Resistivity

New Microscopy and Spectroscopy Facility - Introducing Scanning Near-Field Optical Microscopy and Confocal Raman Scanning Spectroscopy to the University of Idaho, fully integrated with Atomic Force and High-Resolution Optical Microscopy (by WITec & ICMAS, see below!)

Our newest and most functional instrumentation lab will be brought on-line late this spring, housed in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Instrument acquisition made possible by NSF MRI Grant DMR-0619310. (The spectroscopy capabilities will initially include two excitation lasers in the green and NIR wavelengths, optimized for autofluorescing specimens.)

WITec's Alpha300 SNOM
The integrated version at UI is somewhat different from the image shown; see below.

BEL 341 Improvement - Making Old Lab Space New Again!
Here's the beginning of the mess that was "cleaned up" for placement of our Alpha300 with SNOM, AFM, DPFM and Confocal Raman.

Here's the new SNOM/AFM/Confocal Raman system, providing up to diffraction-limited imaging and Raman spectroscopy in air, water and standard oil immersion regimes, using "white" LED for bright-field imaging or one of two lasers for confocal fluorescence and Raman mapping - 532 nm or 785 nm. Heating stage provides AFM samples studies up to 250 deg C and water immersion objective allows scanning in aqueous environments. Digital Pulsed Force Mode (DPFM) extends the force spectroscopy beyond standard AFM capabilities.


BEL 339 - Atomic Force Microscopy for Nanomechanics
The Nano-R AFM (Pacific Nanotechnology, Inc.) is combined with WITec's Digital Pulsed Force Mode (DPFM) unit to provide spacial mapping (<10 nm) capabilities of surface properties, such as elasticity, adhesion, and long-range interactions that can be quantified with careful calibration.

BEL 339 - Ultramicroscopy and Differential Interference Contrast for Metallurgical and Other Imaging
The Olympus upright BX51 microscope offers the highest optical resolution (~250 nm) for ambient studies of bright and dark fields, fluorescence, polarization and differential interference contrast (DIC) with digital image capture and long-time exposure. Halogen and mercury lamps are standard illumination.

BEL 218 - Electrical Probe Station and Source-Measure Units
The Keithley 4200 with 4 independent sourcing and/or measuring units for DC current and voltage is connected to a microscope station with four micromanipulators for contacting to circuits, devices, and materials under test. This lab is being reorganized to include the new PAR VersaSTAT3-400 for electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS).

Gauss-Johnson 11 - Inverted Optical Microscopy for Microfluidics & Sensors
The Olympus IX71 is equipped for fluorescence imaging, digital video capture for particle and dye tracking, and UV-Vis-NIR spectroscopy (~250-1100 nm) with a Princeton PIXIS 256E spectral detector and Acton MicroSpec 2150i monochromator. The system has been setup with fluid port microinjectors and a syringe pump to run microfluidic experiments. Finally, a voltage-current source-meter is attached to the microports or external electrodes d

Gauss-Johnson 13D - Langmuir-Blodgett system from KSV
Facilitates multilayer, monolayer, and submonolayer deposition of molecules and colloidal materials on substrates up to 4" in diameter or width with a standard electrobalance for measuring and monitoring the forces of interfacial tension imposed on the dipping surface.


  • For more info. on AFMs see WITec, Pacific Nanotechnology, Inc.Veeco Metrology Group, Molecular Imagaing, RHK, nanoSurf, Nanosensors, and the list goes on. My apologies is the list is not current. Company status changes faster than I care to keep track of.
    Slides shows from past conferences:
    (These old slide shows may exhibit some problems in displaying for you, depending on your browser and version of PowerPoint, silly Microsoft!)

    “Electrical and Thermomechanical Testing of Single Polymer Nanowires.”  ACS 78th Colloid and Surface Science Symposium, Yale University, New Haven, CT, June 20-23, 2004.
    “Low-Temperature Spin Spray Chemical Growth of Magnetic Ferrite Films.”  Presenter: A. Nemec, MS student.  ACS 78th Colloid and Surface Science Symposium, Yale University, New Haven, CT, June 20-23, 2004.
    ACS Conference 2000 Abstract
    "Fluid Interface-Atomic Force Microscopy (FI-AFM)"ACS 74th Colloid and Surface Science Symposium, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Penn., June 19-21 2000.
    "Fluid Interfacial Separations for Secondary Fiber Recovery as Probed with Atomic Force Microscopy" 4th Research Forum on Recycling, Quebec, QC, Cananda, Oct 7-9 1997.
    "Colloid Force Measurements at Oil-Water Interfaces" ACS 71st Colloid and Surface Science Symposium, Univesity of Delaware, Newark, DE, June 29-July 2, 1997.

    My PhD thesis dealt with colloidal particle behavior near oil-water interfaces, e.g., oil droplets submerged in aqueous solutions or dispersions.

            Hydrophobic Interaction with Solid Surfaces - a brief summary of a past work.
            AFM Force Profiling of Oil Drops in Aqueous Media - past developments for liquid-liquid interfacial colloid probe microscopy, a.k.a., Fluid Interface (FI)-AFM.
            Introduction to my PhD research in Chemical Engineering
               Thesis:  Quantifying Single Oil-Particle Interactions in Aqueous Media

    I graduated with a B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Idaho in May of 1995 and joined Prof. John Berg's Interfacial and Colloid Science Research Group in the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Washington that fall as a Ph.D. student. Starting off, I brought to our group some previous experience of scanning probe microscopy (SPM) from my summer research (REU Program) with Prof. Ron Andres and now-Drs. Mike Buss, Rob Crane, and others at Purdue in the School of Chemical Engineering and the Physics Department. I ended up scanning gold nanoclusters under decane, attempting to weld them to tungsten wires for improved image resolution of "rough" substrates with scanning tunneling microscopy (STM). I don't think anything has come of it yet. At UW, the AFM from Park Scientific Instruments was being installed for colloidal studies. First on my list of priorities were adhesion measurements of variously hydrophobic offset printing paper (Weyehaeuser funding). I trained two other students to continue the work--which led to a very interesting discovery published in the Tappi J (see Publications)--while I forged ahead with adapting commercial AFM to the study of equilibrium and transient forces between micron-sized particles and oil-water interfaces. Our primary end-goal was quantitative generation of a true interparticle force vs. separation profile from thermodyanmic modelingly of the force-distance data acquired with colloidal probe microscopy,  i.e., fluid interface (FI)-AFM.

    Check out other ChE Departments which I have been a part of:

    Email Eric

    "Nothing unreal exists!"--Spock (Star Trek), quoting an axiom of metaphysics.