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National Science Foundation awards University of Dayton research team $63K to apply machine learning to 3-D printing on nanoscale

By Dave Larsen

The National Science Foundation awarded a $63,215 supplemental grant to University of Dayton physics, computer science and electro-optics researchers to apply data science technology to an advanced manufacturing process for building three-dimensional structures at nanoscale, or a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

The new one-year award supports a $317,158 grant awarded in 2018 to Chenglong Zhao, assistant professor of physics and electro-optics, and Qiwen Zhan, professor of electro-optics. It adds Ju Shen, associate professor of computer science, as a research collaborator. Shen will apply artificial intelligence and big data capabilities to the team’s additive manufacturing at nanoscales process.

That process is similar to 3-D printing and uses a laser to assemble 100-nanometer-sized particles on a flexible underlying layer, known as the substrate, through precise electrical manipulation. It is less expensive than current nanoscale fabrication techniques and doesn’t alter or damage materials. The technology also allows users to correct fabrication errors that occur during the manufacturing process.

“I will contribute my machine learning expertise to develop automated image-recognition algorithms to identify desired nanoparticles on the donor substrate, thus potentially improving the speed and accuracy of the current manufacturing process,” Shen said. “More specifically, optical images of nanoparticles with known size and shape on the donor substrate are captured and fed into a hypothesized convolutional neural network through an end-to-end learning process that enables automatic feature learning and quality evaluation of the nanostructures on the receiver substrate.”

Reliable and cost-effective manufacturing of nanostructures on flexible substrates has become increasingly important for the production of wearable devices such as fitness trackers and smart watches. The global wearable technology market was valued at $27.9 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $74 billion by 2025.

In July, the top nanotechnology journal Nano Letters published the findings of Zhao, Zhan and electro-optics graduate student Md Shah Alam.

The additional National Science Foundation (NSF) funding is the result of a December 2019 solicitation from the agency’s Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation. It invited current grantees to request supplemental funds to expand the impact of their research activities through the exploration and implementation of data science approaches and techniques.

The supplemental funding is intended to introduce new data science approaches through the addition of a new collaborator, student or postdoctoral researcher to promote transdisciplinary research, learning and collaboration.

“The physics department and electro-optics have been traditionally strong in collaboration for multidisciplinary research,” said John Erdei, associate professor and Department of Physics chair. “Dr. Shen’s expertise in data science and artificial intelligence will play an increasingly important role in strengthening existing collaborations and seeking new opportunities to work together to serve to the common good at the University of Dayton.”

For more information, visit the Department of Physics, Department of Computer Science and Department of Electro-Optics and Photonics websites.

Pictured above (L to R): Chenglong Zhao, Ju Shen and Qiwen Zhan.

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