Since different products require packaging with different gas barrier properties, the researchers also are studying a variety of polymers in different nanolayer combinations.
“This should help identify a spectrum of polymers for different applications, such as improving the shelf life of food products, for pharmaceutical use, or to prevent the oxidation of electronic or metal components,’’ Baer says.
Center scientists also have used the technology to make inexpensive laser sheets, which are stretchable and can produce “tunable’’ lasers, that is, lasers with the ability to continuously change their wave length within certain limits, unlike traditional lasers. The new lasers could have widespread applications in such fields as medicine, astronomy, communication and imaging, Baer says. “It’s rare to have a tunable laser," he adds. “Most lasers don’t tune."
In addition to product development, the center is heavily invested in outreach and education with the idea of helping to create a diverse work force in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, often known by the acronym STEM.
At its partner universities, high school students recruited by the colleges, as well as undergraduates and graduate students, work on center-related projects. In Cleveland, the center cooperates with urban school districts to identify promising high school students from under-represented groups to work directly with its research teams at Case Western Reserve, where the technology is located.
The goal is for 50 percent of the students who complete the program to pursue a college degree in a STEM field. To date, all of the students who have participated are attending college, 70 percent of them in STEM related areas.
“We have had great success with these kids from the inner city," Baer says. “We’ve had 20 graduates, and every single one of them has gone on to college."