Professor Haim Grebel, Dept. of Electrical & Computer Engineering
What do brilliantly colored glass, advanced batteries, and innovative technology for the regulation of brain functions have in common? They are nano-scale structures far smaller than the wavelengths of energy coursing through them in different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, said NJIT Professor Haim Grebel.Investigating how light interacts with a wide range of materials in the world of the amazingly small has occupied much of Grebel’s career. Interestingly, this fascination with light tangentially intersects with the career of his father, the late Israeli fine artist Joel Grebel .
NJIT will honor the younger Grebel on Oct. 6, 2011 during the presentation of the fourth New Jersey Institute of Technology Excellence in Research Prize and Medal. Grebel’s work, which has produced four patent awards, more than 90 scholarly papers and more than a dozen invited presentations, has received the support of the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation and NASA. In 2009, the NJIT Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering recognized Grebel with the NJIT Excellence in Research Award.
Grebel’s newest research interests glycobiologists, who study sugars and the roles they play in biology. This November, Grebel will be an invited speaker at the Conference of the Society for Glycobiology in Seattle. His talk is entitled “The Detection of Human and Avian Flu Viruses using Graphene-Coated Infrared Platforms.”
The deposition of graphene on various substrates and its implications for spectroscopic analysis has long been a focal point of Grebel’s work. Graphene, a two-dimensional carbon crystal that is a single atom thick, can be rolled into nanotubes which are one nanometer in diameter. Graphene and carbon nanotubes take researchers into structures that originated in the laboratory. The unique properties of graphene and carbon nanotubes could lead to extraordinarily small and fast transistors, flexible flat-screen displays and solar panels, and batteries with the integral capacity to replenish their charge from solar energy, said the NJIT scientist.
Grebel even foresees using these materials to regulate the flow of ions to create “pacemakers for the brain,” implantable nano-scale devices to correct irregular patterns of brain activity caused by disease or injury. The theoretical possibilities of such structures have been discussed for decades, especially with respect to creating the ever smaller transistors long viewed as essential for ever faster computing, he added.
Although ancient artisans didn’t understand such theories, Roman and medieval craftsmen discovered that by adding metallic elements like gold and silver to glass, they could create brilliant colors which have lasted for thousands of years. “It’s the manner in which nano-particles of these elements interact with certain frequencies of visible light that produces such colors,” Grebel said.
Although very distant in time and very different in purpose, there is a connection between the interplay of light and metallic nano-structures in Grebel’s research. The link involves surface plasmons — coherent charge waves on metallic surfaces. Understanding this phenomenon has led Grebel to develop unique infrared filters for NASA and to new biomedical platforms for studying viruses.
A related avenue of investigation has entailed visible plasmon laser technology. These lasers, confined to the surface of metal electrodes, could lead to the creation of practical nano-scale optical sources for medical diagnostics and ultra-fast communications in computer chips that continue to decrease in size.
Grebel, who’s been at NJIT since the mid-1980s in the department of electrical engineering, received his doctorate from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. A book by Albert Einstein explaining his theories of relativity inspired Grebel to pursue this career. “Einstein asked questions about beams of light that no one had thought of before,” said Grebel. “Reading his book convinced me that if you think hard about something you may make discoveries that seem crazy at first, but which could be proven true and add to our knowledge.”