Spring 2005 Table of Contents
Grants and Philanthropy
Defense Department Grant Funds Unique NMR

Dr. John Evans with the spectrometer.
A Tool for Learning How to "Grow" Computer Chips and Dental Implants

With the help of a $535,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, NYUCD has acquired a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer (NMR) with a 600-megahertz, 2,400-pound magnet that is the only NMR at New York University that can analyze molecules in both liquid and solid states. Dr. John Evans, an Associate Professor of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology and of Chemistry, and collaborators at half a dozen other research centers, will share data from the spectrometer, the first NMR to be acquired by a dental school.

High-resolution nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometry uses powerful magnets and radio waves to record information about molecular structure. Atoms placed inside the spectrometer's gleaming five-foot-high steel cylinder are exposed to electromagnetic fields so powerful they can lift a truck. As electromagnetic radio waves push the atoms from a low energy state to a high, or "excited" one, the atoms spin like tiny tops and exhibit varying patterns of electromagnetic absorption. A computer records those patterns in the form of charts and graphs for plotting molecular structure.

Dr. Evans and his team are using the newly acquired NMR to analyze molecules that could be incorporated into nanotechnology, a process in which particles one nanometer (a billionth of a meter) in diameter are assembled, one molecule at a time, to create a new generation of stronger materials. The Defense Department's grant reflects military planners' keen interest in nanotechnology's potential battlefield uses, which include explosive-resistant materials for tanks and body armor.

"Being able to manipulate matter on this tiniest of scales will lead to the introduction of novel materials and products affecting many areas of life," says Dr. Evans. "Dentistry is one case in point. Proteins and silicon could be combined in a culture dish to 'grow' or self-assemble into more resilient, yet lighter, materials than the composites currently used for implants and restorations." And as smaller, yet more potent computer chips are assembled from protein-silicon compounds and other innovative materials in years to come, dentists will incorporate computers in ways that can only be imagined today. One example: Microscopic robots could be implanted in a patient's mouth to rebuild decayed teeth one atom or molecule at a time.

Dr. Evans anticipates the NMR also will be used by faculty in NYUCD's expanding biomaterials research program, which has received over $9 million in funding from the NIH in the past three years to study tissue engineering, how to improve ceramic crowns, and how to develop biomaterials that promote bone formation and inhibit bone loss in osteoporosis.