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Chemistry major William McNamara06 (Scranton, Pa.) is testing the efficiency of two techniques used in molecular electronics and nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology, in which components are constructed on the molecular level, can be used as an inexpensive way to manufacture extremely small computer systems.

Focusing on the importance of self-assembled monolayers (SAMs), which are made from molecules and substrates, McNamara is conducting research with Tina Huang, assistant professor of chemistry. Results from the project will be useful in many areas of research, including environmental monitoring, tissue engineering, and the study of genes. An example of a SAM is fatty acids.

“The project that William is currently working on deals with surface modification of thin-film gold electrodes using SAMs of various types of compounds,” Huang explains. “The study of surfaces is significant because the success or failure of surface-modified devices often depends on how the molecule interacts with the surface. Therefore, studying the details of molecule-surface interactions may gain some new insights on the function, performance, and sensing capability of these modified surfaces.”

“SAMs are an important part of the emerging fields of molecular electronics and nanotechnology,” McNamara says. “[The testing] will see if a vapor depositing technique or a solution depositing technique will yield fewer defects — or holes — in the monolayer using electrochemical techniques.”

Huang says that the project is enabling McNamara to learn new chemical concepts and research techniques. They are collaborating through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

McNamara, a member of Lafayette’s crew team, says that learning skills in the field of molecular electronics and nanotechnology is a great experience. Huang is enthusiastic about the electroanalytical field, he notes.

“The EXCEL project has given me a chance to use my academic knowledge in a more practical and applicable situation. It has given me a taste of what it is like to be a research scientist while helping sharpen my laboratory skills,” he says.

McNamara began working on the research during the January interim session between semesters. He spent about eight to 10 hours a week in the laboratory during the spring semester and is working full-time on the research for 10 weeks this summer.

“His presence in my laboratory has been an extremely positive experience for me both personally and professionally, because it motivates me to continue to be active on my research projects,” Huang says.

McNamara hopes to attend medical school to study oncological pathology, where he would research the development, causes, and consequences associated with tumors.

“I have been pleased with the opportunities at Lafayette,” he says. “With the opportunity to do graduate-level research and the availability of valuable programs like study abroad, Lafayette gives the small-college feel while having large-university resources.”

“I think Lafayette is an excellent academic environment for projects like this,” Huang says. “It gives students such as William an opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom setting to solve a research problem that has a real purpose and allows them to contribute new scientific knowledge towards the advancement of science and new technology.”

In addition to competing in the crew club, McNamara has a campus radio show, is a member of Physics Club, and tutors students in chemistry.

He is a graduate of North Pocono High School.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News