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LION and IBM working together on 'super-gliding'

Dr. Ruud Tromp

Researchers from the Leiden Institute of Physics (LION), and the American IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights will be working together in the coming two years in the field of nano-friction, the friction between surfaces at the scale of a single atom.  Within LION, Prof. Dr. Joost Frenken's group is working on this project.  From the Watson Research Centre, the senior staff member is Dr. Ruud Tromp, part-time professor at Leiden University. 

The researchers are focusing on wear-free friction between surfaces of just a single atom in diameter.  Frenken's group has recently demonstrated that in particular circumstances atoms arrange themselves such that the friction is reduced to almost nothing.  Frenken calls this 'super-gliding', with a nod to that other physical phenomen: 'super-conductivity'.  If super-gliding really does exist and can be applied under controlled conditions, this will have enormous significance for ultra-small moving devices, so-called nanorobots or 'nanobots'.  To date, friction is the major problem in movement at nanoscale.  'After just a couple of movements, the device is useless,' Frenken explains.  The term nano comes from nanometre, the smallest part of a millimetre.

Hybrid professor

Artist's impression of a nanobot, working on a red blood cell. The discovery of 'super-sliding' brings this futuristic concept a step closer.

Ruud Tromp will become a hybrid professor.  At LION people are certainly aware of the fact that fundamental research also has to focus on handling and solving practical issues.  The institute is looking for prominent scientists who have one foot in industry.  Tromp is the first scientific staff member to make a link between fundamental physics research within LION and the major issues within the semiconductor industry.  He will be carrying out a number of research projects throughout the year within LION.  He will also supervise PhD candidates and give lectures. From Leiden, Frenken and Dr. Merlijn van Spengen will work for parts of the year with Tromp's group in the IBM labs.  

Semiconductor industry
Ruud Tromp is the head of IBM's 'Molecular Assemblies and Devices' group.  His research focuses on the structure and growth of surfaces and interfaces, phase transfers to surfaces and the growth of organic semiconductor crystals.  Tromp has made a name for himself with the development of new experimental techniques and methods for studying the structure and growth of surfaces up to atomic level, and how these can be manipulated.  His work has led to new devices and materials which are of particular significance for the semiconductor industry, such as IBM. 

Tromp completed his studies in 1978 at Twente University and obtained his PhD in Utrecht 1982. The following year he was appointed as a member of the research staff of IBM's Watson Research Center. Since then he has been member of IBM's research group on surface layer physics and a consultant for IBM's Corporate Technology Council. He has on three occasions won the IBM Outstanding Innovation and Technical Achievement Award: in 1987, 1991 and in 1992. He is also a member of the Basic Energy Sciences advisory committee of the American Ministry of Defence. He is the author of some 200 academic articles and has six American patents to his name. 


(25 July 2006/SH)

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