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Nanotechnology pioneer talks of advances in lifesaving treatments

Daniel Herr, a researcher at the N.C. A&T State University and UNC Greensboro Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, visited campus on Sept. 15 as the first guest this fall of the Voices of Discovery Science Speaker Series.

Daniel Herr

By Kaitlin Dunn ‘16

A renowned scientist whose ongoing collaborative work may hold the key to several medical breakthroughs talked about his passion for science Monday and the responsibilities his team has to protect the environment.

Daniel Herr, a researcher at the N.C. A&T State University and UNC Greensboro Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, spoke in McCrary Theatre as the first guest this fall of the Voices of Discovery Science Speaker Series.

Herr directs the Semiconductor Research Corporation’s Nanomanufacturing Sciences area, leading a team that guides and supports a number of the top interdisciplinary university research programs.

Herr said he sees innovation and potential everywhere and that he has always been curious about the world around him. He described himself as an advocate of hands-on learning, recalling memories of his father, a scientist who worked on one of the world’s first computers. His father would bring home Tinker Toys with which to work, and Herr and his siblings would play with them afterward.

One of the places Herr gets much of his inspiration today is from nature. And as much as he wants to invent and innovate with technology, he remains steadfast in his devotion to help the environment. “We have a responsibility to think about the environmental implications of what we’re inventing,” he said.

A group of engineers and medical personnel at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology is developing innovations with the potential to improve or even save lives, Herr said. A retinal prosthesis is one example. The device has a video camera worn on the front of the eye that transmits electrodes to the optic nerve to help restore sight for those with vision loss.

The first trials of such cameras were conducted in 2002, but Herr believes that with smaller electrode sensors, researchers can make the resolution better and improve vision even more.

Herr said another emerging technology might have saved the life of actress Natasha Richardson, who died in 2009 following a skiing accident. He and his colleagues are creating a device that can detect moderate traumatic brain injury, it’s magnitude and where in the brain the injury is located - all from a drop of blood.

Herr ended the evening by sharing a colleague’s idea on the Ebola crisis affecting West Africa. An effective treatment, Herr said, may hinge on selenium, a nutrient found in blood. Selenium has been used to treat patients at a hospital in Africa with higher rates of success than at facilities run by Doctors Without Borders, which do not use selenium.

“What would you do?” he said. “Would you go ahead and give people the selenium, even though there have been no clinical trials yet?”

Herr looks to not just scientists to solve problems, but to community members. “The seeds of the next wave of innovation have been planted and nurtured in unexpected places,” he said.

Herr is the inventor of several foundational patents and disclosures on defect tolerant patterning, controlled nanotube synthesis and placement, deterministic semiconductor doping, and ultimate CMOS devices.  As founding co-chair of the International Technology Working Group on Emerging Research Materials, Herr provides ongoing technical leadership for the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors community. 

He serves as senior editor for IEEE Transactions in Nanotechnology, coordinating editor for the Journal of Nanoparticle Research, reviewer for the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology, and co-chair of several international technical conferences.

The Voices of Discovery science speaker series, sponsored by Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, invites noted scholars in science and mathematics to Elon to share their knowledge and experience with students.

Eric Townsend,
9/17/2014 4:00 PM