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The Fall and Rise of Mass on a Spring

Since antiquity, the mass on a spring and other simple mechanical systems have been used in everyday applications, like time-keeping clocks. But at one time, they were also employed in smarter information technologies such as calculators and computers, technologies now ruled by silicon-based microelectronics. In recent years, thanks largely to the nanometer-scale miniaturization of mechanical systems and the discovery of atomic-scale materials like graphene, the mass on a spring has been rising in scientific and technological prominence, and is once again knocking on the door of more sophisticated uses. The next step in this mechanical evolution—as occurred with electronic microchips—is to form large programmable networks of interacting nanomechanical resonators, but such networks demand unprecedented, scalable control over the resonance frequencies and coupling of the constituent resonators. Here, I will detail recent projects in my lab that advance the quest to realize these networks, projects enabled by optically addressable graphene nanoelectromechanical resonators. By harnessing several unique properties of graphene, we develop an optoelectronic non-volatile mechanical strain memory and a means for fast, photothermally mediated strain modulation, which together enable local static and dynamic frequency and coupling control of resonators in large arrays. I will discuss several applications already enabled by our work, such as a new photodetector that "hears" light, as well as some wilder, yet promising aspirations.

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Topic: Physics Seminar
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