University of Pittsburgh
January 15, 2003

Big Things from Small Science: Pitt Surges Ahead in Nanotechnology Innovation With Launch of New Research Institute

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January 16, 2003

PITTSBURGH—From building microscopic scaffolds for cells to grow into tissue to creating entire computers on a microchip, the promise of nanotechnology has enthralled the scientific community worldwide. The University of Pittsburgh, responding early to what many members of the scientific community are calling "the next big thing," has launched a research institute to coordinate and develop nanoscale technology.

Pitt Provost James V. Maher introduced the Institute of NanoScience and Engineering on Dec. 16 during a conference for industry representatives, venture capitalists, and government officials featuring presentations by Pitt faculty on their most current nanotechnology research.

Nanoscience, which uses atoms and molecules as basic building blocks to build minute machines, create new materials, or perform molecular tasks, promises to revolutionize technology in ways previously unimaginable. The National Science and Technology Council, in a report on the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), defines nanotechnology as being in the range of "one to 100 nanometers—100 to 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair." A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.

"This emerging field of nanoscience offers so many significant and profound possibilities in areas as diverse as biomedicine, material science, environmental remediation, and semiconductors," says Maher, the University's chief academic officer. "We're excited to be able to create an interdisciplinary institute through which our scientists can pool their expertise and resources to explore this new realm of science."

Nanotechnology applications already under development by Pitt faculty include biodegradable cell scaffolding for growing new tissue; new materials, including ones that could create bulletproof cloth or detect a wearer's exposure to biochemicals; thin films that could be used to measure diabetic patients' blood-sugar levels or other body chemicals and deliver appropriate doses of medicine if necessary; tiny carbon tubes that absorb, contain, or transport materials; and photonic computer circuits.

The timing of the institute is significant because of the federal government's increased emphasis on nanotechnology. The federal government plans to invest at least $710 million for nanotechnology research and development programs and educational offerings in 2003, according to the NNI. That is an increase from more than $600 million in funding in 2002.

Pitt's new institute is a cooperative effort between the Faculty and College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. Hong Koo Kim, associate professor of electrical engineering, and David Snoke, associate professor of physics and astronomy, will codirect the institute.

Their mission will be to coordinate current research and new collaborative research grant opportunities, develop industry partnerships, pursue commercial innovation, and provide educational opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students in both schools.

"The Institute of NanoScience and Engineering is an opportunity to bring together some of the most brilliant scientists and engineers in the country to work on the frontiers of engineering science and engineered products," says Gerald D. Holder, dean of the School of Engineering. "I'm confident that, as a result, western Pennsylvania will become a leader in nanoscience research."