WMU News

Nanotechnology research organization launched

Dec. 16, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- The small stuff is the next big thing at Western Michigan University.

Acting at their Dec. 13 meeting, University trustees unanimously approved the establishment of the new Nanotechnology Research and Computation Center, positioning WMU as a key player--nationally and internationally--in a field of study that is driving scientific breakthroughs in everything from the environment and healthcare to manufacturing and the military.

WMU, already a leader in nanobioenvironmental chemistry research, will use the center to provide leadership, institutional support, and other resources to assist faculty engaged in science, engineering, and technology research at the atomic and nanometer scales. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter and measures about the size of 10 hydrogen atoms laid side by side--more than 1,000 times narrower than the width of a human hair.

"This center will allow our researchers to work together in interdisciplinary ways that will make them much more competitive in this important new and growing field," said WMU Provost Daniel M. Litynski in making the recommendation to trustees. "The center will attract new funded research and dramatically increase educational opportunities for both our graduate students and undergraduates."

Currently, several WMU faculty members from such disciplines as biological sciences, chemistry, physics and engineering are pursuing discoveries in the fields of nanoscience and nanoengineering. For example, WMU researchers are using nanotechnology to embed the capabilities of a state-of-the-art laboratory onto a microchip with the potential to speed the process of scientific discovery by a factor of 100.

But nanotechnology's applications aren't limited to the lab. Worldwide, nanoscience also is being used to develop or advance numerous consumer-level products, including shatterproof beer bottles, minivan running boards, electronic gadgets and games, home pregnancy kits, and even the kitchen sink.

In establishing the NRCC, the University is expected to attract more funded research and increase undergraduate and graduate student educational opportunities, University officials say. Dr. Subra Murali, a professor of chemistry who has extensive research experience in the emerging field and in analytical, inorganic, organic and physical chemistry, will direct the center. Murali has led several nanoscience and nanotechnology projects with multiyear funding in excess of $2 million, including awards from the U.S. Dept. of Energy and the Michigan Life Sciences Initiative. His work also has attracted support from Pharmacia Corp. and Argonne National Laboratory.

The center's governance committee, which has overall responsibility for the organization, is composed of Murali, industry representatives and several WMU academic administrators. Among its initial duties are selecting the center's nanotechnology scholars, who will launch its research agenda; monitoring the center's revenue and cost structure; establishing criteria for formal faculty affiliation with the center; and establishing a system to evaluate the center's contributions to the University's research, education and partnership programs.

By launching the center the University is securing its foothold in the one of the hottest and fastest-growing areas of scientific research and development. Increasingly, more government, public-sector and corporate organizations are turning their attention, and dollars, toward nanotechnology. For example, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense has earmarked more than $124 million of its 2003 budget specifically for microsystems and nanotechnology, according to Small Times, a Michigan-based journal that covers the industry. Overall, the Bush administration has appropriated more than $700 million for federal nanotechnology initiatives, and private U.S. investments in the field are expected to be around $1.2 billion over the next year.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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