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January 23, 2003

Pitt sets up nanoscience center

From building microscopic scaffolds for cells to grow into tissue to creating entire computers on a microchip, the promise of nanotechnology has engrossed much of the scientific community worldwide.

Pitt has launched a research institute to coordinate and develop nanoscale technology.

Provost James V. Maher introduced the Institute of NanoScience and Engineering last month 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, has the potential to revolutionize technology.

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.

Nanotechnology applications already under development at Pitt 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 federal government plans to invest at least $710 million in nanotechnology research and development programs and educational offerings in 2003, according to NNI.

Pitt’s institute is a cooperative effort between arts and sciences and engineering. Hong Koo Kim, associate professor of electrical engineering, and David Snoke, associate professor of physics and astronomy, will co-direct the institute.

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