The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has awarded a $10.5 million grant that aims to establish the Philadelphia region as a high-tech hotbed of nanotechnology--an atom-by-atom approach to building products that many scientists believe has the potential to inspire a technological revolution. The three-year grant, from the Pennsylvania Technology Investment Authority (PTIA), establishes a Regional Nanotech-nology Center with the goal of remaking the Delaware Valley as "Nanotech Valley."
The Center will be co-directed by Dr. David E. Luzzi, associate professor of materials science and engineering at Penn's Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter, and Dr. Kambiz Pourrezaei, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Drexel. Its primary purpose will be funding interdisciplinary nanotechnology research in Southeastern Pennsylvania, with particular attention to technologies likely to prove useful to local companies.
"This important award demonstrates once again that the Philadelphia region, and its superb institutions of higher education, will play a key role in the development of new exciting technologies for the 21st century," said President Judith Rodin. "Universities are being increasingly called upon to partner with government in the transfer of new discoveries and knowledge from the laboratory to life. We are grateful to the Governor for his leadership in this important area."
Nanotechnology is a broad term, encompassing research in the life sciences, chemistry, physics, and engineering. It refers to scientists' growing interest in manipulating single atoms and molecules in new ways to create new and ever-smaller products. Unlike today's often-cumbersome approach to manufacturing tiny objects like silicon chips--which are built up only to be chiseled down to their final configuration--nanotechnology focuses on finding ways for atoms and molecules to assemble themselves from scratch.
These self-assembling materials could lay the groundwork for new products such as microscopic capsules that selectively deliver drugs to tumors, Herculean carbon fibers to bulk up weak plastics, artificial proteins that harness the best properties of natural ones, and electronic circuits a fraction of their current size. Nanotechnology also offers the promise of countless other applications yet to be envisioned.
"With nanotechnology, we seek to emulate the natural world, where millions of years of evolution has worked to maximize efficiency while minimizing waste," Dr. Luzzi said. "In humans and other animals, a couple of cells give rise to an amazingly diverse array of tissues and organs. Similarly, nanotechnology seeks ways for single atoms to assemble themselves into complex structures."
While nanotechnology is still in its infancy, the approach will likely see dramatic growth in the coming decade. The pieces needed for nanotechnology to flourish are now in place, Dr. Luzzi said: the ability to image objects as small as atoms and to manipulate these objects with ultrafine probes, a growing ability to control the assembly of atoms into molecules, and an ever-increasing understanding of the biochemical mechanisms at work in the smallest recesses of organisms.
"We're really at a tipping point, where all the pieces are in place to allow for an explosion of technological development," Dr. Luzzi said.
The area's institutions of higher education--including SEAS and SAS--are home to a particularly strong cohort of nanotechnology researchers.
"This alliance of Penn with the Commonwealth, our peer academic institutions, and local industries is an ideal mode for promoting cross fertilization of ideas," said SEAS Dean Eduardo D. Glandt. "Nanotechnology is inherently interdisciplinary, a discipline that draws from every branch of engineering and technology. It offers great promise and is certain to deliver wonderful new technologies for the region and for the country."
Independent of any particular college or university, the Regional Nanotechnology Center hopes to accomplish for Southeastern Pennsylvania what Stanford University did for Silicon Valley in the 1950s: encourage active collaboration between academia and local industry and foster small companies. It will also focus strongly on transferring nanotechnology discoveries from academic laboratories to area companies.
The Center, Dr. Luzzi said, is modeled after similar consortiums that have proved successful in luring and retaining high-tech industries in locations like Silicon Valley and North Carolina's Research Triangle. While its primary focus is spurring research and development, secondary goals include mapping a route to a sustainable nanotechnology economy and attracting and retaining technical workers in the Delaware Valley.
Penn will collaborate today with other Internet2 member institutions in this year's Internet2 MegaConference II, a worldwide videoconferencing event that will use a system of H.323 multipoint videoconferencing units to create the world's largest Internet videoconfer-ence. This conference track paves the way for future conferences to use Internet technology-not travel-to bring together speakers, panels, and audiences around the world.
MegaConference II coincides with this fall's Internet2 member meeting in Atlanta. The MegaConference II H.323 tracks mark the world's first totally virtual conference event, joining together more than 100 participating institutions on all continents of the world, including Antarctica.
Engineers from Penn's ISC Networking and Telecommunications will participate in the MegaConference II live video event from 3401 Walnut Street. The two-part conference track will use Internet-based H.323 videoconferencing technology and presenters will be people who use H.323 video technology today as part of education or research.
Penn was a founding member of the Internet2 consortium of schools and universities working to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies, accelerating the creation of tomorrow's Internet. Penn currently has a 155-Mb connection to Internet2, which supports bandwidth-intense applications and research projects such as the National Digital Mammography Archive and the National Tele-Immersion Initiative.
Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 10, October 31, 2000