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Nanoscale Initiatives Cross Traditional Scientific Boundaries
U.Va.’s Nanoscale Scientists
U.Va.’s Nanoscale Scientists
Front row (L-R): Ian Harrison, Melissa Appleyard, Pam Norris, Joe Poon
Middle row (L-R): Robert Hull, Jeffrey Plank, Associate Vice President for Research, Matt Begley, Bob Davis
Back row (L-R): Olivier Pfister, Michael Reed, Nathan Swami

February 10, 2003 -- Imagine a universe in which all the sciences converge into a unified field of knowledge. The vision of Robert Hull and Ian Harrison, director and associate director of the NanoQuest initiative for the University (, is that scientists, physicians and engineers will collaborate to invent new materials and processes to improve human health, to develop entirely new technologies for computation, communication, transportation, and materials synthesis, biomedical research and to harness energy more efficiently.

The nanotechnology initiative receives support from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies. Scientists across the University in disciplines as diverse as materials science, computer science, medicine, physics, astronomy, biology and chemistry today are learning to speak a common language as they explore nanoscale and quantum phenomena in their research activities.

The term nanoscale refers to a scale of length between 10 and 1,000 atoms in diameter, far smaller than microscopic. This new focus on the nanoscale is altering how research scientists interact, and how buildings and laboratories, conference rooms and classrooms, should be designed to enable collaborative teaching and research opportunities while traditional boundaries between disciplines are largely dissolving.

Nanoscale sciences and engineering research draws on well-established work on advanced materials, microelectronics, chemical processing, quantum physics, and information technology with current funding at U.Va. of many millions of dollars per year. For example, the University’s Materials Research Science and Education Center for Nanoscopic Materials Design is supported by the National Science Foundation. U.Va.’s center seeks new approaches to nanoscale design and control of epitaxial semiconductor quantum dots that are capable of self-assembly, with broad potential applications for new generations of electronic and optoelectronic devices.

Another exciting frontier is quantum computing – where control of the ethereal wave-like properties of particles at the quantum limit will enable broad new vistas to be explored in computational science, including new methods for completely secure encryption and transmission of data.

Other nanotechnology applications include atomically engineered magnetic structures that are revolutionizing the computer hard-drive industry, nanoscale structuring of gels, the creation of biological templates, and much tighter control of electrochemical reactions. Ultrafast lasers developed in U.Va.’s physics and chemistry departments are used to precisely control the internal structure and energy flow within atoms, molecules, and materials. Work is moving ahead on new materials for the aerospace industry, including development of self-repairing materials for applications in space and development of nanoscale coatings that will inhibit corrosion in aviation materials.

Some $15 million worth of instrumentation has been installed at U.Va. over the past several years to foster this promising research. A $40 million building, to be located between the School of

Engineering and the Chemistry Department, will be completed in 2005 and this will expand facilities for more materials and nanoscale research by 100,000 square feet. The building will house 60 laboratories with electron microscope facilities, molecular beam evaporators, chemical vapor deposition facilities, a focused ion beam, as well as nanoprinting capability, heat treatment, and alloy development laboratories.

Hull and Harrison envision a longer-term need for additional space beyond the initial building to capitalize on the new relationships between engineering and the sciences, within the University and far beyond.

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