UMass Amherst Launches Nanotechnology Center

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst plans to establish an interdisciplinary research center in nanotechnology, the science of developing advanced materials and devices with extremely small dimensions. Charlena Seymour, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, made the announcement.

According to Seymour, the center, to be called MassNanoTech, will capitalize on UMass Amherst’s strengths in nanotechnology innovation, initially focusing on the field of nano-electronics as a means to further reduce the size of microelectronic components. Other applications of technology at the molecular scale at UMass include sensors and detection, life sciences, catalysis and separations, and new functional materials.

Seymour said, "We are moving ahead with confidence and energy to create a nanotechnology center because we know we have a tremendous amount of talent in this area, and the time is right to project our research work onto the stage of industrial innovation." MassNanoTech will be an active partner with industry to spawn technologies that are integrated with emerging technology platforms, she said.

UMass professors Mark Tuominen of the physics department and Jim Watkins of chemical engineering will serve as co-directors, and Tom Russell of polymer science and engineering, and current director of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, will serve as the associate director for MassNanoTech. The new center will initially operate under the auspices of Vice Provost for Research Paul Kostecki. A campus advisory board comprised of deans, department heads and distinguished faculty members from various fields has begun the process of charting a path toward a major research and development facility to be built on the Amherst campus. Organizers envision a multi-million dollar nanoscale device fabrication facility to provide the prototyping capabilities for novel devices being designed by UMass scientists. The center will also be active in the educational and societal dimensions of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology involves working at the size range of billionths of a meter, leading to materials, devices, and systems with fundamentally new properties and functions because of their small structure. Technology analysts agree that the coming decades will see nanotechnology fundamentally transform many industries, including electronics, medicine, chemical plants, textiles, and environmental protection.

Kostecki said UMass Amherst is counted among leading universities in nanoscale scientific research, growing out of advanced research in the field of polymer science during the 1990s. More than $22 million in nanotechnology research funding has been awarded to 25 faculty investigators in eight departments on campus since 1996, according to Kostecki. Figures from the National Science Foundation (NSF) indicate that UMass Amherst is seventh in the nation in new nanotechnology research grant funding during the past three years, he says.

Research breakthroughs at UMass Amherst include polymer self-assembly techniques pioneered by Russell. He and Tuominen use these techniques to create arrays with a density of more than a trillion nanowires per square inch, which are today leading to commercial innovations in magnetic storage of data and other key applications. "With techniques like this, we have the potential to get the contents of 25 DVD movies on a disk the size of a quarter," says Tuominen. Another example in process technology uses supercritical CO2 introduced by Watkins that enables the deposition of metals and porous dielectrics (insulators) at the nanoscale. This technology is now being evaluated for industrial use in next-generation electronic devices.

Additional examples of nanoscale research accomplishments by UMass Amherst scientists include synthesis and modeling of nanoporous materials for use in catalysis and separations, engineering of nano-patterned surfaces with selectivity for various proteins, controlled fabrication of nanocomposite materials featuring magnetic and photonic properties, and three-dimensional assemblies of nanoparticles for encapsulation.

According to Kostecki, the National Science Foundation predicts nanotechnology will generate about $1 trillion per year in new technologies and products by 2015, with the field employing around 2 million specialized workers. He says MassNanoTech will coordinate its efforts with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and others promoting the state’s science and technology strengths in nanotechnology.

For further information on MassNanoTech, contact Michael Wright, associate director of industry liaison and economic development, at 413/545-1334 or michael.wright@admin.umass.edu.