UI officials tout bright future of nanotechnology at lab dedication

UI officials tout bright future of nanotechnology at lab dedication

URBANA – Nanophotonic crystals, nanobiosensors, nanocharacterization.

Say what?

To understand what nanotechnology is or can be about, consider the 1966 film "Fantastic Voyage" or maybe even the children's book and TV series "The Magic School Bus."

In "Fantastic Voyage," a shrunken submarine and its crew are on a mission to save a man by destroying the blood clot inside him. In a "Magic School Bus" episode, school children, also shrunken to minuscule size, are transported inside a chicken to learn how eggs are made.

At the Thursday dedication of the University of Illinois Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory, where researchers are involved in nanotechnology, semiconductor and biotechnology projects, National Science Foundation director Arden Bement Jr. urged them not to forget about the public.

"Enlighten the public at large about what you're looking for," he said. Bement said researchers must work to make the field a "fantastic voyage," a "voyage we will all be able to travel together."

"We tend to forget nanotechnology is barely a gleam in broader society," he said.

University administrators, researchers and politicians gathered to celebrate the completion of the $18 million, state-funded expansion of the lab, 208 N. Wright St., U. The dedication was held in conjunction with a workshop sponsored by the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology.

The Micro and Nanotechnology Lab has a "rich tradition of innovation, excellence and leadership" said director Rashid Bashir. Those innovations include semiconductors, light emitting diodes or LEDS, laser transistors and plasma displays.

Nanotechnology refers to controlling matter on an atomic or molecular scale, building and using devices that are 100 nanometers or smaller. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. A strand of human hair is between 50,000 and 100,000 nanometers wide.

Referring to an essay about nanotechnology by UI professors (titled "Honey I shrunk the world"), UI Chancellor Richard Herman shared an example of a real-world application of nanotechnology. A diabetic woman has a glucose sensor implanted in her thumb. When her glucose drops to a certain level, it alerts her physician's office. "It sounds like science fiction," Herman said. But that's what the future of nanotechnology holds, he said.

And sharing a letter from a UI student who graduated in 2007 and is working on a project to replace kerosene lamps in India with solar-powered LED lamps, UI President B. Joseph White said he is looking forward to hearing about how the lab will help build "the next generation of human and intellectual capital at the University of Illinois."

After the ribbon-cutting, students from the Campus Middle School for Girls joined UI physics students and released balloons containing temperature and humidity logs. The orange-and-blue balloons also had cards attached to them with messages such as "Good Luck MNTL (Micro and Nanotechnology Lab) Team" and "Peace."

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