Pennsylvania Announces Funding For Nanotechnology Center
The administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge announced on 26 October a program to provide more than $10.5 million over three years to help position Southeastern Pennsylvania as a leader in nanotechnology research and development. The technology grant to the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) is funded through the Pennsylvania Technology Investment Authority (PTIA).
The program was announced by Community and Economic Development Secretary Sam McCullough. "Gov. Ridge is continuing his commitment to bringing the technology revolution to all of Pennsylvania," McCullough said. "And we know that nanotechnology is the wave of the future." Gov. Ridge has made technology a key component of Pennsylvania's economic development efforts.
The Nanotechnology Center will be the nucleus of a regional effort joining corporations, universities and economic-development organizations in nanotechnology research and development that will lead to high-tech job growth. According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer ("Region gets $10.5 million for nanotechnology effort," by A. Knox, 26 October 2000), the "aim is to enrich research efforts and speed nanotechnology discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace, turning a great swath of New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware into a . . . 'Nanotech Valley.' "
The project was initiated through the collaborative efforts of the BFTP/SEP and scholars from Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. The center will be directed by a committee of faculty members from the participating universities.
An article from the New York Times News Service ("Researchers are thinking ultra-small," by C. Seabrook, 22 October 2000) describes efforts at Georgia Tech's Center for Nanoscience & Nanotechnology to establish itself as a leader in a rapidly expanding field. Georgia Tech is the home of Uzi Landman, who won this year's Annual Feynman Prize for theoretical work.
Georgia Tech is investing millions of dollars in nanoscience and nanotechnology research. Officials hope research at the school will attract new technology companies, making Atlanta the "Silicon Valley" of nanotechnology in the Southeast. In the past three years, the school has spent more than $13 million to support nanotechnology research, which, in turn, has generated more than $36 million in grant money. In addition, the state Board of Regents and the Legislature have been providing $1.6 million a year for nanotechnology-related research. Officials will seek expanded funding to support the effort to establish Georgia Tech as a strong regional center.
But, the article points out, Georgia Tech and metro Atlanta face increasing competition. A number of other institutions in the United States and around the world are racing towards similar goals. At Ohio State University, for example, officials say they intend to make that institution an international center for nanotechnology related to medical care. The University of Michigan already has established the Center of Biological Nanotechnology. In August, the University of Washington launched the nation's first nanotechnology Ph.D. program (see report in Update 42).
The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), proposed by President Clinton in January, appears to have received much, though not all, of the funding requested by the President in his administration's Fiscal Year 2001 federal budget proposal.
Of the total $495 million initially requested for NNI, the U.S. Congress approved $423 million. The original NNI proposal requested a $225 million increase from FY2000, and even the lower level of funding approved by the U.S. Congress represents a very substantial increase of $153 million in federal support for nanotechnology-related research and development.
Significant portions of the NNI funding were in danger of being eliminated over the course of the budget deliberations in Congress. Funding for NNI programs at the Department of Energy (DOE) in the Office of Science were initially cut entirely, but according to a report in Federal Computer Week (6 November 2000), supporters of NNI managed to convince Congress that basic science is an important part of a balanced research portfolio. The DOE programs were funded at $93 million, just short of the $94 million originally requested.
NNI programs at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) fared less well. The agency's budget is included in the bill for the departments of Commerce, Justice and State, agencies not oriented toward research. As a result, NIST tends to have difficulty getting funding for new scientific and technological research. Funding for NNI programs at NIST were cut from $18 million to $10 million.
The most substantial cuts occurred in the proposed NNI budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the lead agency for the initiative. Concerns were raised throughout the budget process that NSF would be unable to effectively coordinate two major multiyear, multiagency initiatives because of limited staff and resources. NSF is already the lead agency for the Information Technology Research (ITR) Initiative. The logic of cutting funding to address concerns of limited staffing and resources to implement and manage strategic national initiatives remains obscure, to say the least. In the end, the $216.7 million requested for NSF was cut to $150 million, a reduction of $66.7 million.
Other participating agencies fared better: the Department of Defense (DOD), not surprisingly, received the full amount requested. In what is perhaps an indication of where Congress perceives the greatest potential public benefit from nanotechnology, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was actually funded at a higher level than was requested (at $39 million, rather than the $36 million requested). NASA also saw a slight increase in its NNI-related funding over the requested levels.
Despite not being funded at the levels requested by President Clinton, the levels approved do represent a substantial overall increase of 57% in federal funding for nanotechnology-related research and development over FY2000.
Folding@home: from gene to structure your chance to contribute your computer's idle time to help understand protein folding (currently only available for Windows and Linux). This web-based distributed computing project is part of the research program of the Pande group at Stanford University, and is described in an article published in the Dec. 8 issue of Science (Screen Savers of the World Unite! by Michael Shirts and Vijay S. Pande). A recently developed algorithm allows a large network of loosely connected computers to be used for molecular dynamics. With 1000 processors connected, Pande et al. can "break the microsecond barrier" extending the molecular dynamics simulation long enough to see the protein fold. The site contains a brief introduction to protein folding, explaining how it is responsible for producing function from the information in the genome. It cites the importance of understanding folding to certain biomedical problems, and to understanding how to design protein-sized nanomachines for nanotechnology.
Theoretical Biophysics Group at the University of Illinois / Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. The research group of Professor Klaus Schulten provides an in depth look at what can be done with computational simulation of the workings of very large, complex biomolecular machines. Results are presented for a variety of biomolecules, including muscle proteins, gold-binding proteins, molecular motors, mechanosensitive channels, and various DNA-protein complexes. But perhaps the most impressive results are simulations in atomic detail of two bacterial light harvesting systems containing thousands of molecules. An extensive library of published papers is included, as is a gallery of images. Major computer programs for molecular visualization and animation (VMD) and molecular dynamics simulation (NAMD) have been developed by the group for their research and are available for use, along with supporting documentation, tutorials, and papers. Also available is MDTools, "a collection of programs, scripts, and utilities we provide for researchers to make various modeling and simulation tasks easier, and to provide basic code and utilities which can be built up into larger toolsets."
The research group of Charles Lieber at Harvard is an excellent place to learn about scanning probe microscopy and nanoscale materials. There are extensive introductory pages, complete with images and publication references, for each of the following areas: carbon nanotube tips for atomic force microscopy, nanotribology (studying friction on the nanometer scale using atomic force microscopes), chemical force microscopy (using adhesion and frictional forces between distinct chemical groups to map different functional areas on a surface), stretching and breaking duplex DNA by chemical force microscopy, magnetic feedback chemical force spectroscopy, synthesis of and electrical transport in semiconductor nanowires, fabrication of SWNT (single wall carbon nanotubes) devices with SWNT tips, and carbon nanotube based molecular/nano electronics.