NSF awards $11.6 million to Cornell University to create Center for Nanoscale Systems in Information Technologies

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today (Sept. 19) that Cornell University will be the home of a Center for Nanoscale Systems in Information Technologies. The grant is $11.6 million over five years.

The director of the center, Robert Buhrman, the John Edson Sweet Professor of Engineering in the Cornell School of Applied and Engineering Physics, will oversee a broad program of research in nanoscale electronics, photonics and magnetics, with direct impact on future high-performance electronics, information storage, communications and sensor technologies.

The NSF announced a total of six new Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers (NSEC), with three to be located in New York state. Besides Cornell, centers involved in nanoscale research into medical, manufacturing and environmental technologies, as well as molecular and quantum electronics, will be located at Columbia University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Harvard University, Northwestern University and Rice University. The total NSF support of the six centers over five years is $65 million.

Cornell's grant -- the largest of the six -- is the university's biggest single federal grant in information technology. Additional matching support is being provided by the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR).

"This latest NSF grant emphasizes once again that Cornell is the national leader in nanotechnology research," said Cornell President Hunter Rawlings. "Building upon the decade-long leadership of the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility, the NSF in 1999 demonstrated its confidence in our leadership with a founding grant for the Nanobiotechnology Center at Cornell and the State of New York provided matching support through NYSTAR. Earlier this year, NYSTAR made an additional award to Cornell to establish the Alliance for Nanomedical Technologies, which will supplement industrial funding for research and development of microscale optical detection devices. In 2003, the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility will move into Duffield Hall, the nanotechnology research building now being constructed on the Engineering Quad, where Cornell researchers and their students will continue to lead the way in this exciting new discipline."

Nanoscale research concerns length scales ranging from the dimension of atoms to that of large molecules in living systems (however, a nanometer is equal to three times the width of a silicon atom, or one-billionth of a meter).

Cornell's NSEC initially will involve 17 faculty research groups working in four major nanoscale science and engineering research areas: silicon and carbon nanoelectronics, an effort led by Sandip Tiwari, director of Cornell Nanofabrication Facility (CNF), and Paul McEuen, professor of physics; nanophotonics, led by Alexander Gaeta, associate professor of applied and engineering physics, and Yuri Suzuki, assistant professor of materials science and engineering; nanomagnetics, led by Buhrman and Daniel Ralph, associate professor of physics; and an enabling nanoscale science and technologies effort, led by John Silcox, professor of applied and engineering physics. Buhrman emphasized that the research will be highly interdisciplinary, involving electrical engineers, materials scientists, chemists, physicists and applied physicists. Also participating will be researchers at Brigham Young University, Colgate University, the University of New Mexico and Pomona College.

Strong collaborations with industrial and governmental laboratory scientists also are a key aspect of the center's research strategy. Buhrman said that research collaborations already have been formed with IBM, Corning and Xerox. Prospective research partners include Motorola, NVE and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Important contributors to the program will be the research support capabilities provided by two other NSF-funded centers on campus, CNF and the Cornell Center for Materials Research. Buhrman noted that the thrust of the research will be on understanding and controlling the nanoscale properties of materials "and looking at devices based on those properties that can be put together to make successful new systems for the ultrahigh-performance processing, storage and transmission of information."

He added: "We are convinced that when you do things at nanoscale or near-nanoscale dimensions, you will see new phenomena that will enable new devices and lead to enhanced information systems capabilities." For example, he said, photonics systems based on nanoscale phenomena and the nanoscale control of the optical properties of materials "look very promising" for extremely high data-rate transmission applications. The center's education program will be a partnership with industry, with a leadership contribution by Applied Materials, in support of an innovative nanotechnology curriculum, a nanotechnology teaching laboratory and a K--12 teachers institute. Special graduate-level mentoring and recruitment programs will be aimed at members of underrepresented minorities.