ASU to lead NSF-funded National Nanotechnology Site

Arizona State University was chosen to lead a new National Science Foundation (NSF) hub to advance nanoscale science.

As part of a new National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI), Arizona State University (ASU; Tempe, AZ) has been chosen to lead a new National Science Foundation (NSF) hub to advance nanoscale science, engineering, and technology research in the southwest. NSF will provide a total of provide a total of $81 million over five years to support 16 user facility sites and a coordinating office.

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The ASU site is funded at $800,000 a year for five years and like the other hubs, will help researchers from universities, corporations, and government to develop electrical, mechanical and biological systems whose components are smaller than the diameter of a human hair. This nanotechnology may be able to create new materials and devices with a vast range of applications: electronics, biomaterials energy production, or consumer goods.

The NNCI sites will provide researchers access to university facilities with leading-edge fabrication and characterization tools, instrumentation, and expertise within all disciplines of nanoscale science, engineering and technology. Nanotechnology systems are built at the molecular level of less than 100 nm.

Trevor Thornton, ASU professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, and one of the six Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, will be the principal investigator and director of the new Nanotechnology Collaborative Infrastructure Southwest (NCI-SW). The goals of the NCI-SW site are to build a southwest regional infrastructure for nanotechnology discovery and innovation, to address societal needs through education and entrepreneurship, and to serve as a model site of the NNCI. Key partners include the Maricopa County Community College District and Science Foundation Arizona.

ASU co-principal investigators include Stuart Bowden, associate research professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering; Jenefer Husman, associate professor in the Sanford School; and Jameson Wetmore, associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, and School of Human Evolution & Social Change.

The NNCI framework builds on the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN), which enabled major discoveries, innovations, and contributions to education and commerce for more than 10 years. According to Thornton, ASU has a well-established nanotechnology infrastructure, with faculty strengths that transcend disciplines. "This gave us a competitive advantage in being chosen for this award," he said. "We also successfully directed the NSF predecessor to the NNCI centers, a NNIN site--ASU Nanofab--that wrapped up 6 years of funding at the end of August. The NNCI allows us to expand our offerings and outreach in a big way."

The NCI-SW site will encompass six collaborative research facilities: the ASU NanoFab, the LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science, the Flexible Electronics and Display Center (FEDC), the Peptide Array Core Facility, the Solar Power Laboratory (SPL), and the User Facility for the Social and Ethical Implications of Nanotechnology.

Jamey Wetmore will be leading the Social and Ethical Implications (SEI) component of ASU's NNCI effort. The SEI component is comprised of two parts: 1) building a social science "user facility" where scholars can come to ASU to learn tools to help them collaborate across disciplines and develop a better understanding of the past, present, and future social implications of science and technology; and 2) offering programs that train scientists and engineers in how to identify and think about the social aspects and implications of their work.

"What also is outstanding about this program is that it not only focuses on building a nanotech industry, it is equally concerned with creating an educated workforce. Our efforts will span from K-12 all the way to working professionals," Thornton said. ASU will collaborate with Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) and Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) to develop STEM materials with a nanotechnology focus for A.S. and A.A.S students in communities throughout metropolitan Phoenix and rural Arizona.

It also will provide entrepreneurship training for users who wish to commercialize nanotechnology in order to benefit society. To facilitate the commercialization of research breakthroughs, the NCI-SW will support prototyping facilities and low-volume manufacturing pilot lines for solar cells, flexible electronics, and biomolecular arrays.

Funding for the NNCI program is provided by all NSF directorates and the Office of International Science and Engineering. The 16 sites are located in 15 states and involve 27 universities, including Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Pennsylvania, North Carolina State University, and Georgia Institute of Technology.


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