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Nanotechnology got a big boost last year when the federal government launched its National Nanotechnology Initiative, which will provide almost $520 million in funding in fiscal year 2002. As part of that initiative, the National Science Foundation is now funding six new applications-oriented nanotech centers.

“These centers will give the field of nanotechnology high visibility,” says Richard W. Siegel, who will direct one of the centers, located at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “They will become magnets for people entering the field.” Many of the new research units will be housed at already existing nanotech centers. But while those nanotech institutions are oriented toward understanding the fundamental scientific principles governing the field, each of the new centers will focus on specific applications of nanotech in areas such as electronics and medicine (see table). Industrial partners like IBM and DuPont will help bring new technology to market.

The new center at Northwestern University, for instance, hopes to churn out highly sophisticated sensors by exploiting a technique for “writing” dense patterns of biological molecules on solid surfaces (see “Nanotech Goes to Work,” TR January/February 2001). According to Chad Mirkin, director of the university’s Institute of Nanotechnology, the patterned surfaces could lead to new kinds of detection systems for discovering drugs or diagnosing diseases. By supporting highly targeted efforts like these, the new centers hope to bring researchers one step closer to transforming nanoscience into real technology.

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