BETHLEHEM, Pa., April 15 -- Lehigh University has created a Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology to oversee nanotechnology research in a dozen academic departments and programs, officials at the Bethlehem university said Friday.
"Advances in nanotechnology, a field of science that creates products at the atomic and molecular levels, could lead to scientific breakthroughs such as drugs that target and kill cancer cells, computers that are millions of times more efficient than current models and molecule-size machines that can rebuild tissue or monitor the activity of a single cell," said a university press release.
The center, in Whitaker Laboratory on Packer Avenue, is part of Lehigh's P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.
Nanotechnology research programs are already under way. For example, a Lehigh professor developed metal particles that help clean contaminated soil and ground water. The microscopic particles are magnetized and introduced into water that flows through contaminated soil. The particles flow easily through the soil, picking up PCBs and other pollutants. After the particles pass through the soil, magnets are used to collect them, picking up the pollutants in the process.
Other Lehigh researchers are building a processor for hydrogen fuel cells that fit on a standard, two-centimeter silicon chip.
The nanotechnology center replaces Lehigh's 41-year-old Materials Research Center. It will be directed by materials science and engineering professor Martin P. Harmer, who also led the materials center.
"It's a natural evolution of a lot of the research that was happening," Harmer said. Lehigh hopes to begin offering a minor in nanotechnology in the fall. The courses will be taught by faculty from areas such as engineering, physics, chemistry and biology.
One of Lehigh's biggest nanotechnology assets is that it has one of the largest electron microscope laboratories in the US. Lehigh has 13 electron microscopes, which are needed to see the particles used in nanotechnology research and manufacturing.
"We've got a world-class microscope facility," Harmer said. "I think we do play a very special role and bring a lot to the table with that."
Electron microscopes and other equipment will be incorporated into a new nanotechnology laboratory directed by materials science and engineering professor Chris Kiely.
No funding for the nanotechnology center has been announced. Center officials hope their efforts will qualify for part of a $75 million long-term academic investment Lehigh President Gregory Farrington announced in 2000.
"I don't believe there is any question we will get serious support from the university," said David Williams, Lehigh's vice provost for research. "The only question is how much and how quickly."
Lehigh is also working with 15 schools around the country in an effort to be included in the National Science Foundation's nanotechnology infrastructure network. The foundation has allocated $14 million to its nanotechnology efforts this year.
"That kind of recognition is as important as the actual dollar numbers," Williams said. "We're a small university, and it's very difficult for small universities to play at the national level."
For more information, visit: www.lehigh.edu/nano