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  • 150 Attend Keck Futures Conference
Dec 2004
IRVINE, Calif., Dec. 6 -- More than 150 scientists, engineers and medical researchers attended the National Academies' second annual Keck Futures Initiative Conference, held last month in Irvine, Calif. This year's meeting focused on designing nanostructures for biomedical and physical systems. To encourage further research in this area, the Academies announced it will award up to $1 million in seed grants to conference attendees and their research partners.

The seed grants -- up to $75,000 each -- will be awarded on a competitive basis to spur new lines of research identified at the conference in areas related to nanotechnology. The call for proposals was released at the conference. Grant recipients will be announced in April 2005.

The conference also featured sessions in which ten focus groups of researchers developed research plans to solve various problems in nanotechnology. Among the challenges were building a nanosystem that can multiply and isolate RNA or DNA; developing a system to detect disease in vivo; sequencing a single molecule of protein; creating a biological system that will create a local hydrogen fuel source; and growing a biological in vivo power source. Representatives from public and private funding organizations, government, industry and the science media also participated in the focus groups.

Posters describing participants' latest research covered topics such as an autoregulated, noninvasive insulin delivery system; biomedical imaging technology; gecko-inspired synthetic dry adhesives; and biodegradable nanofibers for tissue regeneration.

Keynote speaker Mark Humayun, professor of ophthalmology, biomedical engineering and cell neurobiology at the University of Southern California, described his research on intraocular retinal prostheses, which help the visually impaired to see. Peter Wolynes, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, presented information on how proteins fold with minimal errors, and Thomas Pollard, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale University, provided an overview of cell biology and details of how cells move.

The 2004 National Academies Communication awards went to Matt Ridley, author of "The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture"; to Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Lee Hotz for his series on the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, "Butterfly on a Bullet"; and to David Clark, producer of The Science Channel's "Science of the Deep: Mid-Water Mysteries." The winners received $20,000 cash prizes and spoke at the conference.

The National Academies also released a new report, "Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research," a comprehensive review of the promise of and impediments to interdisciplinary efforts.

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The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
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