Editorial, 10/02: Expecting big things

2012-10-01T23:59:00Z 2015-02-03T09:53:30Z Editorial, 10/02: Expecting big things JournalStar.com
October 01, 2012 11:59 pm

Completion of the new nanoscience center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln should make Nebraskans sit up and take notice.

Nanoscience is big on campus.

Actually, it’s been big on campus for some time. But the scientists working in this burgeoning field were scattered in various locations.

The new Voelte-Keegan Nanoscience Research Center, 16th and W streets, has enough research space to bring together 80 physics, chemistry, engineering and other faculty members.

“It’s going to enable a lot of collaborations that were hard to do before,” said David Sellmyer, director of the new center.

Nanoscience, of course, is the study of extremely small things. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. A sheet of newsprint, for example, is 100,000 nanometers thick. Scientists use nanotechnology to control atoms and molecules.

The new $14 million nanoscience center has important tools for scientists, such as a $2 million high-resolution electron microscope and a clean room to eliminate dust particles, which are often larger than the nano-scale devices. Jeff Shield, professor and chairman of the mechanical and materials engineering department at UNL said that the new clean room makes UNL competitive in attracting talent. He recently hired a nanotechnology researcher who would not have come to Nebraska if there were no clean room available.

The new center was made possible in part by a $5 million donation from Don Voelte, an alumnus of the UNL College of Engineering, and his wife, Nancy Keegan, former chairwoman of the NU Foundation. Another $7 million came in the form of a competitive grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology as part of the federal stimulus program.

UNL is no newcomer to nanoscience. The Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience was established in 1988. UNL physicist Evgeny Tsymbal is part of an international team that recently attracted attention with work on a new class of materials only a few atoms thick that could be used to develop a new type of computer memory. And a team of UNL scientists led by physicist Alexei Gruverman found a method that could allow data to be stored more efficiently.

Six Nebraska companies have been spun off or are associated with the nanoscience program.

UNL researchers are hesitant to make predictions about the effect that discoveries at the center could have on cellphones and other devices that have become almost indispensable parts of 21st century life.

But home state boosters should be forgiven if they’d like to think that the next big thing on the technological horizon might come out of Lincoln’s new nanoscience center.

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