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Specialized building will facilitate research

Nanotechnology: Purdue has been there almost from the beginning.

  • In the mid-1980s, a physics professor developed a scanning tunneling microscope, making Purdue one of the first educational institutions worldwide to have such a research tool.

  • Later in the 1980s, Purdue held the world record for the smallest symbol ever written.

  • In the mid-1990s, a Purdue team was the first to create an ultrathin film that could conduct electricity.

  • Last August, Purdue scientists created the first protein "biochips," mating silicon computer chips with biological proteins.

    Purdue is now positioning itself to remain a leader in nanotechnology.

    "We are at a turning point in nanotechnology research, and people are just starting to get moving," says James Cooper, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

    To compete against other institutions also pursuing nanotech research, the University needs a specialized facility with advanced clean rooms.

    "When you are manipulating atoms and making things only a few atoms across, you need an extremely clean environment," Cooper says. "The air has to be filtered so that there are very few particulates. It's much more clean than a surgery room in a hospital."

    At the same time, nanotech laboratories must be precisely controlled for temperature and humidity, he says.

    Cooper is working with Richard Schwartz, dean of the Schools of Engineering, and other researchers to plan a new building designed specifically for nanotechnology.

    The idea is to construct a multidisciplinary nanotechnology building with clean-room space. Plans call for the building to be the largest of any at Big Ten universities.

    One of the most impressive features of the building would be the placement of chemical and biological processing labs adjacent to and within facilities typically used to make computer microchips, Cooper says.

    "I don't believe any other facility in the country has this kind of close interdisciplinary linkage between such disparate fields," he says.

    The nanotechnology building is part of a long-term project to upgrade Purdue engineering facilities.

    "Purdue's unique vision is to put, under one roof, in a highly controllable environment advanced clean rooms, wet labs and a technology incubator," Schwartz says.

    Graduate student Stephen Pusztay shows how tiny magnetic nanoparticles can respond when exposed to a magnetic field. Pusztay is working with Alexander Wei, assistant professor of chemistry, to develop ways to stabilized and manipulate nanoparticles for use in nanotechnology.