June 18, 2007

CNF reflects on past, looks to future of nanoscience at 30th anniversary celebration

The Cornell campus buzzed with close to 380 participants at the 30th anniversary celebration of the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility (CNF), June 14. Topics addressed included drug delivery, ethics and even science fiction.

Scientists from all over the country and world, including many from Cornell, gathered to hear expert speakers, participate in technical sessions and attend a research poster presentation at day's end.

The anniversary symposium, "The Future of Nanotechnology," kicked off with reflections from Edward Wolf, professor emeritus of electrical and engineering and CNF director from 1978 to 1988. He recounted that in the early years, CNF was called the National Research and Resource Facility for Submicron Structures. "Nano" was not part of the title until 1987, when the facility was renamed the National Nanofabrication Facility. In 2003 CNF took on its present name.

Despite these iterations, CNF has long been connected closely with the National Science Foundation (NSF), which has provided the majority of CNF funding during its entire existence.

Lawrence Goldberg, senior engineering adviser of NSF's Division of Electrical and Communications Systems, called CNF a "vibrant enterprise" that has surpassed its founding concept and evolved into a world leader in nanoscience and nanofabrication.

"The National Science Foundation is very proud to have played a continuing role in that success," said Goldberg, who oversees the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, a 13-member consortium, including Cornell, of nanoscience-focused institutions.

The day's themes were laid out by three additional speakers. R. Stanley Williams, a senior fellow at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, described the advances he and others at his company have made in nano-imprint lithography.

The technique, which is a progression from the more traditional method of photolithography for creating nanoscale devices, involves creating a mold of a device to stamp -- not unlike a rubber stamp -- an imprint of the device as a way of copying it.

Introducing the topic of nanomedicine, Tejal Desai, director of the University of California-San Francisco's Laboratory of Therapeutic Micro and Nanotechnology, spoke about therapeutics and drug delivery using nanotechnology. Nanomedicine, she said, continues to face the challenge of developing drugs or therapies that can be taken orally and are able to withstand the physiology of the digestive system.

The third plenary speaker, Sheila Jasanoff, professor of science and technology studies at Harvard University who also was founding chair of Cornell's department of the same name, spoke on the politics and societal implications of nanotechnology.

While drawing comparisons between public perceptions of nanotechnology and the Manhattan Project or genetically modified foods, she also noted that built into the early stages of nanotechnology research is a widespread desire to take social and ethical considerations seriously.

She urged the use of "technologies of humility," and to proceed with nanoscience breakthroughs "grounded in memory and experience."

Following the plenary speakers, the participants spent the afternoon in tracks dedicated to each of the three topics.

Phaedon Avouris, manager of Nanometer Scale Science and Technology at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center, addressed present and future promise of carbon nanotubes in terms of electronics and optoelectronics.

Michael Sheetz, chair of Columbia University's Nanotechnology Center for Mechanics and Regenerative Medicine, discussed cellular mechanics through nanotechnology. And Rosalyn Berne, associate professor of science, technology and society at the University of Virginia, in discussing the social and ethnical dimensions of nanotechnology, suggested science fiction as a portal to ethics in nanotechnology.