Governor Announces Major Nanotechnology Initiative for Georgia Tech

Gov. Sonny Perdue announced at this week's annual meeting of the Technology Association of Georgia that one of the nation's most advanced facilities for nanotechnology research is slated for construction at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Initial funding for the Nanotechnology Research Center will be provided by a $36 million contribution from an anonymous donor, Gov. Perdue said, and that amount will be followed by up to $45 million in state support over the next several years.

The governor said he plans to include state matching funds for this project as part of his economic development budget recommendations to the 2004 Georgia General Assembly.

"If Georgia is to emerge as a leader in nanotechnology, we need to take advantage of the opportunity to build one of the nation's premier centers for this cutting-edge technology and research," Perdue said. "Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor who recognizes the tremendous economic potential of this opportunity, the state will be able to share the cost of building this new facility."

Once constructed, the center will be the most advanced nanotechnology research facility in the southeast, the first of its kind in the region, and among the most sophisticated in the country. The 160,000-square-foot facility will be built at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Ferst Drive with 30,000 square feet of its space dedicated to "clean rooms," or rooms specially designed to reduce the number of dust particles in the air.

Clean rooms are critical to nanotech research, and the new center will almost quadruple the square footage of clean-room space available to researchers at Georgia Tech. This will allow researchers at the Institute and throughout Georgia's higher education community to compete with other areas of the country where similar facilities are planned or under construction - places such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University in the northeast; Purdue University and the University of Illinois in the midwest; and Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley in the west.

"This puts Georgia Tech on the national map for nanotechnology," Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough said. "Through a unique public-private partnership, we will serve as a center for innovation in the southeast and throughout the world. I'm deeply appreciative for this incredible display of private philanthropy, and to the state for making this type of investment in a critical research area."

"I know that the talent we have at Tech -- and the research partnerships we will forge as a result of this -- will pay big dividends for our economy," Clough said.

Nanotechnology, sometimes referred to as the "science of the small," allows scientists to manipulate individual atoms and molecules, making it possible to build machines on the scale of human cells or build structures or materials that assume dramatically different properties by virtue of their size.

The prefix "nano" comes from the Greek word nanos, and it represents one-billionth of a unit. Scientists working in the field of nanotechnology work at the nanoscale, dealing with materials measured in a billionth of a meter, or about 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Currently, Georgia Tech researchers are working to develop structures at the micrometer level. With this new facility and the purchase of an electron beam nanolithography system, researchers will be able to fabricate structures with features as small as 10 to 50 nanometers.

Many experts hail nanotechnology as the next great scientific and technological breakthrough. To date nanotechnology research has led to such advances as the development of the flat screen television, but it potentially could be used for much more advanced purposes. For example, nanoscience might one day lead to microscopic machines that could investigate and repair damage to the human body at the cellular level.

The primary purpose of the new center is to dramatically expand clean-room capacity at the Institute. The facilities are expensive to build due to the extensive air-filtering requirements necessary for nanotechnology research. This new building will be designed with Class X clean rooms, meaning that there will be a maximum of 10, 0.5 micrometer particles per cubic foot of air. A typical office environment contains more than a million particles per cubic foot.

Innovative nanotechnology research already is under way at Georgia Tech, and many of the field's leading investigators are based at the Institute. For example, Regents Professor Uzi Landman -- the Fuller E. Callaway Chair in Computational Materials Science at Georgia Tech -- is the 2003 recipient of the Feynman Prize, named in honor of the father of nanotechnology, Robert Feynman.

In addition, Materials Science Professor Z.L. Wang is ranked fifth in the world by the Institute of Scientific Information for the number of nanotechnology research papers he has published to date. And according to Science Watch -- a bulletin that reports on trends in basic research - Wang also is among the world's most cited authors in nanotechnology research.

In other areas of campus, Professor Jim Meindl -- the Joseph M. Petit Chair in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering -- directs the National Science Foundation-funded Microelectronics Research Center at Georgia Tech. He also is a world-renowned expert in semi-conductor and integrated circuit technology, both fields which stand to gain from nanotechnology advances.

And Professor Ralph Merkle, director of Georgia Tech's Information Security Center, is a national expert in nanotechnology research and policy. He was co-recipient of the 1998 Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology for Theory and he was executive editor of the journal Nanotechnology for several years.