Topic Name: NSF funding launches Nanobiotechnology Center at Cornell
Research persons: Lynn W. Jelinski, Roger Segelken, Harold G. Craighead, Robert C. Richardson
Location: 312 College Ave., Ithaca, NY 14850, United States
An agreement by the National Science Foundation
(NSF) to fund a Cornell University-based
consortium of institutions will help to establish the new Nanobiotechnology
Center (NBTC) here. NSF funding over a five-year period could reach $19 million.
The authorization of the award to Cornell, Princeton and Oregon Health
Sciences universities and to the Wadsworth Center of the New York State
Department of Health will be coupled with support from the State of New York,
industry, private foundations and Cornell University.
The funding of the NBTC -- as one of five new national science-and-technology
centers to receive a total of almost $94 million -- was approved yesterday (July
29) by the National Science Board and announced by Deborah Crawford, program
manager in NSF's Office of Integrative Activities. Program guidelines allow for
financial commitments of up to $20 million each, but final awards are subject to
negotiation between NSF and the lead institutions. The Cornell-based consortium
had asked for $19 million.
Explaining a term that was coined at Cornell,
NBTC Director Harold G. Craighead says
"nanobiotechnology has the potential to breathe the life force of biological
molecules into the silicon of electronic integrated circuits, while putting the
ultra-small techniques of microfabrication to work in the study and manipulation
of biological systems.
"Nanobiotechnology is the emerging area of scientific and technological
opportunity that will meld nanofabrication and biosystems to the benefit of
both," says Craighead, a Cornell professor of applied and engineering physics.
"We are extremely pleased that the National Science Board shares our vision for
In recognition of the importance of NBTC to the state of New York, Gov.
George E. Pataki has committed up to $300,000 per year in matching funds to help
foster interactions with industry and for work force education.
"New York's institutions of higher learning have always played a key role in
growing, developing and advancing state-of-the-art technologies," Gov. Pataki
said. "As upstate's economy continues to rebound, the addition of this new
technology center at Cornell will help us firmly establish New York as a world
class center for biotechnology research and development.
"The pledge of State support we made last year was instrumental in leveraging
millions of additional federal funds into New York state for high-tech research
and development," the Governor said. "This kind of investment will provide New
York businesses with access to new technologies that will lead to improved
products, new industries and highly skilled jobs for New Yorkers."
"We anticipate that nanobiotechnology will be the genesis of new insights
into the function of biological systems and will lead to the design of new
classes of nanofabricated devices and systems," says NBTC co-director Carl A.
Batt, a Cornell microbiologist and professor of food science. "Accomplishing
this will require a highly interdisciplinary collaboration among life
scientists, physical scientists and engineers at Cornell and with our research
partners," he says. Robert C. Richardson, Cornell vice provost for research,
applauded the NSF's decision to base the new science-and-technology center at a
university with a strong commitment to science education and outreach, as well
as to advanced research. The center will be a resource for traveling museum
exhibits, for curriculum development at the elementary and secondary school
levels and for education of undergraduate and graduate students, according to
Richardson, a Nobel laureate in physics and a professor in
Cornell's Laboratory of Atomic and Solid
"The educational process and breadth of training afforded students in
nanobiotechnology," Richardson says, "will result in a new breed of scientists
and engineers who will become the leaders of this emerging field."
NBTC will work in concert with two unique research programs at the
university, the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility and the New York State Center
for Advanced Technology (CAT) in Biotechnology.
Credit for the term "nanobiotechnology" goes to Lynn W. Jelinski, a
biophysicist who until 1999 was the director of the Biotechnology CAT. The CAT
was instrumental in the science and technology center proposal and will continue
to play an integral role in the operation of the center. Now a professor and
vice chancellor for research and graduate studies at Louisiana State University,
Jelinski is the chair of the NBTC's external advisory board.
"Nano" refers to billionths of a meter, about the size of the smallest
artificial structures that engineers can fabricate and the size of most
biological molecules. At first, planners say, the new center will concentrate
its research programs on six areas:
-- Microanalysis of biomolecules, with a goal of developing miniaturized
sensor technologies with optical, electronic and chemical probes to detect and
analyze small numbers of molecules in various matrices with high spatial
resolution. This will allow the study of detailed functioning and response of
cells and biomolecules to wide-ranging stimuli and also facilitate massive
parallelism in analytic processes.
-- Molecular templates. The challenge is to explore novel ways of reliably
producing patterned structures or controlled arrays of molecules for use as
tools in investigating and controlling structural features and function of
biological components and processes, as well as the interaction between specific
molecular components in biological complexes.
-- Bioselective surfaces. The goal is to better understand the interactions
between cells and surface chemistry and topography by using molecular templates
to fabricate surfaces with site-specific chemistries and topographies.
-- Selective molecular filtration. This involves the fabrication of devices
for biological assays by separating complex mixtures of molecules, sorting and
then identifying the molecules and processes.
-- Sparse cell isolation. The challenge here is to develop microfabricated
devices that can isolate a few specialized cells from large volumes of fluids
containing unspecified cells, based on parameters such as size, deformability,
optical properties and surface chemistry.
-- Powering nanomachines with molecular motors. By converting the chemical
energy of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecules into mechanical energy for
biological molecular motors, researchers hope to develop implantable probes,
drug-delivery systems and nanomachines that mimic biological functions, such as
active valves in microfluid devices.
"We're beginning to see strong interest from industry, private foundations
and New York state in supporting our vision," Craighead says. So far, a total of
13 industrial affiliates have joined NBTC. In addition to pledges of financial
support over a five-year period, the industrial affiliates will serve as intern
hosts for NBTC students and will help sponsor educational outreach projects.
The Sciencenter of Ithaca has committed staff and modular exhibition space
valued at $375,000 over five years for a traveling exhibit, "It's a Nano World."
The Association of Science-Technology Centers Inc., which will manage the tour,
has committed staff and facilities valued at $100,000 to design and build the
Private foundation support is sought to help build and outfit the central
facilities for the NBTC, according to Craighead. The center will be based in
Duffield Hall, a multipurpose building being planned for Cornell's engineering
quadrangle. Until its completion, nanobiotechnology research will be conducted
in several laboratories around campus, including the Cornell Nanofabrication
Facility's Knight Laboratory.
Over a five-year period, Cornell University
will contribute $7.3 million in support to NBTC. Princeton, OHSU and
Wadsworth together have committed a total of $652,000 in cost-sharing and an
additional $1.5 million of in-kind support. Cornell's contribution will help
purchase new equipment as well as provide start-up funds for new NBTC-related
faculty, graduate tuition and fees, fellowships and administrative expenses.
Outreach programs will be directed initially to institutions in New York
state and, through existing links with Clark Atlanta and Howard universities, to
students throughout the United States. At Wadsworth in Albany, N.Y., summer
institutes are planned for middle school and elementary school science teachers
to develop hands-on curricular materials, including a science workbook for
Students at Cornell will participate in research and education at the NBTC
through the recently established biotechnology concentration or the graduate
field of biomedical engineering. A new graduate-level course in
nanobiotechnology, featuring nanofabrication with an emphasis on biological
applications, will be developed by the NBTC faculty. Students at other
universities, including those at NBTC-affiliated institutions, will join the
classes via satellite teleconferencing.
Convinced that the emerging field of nanobiotechnology will need a diverse,
globally oriented and well-trained workforce, NBTC planners say they hope to
increase the numbers of participating women and under-represented minorities in
science and technology. One such effort will be an undergraduate research
experience program with a strong mentoring structure during the summer and
academic year with participants recruited from a national pool.
"We intend to not only develop and carry out state-of-the-art research
programs in this promising field," Craighead says, " but to ensure that the
activities and discoveries of the center are effectively disseminated to the
community, stretching from K-12 to our academic, industrial and government
With the NSF funding and designation as a national science-and-technology
center, NBTC will unite researchers in laboratories across the campus, Craighead
notes. Among Cornell units initially involved in the nanobiotechnology thrust
are the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Agriculture and Life Sciences,
Engineering and Veterinary Medicine, as well as the
New York State Agricultural Experiment
Station at Geneva and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research.
Also authorized by the National Science Board were a center for adaptive
optics, led by the University of California at Santa Cruz; a behavioral
neuroscience center, led by Emory University in Atlanta; a center for
environmentally responsible solvents and processes, led by the University of
North Carolina in Chapel Hill; and a center for water sustainability, led by the
University of Arizona.
The NSF established the Science and Technology
Center (STC) program in 1987 to respond to a Presidential commitment to fund
important fundamental research activities that also create educational
opportunities. The program was also designed to encourage technology transfer
and provide innovative approaches to interdisciplinary research challenges. From
the first two competitions in 1989 and 1991, 23 STCs were still in operation
before the current additions authorized by the National Science Board.
Researchers & Contact Details:
Lynn W. Jelinski, Roger Segelken
Phone: (607) 255-9736
Related World Wide Web sites:
NSF Science and Technology Centers:
Biotechnology CAT at Cornell:
Cornell Nanofabrication Facility:
Craighead research group:
Batt research group:
Wadsworth Center: http://www.wadsworth.org/
Oregon Health Sciences University:
Howard University: http://www.howard.edu/
Clark Atlanta University: http://www.cau.edu/
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