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MIT.nano will help researchers apply the power of nanotechnology to solve big problems

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Posted April 29, 2014
Health and Life Sciences: The human body, and human diseases like cancer, operate at the nanoscale. Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor, works at that same scale, developing new drugs, devices, and diagnostics to fight cancer. Here, targeted cancer-fighting nanoparticles enter and change the cytoskeleton of a cancer cell. “I believe these new approaches have the power to transform cancer from a death sentence to a treatable condition,” Langer says. Courtesy of the researchers

Health and Life Sciences: The human body, and human diseases like cancer, operate at the nanoscale. Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor, works at that same scale, developing new drugs, devices, and diagnostics to fight cancer. Here, targeted cancer-fighting nanoparticles enter and change the cytoskeleton of a cancer cell. “I believe these new approaches have the power to transform cancer from a death sentence to a treatable condition,” Langer says. Courtesy of the researchers

A search to understand how materials behave at the nanoscale — a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter — has been under way for decades. Researchers now have the ability to manipulate and construct materials at the scale of individual atoms or molecules.

At MIT, faculty from many disciplines are applying the potential of nanoscience and nanotechnology to tackle today’s urgent challenges in health, energy, computing, manufacturing, improving the health of our planet, and more.

Nanotechnology is being applied to a vast array of innovations, including faster and more energy-efficient chips; nanoparticle drug delivery; printable photovoltaic solar cells; high-performing lithium-air batteries; heat-transferring nanofluids for cooling systems and electronics; nanoparticles that magnetically separate oil and water; new stronger metal alloys built with nanocrystals; and nanoscale coating materials that could help implants better adhere to a patient’s bone.

Energy Systems: Imagine printing a solar cell as easily as printing a photo on an inkjet. Karen Gleason, MIT’s associate provost and the Alexander and I. Michael Kasser Professor of Chemical Engineering, has developed lightweight, durable photovoltaics that can be printed onto everyday materials such as paper or cloth. “This technology could significantly reduce the cost of solar installations and make them more feasible for locations in the developing world,” Gleason says. Courtesy of the researchers

Energy Systems: Imagine printing a solar cell as easily as printing a photo on an inkjet. Karen Gleason, MIT’s associate provost and the Alexander and I. Michael Kasser Professor of Chemical Engineering, has developed lightweight, durable photovoltaics that can be printed onto everyday materials such as paper or cloth. “This technology could significantly reduce the cost of solar installations and make them more feasible for locations in the developing world,” Gleason says. Courtesy of the researchers

The slide show above shows a sampling of the ways in which MIT scientists and engineers are solving big problems one atom and one molecule at a time.

“If you have your hands on the right tools,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif, “we believe even big problems have answers.” And, he adds, “A state-of-the-art nano facility is the highest priority for MIT, because nanoscience and nanotechnology are omnipresent in innovation today.”

Computing and Communications: Chips made with “extreme materials” such as gallium nitride (shown here) will make chips that can handle 10 times as much voltage as silicon. “Nanotechnology is opening up the door to a new domain of electronic materials and devices,” says Tomás Palacios, the Emmanuel E. Landsman Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, adding that it “makes this the most exciting time for electronics in the last 30 years.” Courtesy of the researchers

Computing and Communications: Chips made with “extreme materials” such as gallium nitride (shown here) will make chips that can handle 10 times as much voltage as silicon. “Nanotechnology is opening up the door to a new domain of electronic materials and devices,” says Tomás Palacios, the Emmanuel E. Landsman Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, adding that it “makes this the most exciting time for electronics in the last 30 years.” Courtesy of the researchers

Starting in 2018, researchers from across MIT will be able to take advantage of comprehensive facilities for nanoscale research in a new building to be constructed at the very heart of the Cambridge campus.

The 200,000-square-foot building, called “MIT.nano,” will house state-of-the-art cleanroom, imaging, and prototyping facilities supporting research with nanoscale materials and processes — in fields including energy, health, life sciences, quantum sciences, electronics, and manufacturing. An estimated 2,000 MIT researchers may ultimately make use of the building, says electrical engineering professor Vladimir Bulović, faculty lead on the MIT.nano project and associate dean for innovation in the School of Engineering.

Manufacturing: Nanotechnology is remaking the concept of making. For example, Gregory Rutledge, the Lammot du Pont Professor of Chemical Engineering, is using electrospinning to produce nanofibers that are 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. Rutledge says the applications for these nanofibers are many, including “sensors, drug delivery, air filtration, water purification, energy storage, protective clothing, and tissue engineering.” Courtesy of the researchers

Manufacturing: Nanotechnology is remaking the concept of making. For example, Gregory Rutledge, the Lammot du Pont Professor of Chemical Engineering, is using electrospinning to produce nanofibers that are 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. Rutledge says the applications for these nanofibers are many, including “sensors, drug delivery, air filtration, water purification, energy storage, protective clothing, and tissue engineering.” Courtesy of the researchers

“MIT.nano will sit at the heart of our campus, and it will be central to fulfilling MIT’s mission in research, education, and impact,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “The capabilities it provides and the interdisciplinary community it inspires will keep MIT at the forefront of discovery and innovation, and give us the power to solve urgent global challenges. By following the lead of faculty and student interest, MIT has a long tradition of placing bold bets on strategic future technologies, and we expect MIT.nano to pay off in the same way, for MIT and for the world.”

Sustainable Futures: Jeff Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Associate Professor of Power Engineering, is experimenting with graphene — a sheet of graphite just one atom thick — for an energy-efficient approach to water desalination. “If we want to make significant progress on issues like energy and clean water,” Grossman says, “we need to invent completely new materials. Not just materials that are incrementally better, but real game-changers.” Courtesy of the researchers

Sustainable Futures: Jeff Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Associate Professor of Power Engineering, is experimenting with graphene — a sheet of graphite just one atom thick — for an energy-efficient approach to water desalination. “If we want to make significant progress on issues like energy and clean water,” Grossman says, “we need to invent completely new materials. Not just materials that are incrementally better, but real game-changers.” Courtesy of the researchers

MIT.nano will house two interconnected floors of cleanroom laboratories containing fabrication spaces and materials growth laboratories, greatly expanding the Institute’s capacity for research involving components that are measured in billionths of a meter — a scale at which cleanliness is paramount, as even a single speck of dust vastly exceeds the nanoscale. The building will also include the “quietest” space on campus — a floor optimized for low vibration and minimal electromagnetic interference, dedicated to advanced imaging technologies — and a floor of teaching laboratory space. Finally, the facility will feature an innovative teaching and research space, known as a Computer-Aided Visualization Environment (CAVE), allowing high-resolution views of nanoscale features.

Materials and Structures: Quantum dots — tiny particles of semiconductor materials that can be tuned to emit an array of glowing colors — have been the focus of Moungi Bawendi’s research for more than 20 years. Today quantum dots have large-scale applications from electronic displays to biomedical imaging. Bawendi, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Chemistry, says: “We are now at the time when transformational technologies are poised to emerge from the discoveries that have been made in the last decades.” Courtesy of the researchers

Materials and Structures: Quantum dots — tiny particles of semiconductor materials that can be tuned to emit an array of glowing colors — have been the focus of Moungi Bawendi’s research for more than 20 years. Today quantum dots have large-scale applications from electronic displays to biomedical imaging. Bawendi, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Chemistry, says: “We are now at the time when transformational technologies are poised to emerge from the discoveries that have been made in the last decades.” Courtesy of the researchers

“The tools of nanotechnology will play a critical part in how many engineering disciplines solve the problems of the 21st century, and MIT.nano will shape the Institute’s role in these advances,” says Ian A. Waitz, dean of the School of Engineering and the Jerome C. Hunsaker Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “This project represents one of the largest commitments to research in MIT’s history. MIT.nano will carry the last two decades of research into new realms of application and discovery.”

“Usually we talk about how science enables new technology, but discovery is a two-way street,” adds Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research and the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics. “In MIT.nano, technology will advance basic science through the extraordinary observations that will be possible in this state-of-the-art facility.”

The four-level MIT.nano will replace the existing Building 12, and will retain its number, occupying a space alongside the iconic Great Dome. It will be interconnected with neighboring buildings, and accessible from MIT’s Infinite Corridor — meaning, Bulović says, that the new facility will be just a short walk from the numerous departments that will use its tools.

“This building needs to be centrally located, because nanoscale research is now central to so many disciplines,” says Bulović, who is the Fariborz Maseeh Professor in Emerging Technology at MIT.

MIT.nano will be a 200,000-square-foot research facility for nanoscale research constructed at the very heart of the MIT campus. The building will house state-of-the-art cleanroom, imaging, and prototyping facilities supporting research with nanoscale materials and processes — in fields including energy, health, life sciences, quantum sciences, electronics, and manufacturing.

Users of the new facility, he adds, are expected to come from more than 150 research groups at MIT. They will include, for example, scientists who are working on methods to “print” parts of human organs for transplantation; who are creating superhydrophobic surfaces to boost power-plant efficiency; who work with nanofluids to design new means of locomotion for machines, or new methods for purifying water; who aim to transform the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals; and who are using nanotechnology to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete, the world’s most ubiquitous building material.

The research that will take place in MIT.nano could also help the world meet its growing energy needs, Bulović says. For example, cloud computing already consumes 1.3 percent of the world’s electricity; as this technology proliferates, its energy use is projected to grow a thousandfold over the coming decade. Hardware based on nanoscale switching elements — a new technology now being pursued by MIT researchers — could prove crucial in reducing the energy footprint of cloud computing.

“But we have many urgent challenges that existing technology cannot address,” Bulović says. “If we want to make sweeping change  — more than incremental progress — in the most urgent technical areas, we need this building and the tools of nanoscience and nanotechnology housed within it.”

“The need for advanced facilities to support nanoscale research was identified in 2011 as the Institute’s highest academic priority as part of the MIT 2030 process to envision how our campus might evolve to meet future needs for research and education,” says Israel Ruiz, MIT’s executive vice president and treasurer. “It is wonderful to see we are boldly moving to accomplish our goal.”

Cleanroom facilities, by their nature, are among the most energy-intensive buildings to operate: Enormous air-handling machinery is needed to keep their air filtered to an extraordinarily high standard. Travis Wanat, the senior project manager at MIT who is overseeing the MIT.nano project, explains that while ventilation systems for ordinary offices or classrooms are designed to exchange the air two to six times per hour, cleanroom ventilation typically requires a full exchange 250 times an hour. The fans and filters necessary to handle this volume of air require an entire dedicated floor above each floor of cleanrooms in MIT.nano.

But MIT.nano will incorporate many energy-saving features: Richard Amster, director of campus engineering and construction, has partnered with Julie Newman, MIT’s director of sustainability. Together, they are working within MIT, as well as with the design and contracting teams, “to develop the most efficient building possible for cleanroom research and imaging,” Amster says.

Toward that end, MIT.nano will use heat-recovery systems on the building’s exhaust vents. The building will also be able to sense the local cleanroom environment and adjust the need for air exchange, dramatically reducing MIT.nano’s energy consumption. Dozens of other features aim to improve the building’s efficiency and sustainability.

Despite MIT.nano’s central location, the floor devoted to advanced imaging technology will have “more quiet space than anywhere on campus,” Bulović says: The facility is situated as far as possible from the noise of city streets and subway and train lines that flank MIT’s campus.

Indeed, protection from these sources of noise and mechanical vibration dictated the building’s location, from among five campus sites that were considered. According to national standards on ambient vibration, Bulović says, parts of MIT.nano will rate two levels better than the standard typically used for such high-quality imaging spaces.

Another important goal of the building’s design — by Wilson Architects in Boston — is the creation of environments that foster interactions among users, including those from different disciplines. The building’s location at a major campus “crossroads,” its extensive use of glass walls that allow views into lab and cleanroom areas, and its soaring lobbies and other common areas are all intended to help foster such interactions.

“Nanoscale research is inherently interdisciplinary, and this building was designed to encourage collaboration,” Bulović says.

“MIT’s enduring leadership in technology and science is made possible by the interconnective nature of our community, and our total potential is greater than the sum of our parts,” adds Timothy Swager, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry. “At an intellectual level this is driven by our collective commitment to excellence and innovation, but the physical proximity of researchers at MIT is the heart and soul of this special atmosphere. MIT.nano will serve to enhance these interactions and provide an opportunity-rich venue where chemistry, biology, physics, and engineering all converge to create devices and understanding that will empower MIT researchers to reach new heights in innovation.”

The choice of MIT.nano’s central location is not without compromise, Bulović says: There is very limited access to the construction site — only three access roads, each with limited headroom — so planning for the activities of construction and delivery vehicles, and for the demolition of the current Building 12 and construction of MIT.nano, will present a host of logistical challenges. “It’s like building a ship in a bottle,” Bulović says.

But addressing those challenges will ultimately be well worth it, he says, pointing out that an estimated one-quarter of MIT’s graduate students and 20 percent of its researchers will make use of the facility. The new building “signifies the centrality of nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing for the needs of the 21st century. It will be a key innovation hub for the campus.”

All current occupants of Building 12 will be relocated by June, when underground facilities work, to enable building construction, will commence; at that point, fences will be erected around the constriction zone. The existing Building 12 will be demolished in spring 2015 and construction of MIT.nano is slated to begin in summer 2015.

Source: MIT

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