In remarks to BNL employees after touring the labs on Long Island in New York, Abraham also signaled the Energy Department’s growing commitment to developing nanotechnologies that serve U.S. national interests, from bioterror detection to fuel cells that could help reduce dependence on foreign oil.
Calling nanoscience a “possible second industrial revolution” Abraham said that “in practical terms we are talking about the ability to literally see atoms, make them grow new structures, or manufacture machines smaller than a human cell. The implications of that new science are enormous.”
The $85 million Center for Functional Nanomaterials will include nanofabrication facilities, offices and scientific equipment including advanced electron microscopy, ultrafast laser sources and powerful probes for directly imaging atomic and molecular structures. The center’s resources will be open to university and industry researchers outside the lab through a peer review process.
“This is new science we are exploring here,” Abraham said. “And it requires new ways of doing science. To realize the promise of nanoscience — to create new lightweight materials that can actually repair themselves, or make highly efficient solar cells … means our scientists must work together as never before.”
The energy secretary cited examples of how small tech research is already beginning to make contributions to U.S security. “We were able to deliver cutting-edge detection devices after 9/11 to help secure the Winter Olympics because DOE funded biologists, chemists and others were doing basic research for years before these devices were critically needed,” he said. “Our scientists are working today to sequence the DNA of major toxins, which will lead to better detection and decontamination … and looking for better ways to sense and track radiological materials.”
Abraham said that the first phase of the project will finalize the design and engineering of the facility. Construction of the center, one of five for nanoscale research under development by the Energy Department, is expected to start by October 2003.
The secretary said that the BNL nanocenter, to be built next to the National Synchrotron Light Source, will be one of the most advanced nanoscience research facilities in the world. “The center will design new classes of materials to boost energy efficiency, new solar energy devices and superconducting material for vastly improved energy transmission,” he said.
Richard Osgood, associate director of basic energy science at BNL, said that the goal for BNL’s nanocenter is to be as user-friendly as possible for visiting scientists and researchers.
Osgood said that the energy secretary’s remarks represent a significant evolution in policy. “This is putting DOE into an area of research that will make it a focal point for a new alliance between academia, government and industry,” he said. “And this marks a renaissance in materials research.”
Yardley, managing director of the nanotechnology research center at Columbia University, one of six funded by the National Science Foundation, said that BNL can provide “unique and critical analytical capabilities with tools such as their TEM (Transmission Electron Microscope Facility) as well as their e-beam writing and imaging capabilities.”
Yardley said that BNL has expertise in areas that Columbia researchers are interested in such as nanoscale catalysts and fabrication technologies. The nanocenter would also provide a place for postdoctoral and graduate students to do work and gain experience in nanoscience.