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DU enters emerging field of nanotechnology

The future of technology is hard to forecast, but scientists seem to agree on one prediction: Nanotechnology—the science of building materials and machines atom by atom—will play a major part in it.

DU is taking steps to become a big player in the small technology. In the summer of 2005, Rahmat Shoureshi, dean of DU’s School of Engineering and Computer Science (SECS), helped form Colorado Nanotechnology Alliance (CNA), a new non-profit organization. CNA was created to consolidate the state’s economic development efforts focusing on nanotechnology. With support from leaders in industry, academia and state government, CNA is now the single organization that will develop and carry out the nanotechnology economic development plan for Colorado. Shoureshi chairs the CNA board.

“CNA is designed to establish national research centers, to facilitate university-industry collaborations to enhance economic development for the state, and to solicit major government and industrial funding for Colorado’s research institutions, including DU,” Shoureshi says.

Nanotechnology represents the next industrial revolution and wave of technology innovation that will create and restructure whole industries. According to a 2005 Lux Capital Research report, Benchmarking U.S. States for Economic Development for Nanotechnology, Colorado was ranked third in the nation for its potential to develop its economy through nanotechnology. 

“Colorado is well positioned to be a national and international leader of nanotechnology research and economic development efforts,” Shoureshi says. “Right now, Colorado is behind some other states in the country, and we want to change that.” 

In the world of nanotechnology, less is more. “Nano” means “one billionth.” At that minute scale, some materials exhibit dramatically different properties than their bulk counterparts, opening a wide range of possibilities that experts predict will revolutionize everything from energy production to medicine. One example is carbon nanotubes—cylinders of rolled-up sheets of carbon atoms—which are stronger than steel and can conduct electricity just as well as copper wire.

The federal government is investing heavily in the nanotechnology field. In 2003, President Bush signed into law the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, which authorized nearly $3.7 billion for nanotechnology research and development. The National Science Foundation predicts that in 10–15 years, the worldwide annual industrial production in nanotechnology will exceed $1 trillion.

Along with several professors in DU’s engineering and science departments, Shoureshi conducts nanotechnology research, using biological molecules as building blocks to develop nanoscale systems for monitoring and diagnostics of civil structures such as bridges and buildings. Siavash Pourkamali, a Georgia Tech PhD in electrical engineering, whose expertise is in micro and nano-device design and manufacturing, has been hired as a new faculty member. 

Shoureshi hopes to form a nanotech research center at DU, create new faculty and graduate student research positions, extend the SECS curriculum to include nanotechnology and introduce a state of-the-art technology innovation center.

“Nanotechnology will be a key component in continuing to build DU’s national and international reputation,” says alumnus Griffith Kundahl, JD ’92, general counsel and board member of NanoBusiness Alliance, the national nanotechnology trade association. 

Kundahl also expects the new DU association’s influence to reach beyond the University’s engineering and science departments. 

“Because of the many national and international policy and legal issues associated with nanotechnology, the association could also have a major impact on the business and law schools and DU’s international studies program,” he says.

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