Nanotechnology Center to Open New Doors in Cutting-Edge Fields

    Connecticut college students interested in pursuing the applied sciences will have more opportunities to engage in cutting-edge research thanks to the newly designated ConnSCU Center for Nanotechnology at Southern.

    The designation by the state Board of Regents for Higher Education opens the door for students and faculty members from the 16 other institutions in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System to pursue collaborative research and partner with representatives from business and industry.

    The center has been operating for several years as a Southern-based facility, offering hands-on training in a field that draws upon several scientific disciplines – including chemistry, biology, physics and engineering. Students use specialized equipment, including a state-of-the-art microscope that uses electrons to image materials on the atomic scale.

    The National Science Foundation estimates that 2 million workers will be needed to support nanotechnology industries worldwide within the next 15 years. Nanotech is already being used to produce new medicines, improved medical imaging tools and more durable construction materials, as well as energy-efficient power sources like fuel cells, batteries and solar panels.

    “It’s a very exciting time for us, especially as we await the opening of a new science building (projected in 2015), which will enable us to do more things with a state-of-the-art facility and equipment,” says Christine Broadbridge, chairwoman of the Physics Department and the center’s director.

    The new center will soon include research in the nano-medicine field. Broadbridge says that Southern faculty from the departments of Chemistry, Biology and Physics will be working together to develop topics such as examining how drugs are delivered in the human body, and research and development for new medical devices and implants.

    The center will also feature environmental applications of nanotechnology — such as testing products that can sense microscopic pollutant particles — and manufacturing applications of nanotech. These include creating more durable products and examining devices that can enhance the speed of computers.

    Broadbridge notes that a fellowship program affiliated with the new center is being developed. Several students who participate in nanotech research at the center will be awarded a stipend annually. The stipends will be geared primarily to Southern undergraduates.

    “The idea is that the stipends will enable those students to engage in their research projects without having to worry about working a job during that period,” she says. “It also gives those students the opportunity to learn the business side of science, such as marketing products.” The fellowship program will be funded through a gift from the Werth Family Foundation, which recently contributed $3 million to Southern’s science programs.

    The center itself is being funded through a variety of sources, including grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.