open search form

Nanoscience Institute to Be Created at Caltech with $7.5 Million Gift

PASADENA, Calif.—A $7.5 million grant has been awarded by Fred Kavli and the Kavli Foundation to create a new institute at the California Institute of Technology for research in the emerging field of nanoscience.

Caltech's Kavli Nanoscience Institute (KNI) is being founded as a "lasting center dedicated to defining research frontiers and establishing new scientific directions in nanoscience," according to David Baltimore, president of Caltech. "This generous award allows us to solidify a plan that we have been considering for some time--one based on our strengths and on the future direction of science."

The purpose of the KNI will be to foster innovative research at the frontiers of nanoscale science and engineering, with special emphasis on efforts transcending traditional disciplinary boundaries; to create new research opportunities to attract the best researchers and students worldwide; and to support the cross-disciplinary community through significant infrastructure investment and renewal.

Michael Roukes, Caltech professor of physics, applied physics, and bioengineering, has been named the founding director of the institute. "The primary emphases of the KNI will be on nanobiotechnology, which merges nanodevice engineering with the molecular and cellular machinery of living systems, and nanophotonics, which employs new materials technology and nanofabrication processes to develop novel devices such as optically active waveguides and microlasers," says Roukes. "Central to both of these endeavors is large-scale integration of nanosystems, which will be enabled by the new facilities that we are constructing."

Nanoscience, in its broadest definition, involves the underlying physical principles that govern the function of devices measuring less than a billionth of a meter. Caltech has had an ongoing interest and presence in nanoscience and nanotechnology--or the engineering of such devices--and, in fact, one of the Institute's most renowned researchers is credited with the origin of the concept.

In 1959, Caltech physicist Richard Feynman gave a now-famous lecture titled "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom," in which he mapped out possibilities for extremely small devices, consistent with the principles of quantum mechanics. Since that time, research at the Caltech campus and other institutions has led to discoveries that are, step by step, bringing about a realization of Feynman's early vision.

In January 2000, President Clinton visited the Caltech campus and announced his administration's launch of the "National Nanotechnology Initiative," which has since led to a huge upsurge of activity nationally. A number of major universities and research institutions have embarked upon their own "nano" initiatives.

The KNI will involve many researchers, spanning five of Caltech's six academic divisions (Biology; Chemistry and Chemical Engineering; Engineering and Applied Science; Geological and Planetary Sciences; and Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy). Its governing board consists of academic faculty drawn inclusively from this community. The KNI's physical facilities will include centralized nanofabrication clean rooms, a suite of "research incubation" laboratories for new, highly interactive, cross-disciplinary research projects; and an integrated cluster of offices and conferencing facilities.

The nanofabrication facilities will include a nanofluidics foundry, state-of-the-art nanolithography systems, nanofabrication processing facilities, and laboratories for metrology, imaging, and novel instrument development.

An external advisory board of distinguished scientists, prominent members of the business community and funding agencies, and the Caltech trustees will be appointed to provide guidance to the governing board of the KNI.

Based in Oxnard, California, the Kavli Foundation was created in December 2000 by Fred Kavli to advance science for the benefit of humanity and to promote increased public understanding of and support for scientists and their work. The foundation focuses its efforts on the areas of cosmology, life sciences (emphasizing the nature and evolution of life and the human being), and nanotechnology (with initial emphasis on nanobiotechnology).

Fred Kavli is the founder, former chairman, and CEO of the Moorpark, California-based Kavlico Corporation, one of the world's largest suppliers of sensors for aeronautics, automotive, and industrial applications. He led the company to prominence before selling it in 2001. Subsequently he established two philanthropic entities, the Kavli Foundation, and its sister organization, the Kavli Operating Institute, committed to supporting research to benefit humanity.

Written by Robert Tindol

Caltech Media Relations