Nanoscience lab begins with first small step

10 Feb 2005

Minister for Enterprise Micheál Martin TD today turned the sod on Ireland’s first purpose-built nanoscience research institute. Trinity College Dublin’s (TCD) €21m Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (Crann) will open in late 2006.

“Nanoscience and nanotechnology – the so-called ‘science of the small’ – is now seen as the Next Big Thing,” said the minister. “We know that it works on material that is just one thousandth the size of anything that can be seen in an optical microscope. Exploration of the nanoworld is a complex and exciting activity that is now taxing the skills and imagination of scientists all over the world.” Examples of the impact of nanotechnology include next generation microelectronics and new drug delivery systems.

More than 150 scientists will work in the new facility, which will have ultra-low vibration laboratories fastened to the bedrock under the campus, to allow highly sensitive measurements of nanoscale structures and clean rooms where even particles of dusts are carefully filtered out to allow high-purity fabrication of these tiny objects.

Crann has been funded under Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Centre for Science Engineering and Technology programme, which supports large-scale, research groupings collaborating with industry, where the industry partner must contribute 20pc of the cost of the programme. The involvement of industry is seen as a vital element of SFI’s programme to build a self-supporting research community in Ireland. Crann is a partnership between TCD, University College Dublin, University College Cork and Intel. As a centre of excellence, Crann will seek to attract first-rate scientists and industrial partners.

To date, SFI has committed €21m to Crann, with almost €10m of that being used to fund research activity and a further €11m for the construction of the ultra-modern laboratories. This centre will also provide a platform for Irish researchers to work alongside their counterparts in the EU, as nanotechnology is expected to form a significant plank of the forthcoming 7th EU Framework plan for research and development.

The funding is in addition to the €34m SFI has awarded to the lead investigators of Crann since 2001, bringing total SFI funding to €55m over a seven-year period. In addition to the SFI research investment, €5m has been donated by industrialist Dr Martin Naughton, chairman of Glen Dimplex Group. This will be used to construct the building in which Crann will be housed – the Naughton Institute – which will also leave space for public awareness of science and other activities.

“Given the emerging importance of nanotechnology in recent years, this investment is timely and appropriate,” said Minister Martin. “Ireland has been funding the area just ahead of the wave and now has built up a significant expertise and international profile in it. Its size also allows the group to be internationally competitive, as Crann clusters together the best researchers Ireland has to offer and creates synergies between people that will be important in the future.”

He concluded: “The establishment of Crann and the opening of the Naughton Institute at the end of next year provide Ireland with the opportunity to make nanotechnology what the software and pharmaceutical sectors have been to our economy in recent decades. It is in the nanoworld that discoveries will be made and technologies developed which are likely to change our lives in the coming decades. Ireland’s aim to develop as a knowledge-based economy requires an internationally competitive presence in research in this field.”

By Brian Skelly