Nanoscience: Big Interest in Studying the Very Small

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The labs have worked with nanoscience on a limited scale for about 20 years. But the centers will let them increase the amount of research so that new products might appear much faster, although most applications are still many years away, Michalske said.

One recent nanoscience discovery at Sandia is that scientists can take atoms and build silicon crystals that are the basis for computer chips that can transmit light. The result could be faster, less expensive, and significantly smaller computers and communications systems.

Today's computers use electronic signals to process and transmit data. Those signals are converted into light before they are sent over the Internet by bulky electronic equipment. With the engineered crystals, a computer could process information in both forms, making it easier to send without need of translation.

The federal government allocated $500 million in 2001 for the study of nanoscience. In 2002, it has allocated $620 million. Next year, it will likely allocate $700 million, Michalske said.

"The Department of Energy and other federal agencies are ramping up efforts in nanoscience because of its wide-ranging potential," he said. "In this center, our job is to work with scientists from all over the world to help develop that potential."

The other four centers will be at Brookhaven, Oak Ridge, Argonne, and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories. New Mexico's labs received $75.6 million to build the Center for Integrated Nanotechnology over the next four years.

"Construction should be completed by 2006, but DOE has agreed to provide new funding for next year to start operations almost immediately," Michalske said.

Copyright 2002 Scripps Howard News Service

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