October 25, 2001

Army Research Facility May Replace Ward Lab

Print More

Since the decision to close the Ward Center for Nuclear Sciences was finalized this summer by the Board of Trustees, the University has been exploring the possibility of using the space to build an Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN), an Army funded research facility.

If chosen, Cornell stands to benefit from $10 million per year for five years in research grants to develop technologies that will aid in soldier protection and survivability. A key factor for the Army in choosing a university is the capability of housing a facility (the ISN) on campus to maximize interactions between researchers of different fields, according to Prof. John Silcox, vice provost for the physical sciences and engineering.

Several faculty members are currently putting together a Request for Proposal form, outlining the research plan for the Army, to be submitted to the Department of Defense by Nov. 15 of this year.

“What the army is interested in is a program that actually carries out basic science in the area of various technologies that might ultimately come out to make the life of the soldier a lot safer,” said Silcox.

Cornell is focusing on designing textiles that could combine the advantages of several kinds of nanotechnologies which would be useful in a state-of-the-art uniform that could benefit a soldier. Currently, nanotechnology is involved in developing microscopic materials that can aid in healing wounds, particles that can be electrically engineered to provide signals to a home base and nanoscale monitors that could track vital signs in humans.

“[The Department of Defense] anticipates many discoveries in this program; this will be unclassified, standard, basic research,” said Silcox.

Cornell faces “stiff competition” with other universities according to Silcox. A top priority for the University in order to be eligible for the grant is to find adequate space on campus.

“Finding space for this operation is going to be the weakest part of our proposal, it’s going to determine if we live or die,” said Silcox.

Cornell faculty in textiles, nanotechnology and electrical engineering will be among the disciplines working together to implement the research proposal, according to Silcox.

“The degree to which [the technology developed] gets transferred into the commercial use, could mean better textiles for a lot of us. Part of this is an issue of making what the soldier carries in the field lighter, that’s what the Army is concerned with,” said Silcox.

However, finding a suitable location on campus has been a problem; according to Silcox, the space now occupied by the Ward Lab may solve that problem.

“Ward is under consideration as a place to site the ISN team. A decision is yet to be made, however, and a balance between that use and other space needs in the [College of Engineering] must be struck,” Silcox said.

The decision to close the Ward Lab and the announcement of the grant by the Army came within months of each other this summer. However, the decision to close Ward and the decision to apply for the ISN are completely separate, said Vice President for University Relations Henrik Dullea ’61.

Protesters last week requested that the lab be allowed to refuel to continue research until the one year phase out period is completed next June. The Ward lab is financially self-sufficient and has been offered several grants from the Department of Energy to continue the lab’s operation for which the University has did not apply.

Students and faculty have not changed their demands since the University first considered closing the Ward Lab and according to Dr. Robert Richardson, Vice Provost for Research, “there is no current discussion to review the decision.”

The Ward lab would most likely undergo renovations to make it suitable for the space necessary to build the Institute, according to Silcox, however the proposal must first be accepted by the Department of Defense.