November 26, 2002

Prof. Craighead Receives Nanotech Grant

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In the case of Prof. Harold Craighead and his research into nanotechnology, bigger is not always better and the state of New York seems to agree. Recently the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Research (NYSTAR) awarded Craighead $750,000 to continue his research into a chip-based analytical system for rapid analysis of chemical and biological compounds.

Craighead, the C.W. Lake Jr. Professor of Engineering and professor of applied and engineering physics, describes his work in nanotechnology and fabrication as “the science of very small structures.”

Such structures include nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) that are so small that the slightest change in environment will set them vibrating, signaling the researcher of any alteration. Craighead is also involved in research of microfluidics and detection schemes for viruses and bacteria.

The implications of this research are numerous and wide ranging.

“Our work is in part focused on molecular analysis, on the separation and identification of molecular compounds,” Craighead said.

This research could translate into advances in the fields of medical diagnosis, drug development, and environmental monitoring. The technology will also speed up the process of sequencing DNA.

“Instead of taking 10 years to sequence the human genome, this research will enable us to do it in a matter of days or weeks,” said Josh Cross, grad, member of Craighead’s research team.

Due to its ability to detect precise frequencies, the NEMS could also be important in areas outside of biology, such as communications and broadcasting.

The funding given Craighead is part of the $6.36 million that NYSTAR awards to nine universities across New York. According to the website, NYSTAR’s purpose is “to help attract the best and brightest scientific talent in the nation to New York’s research campuses [and] help secure a greater portion of Federal grants for our researchers.”

“It is very forward looking of the state to invest in science and technology,” Craighead said of NYSTAR’s aims.

The selection process was partly based on the commercial potential of the applicants’ work. Some of Craighhead’s results have already been patented and licensed to various drug research companies and bioanalytic testing facilities.

“A lot of what we’re doing now is exploratory work but within 10 years it should be ready for practical application,” Craighead said. Joel Brock, director of the School of Applied and Engineering Physics, agrees with NYSTAR’s selection of Craighead for this award.

“He is one of the premier researchers at Cornell.” He added, “People like him are in very high demand; he is a high profile and influential researcher.”

Craighead has based his 25 year career on small structures and the last 10 years specifically on the biological applications of nanotechnology. “Prof. Craighead is very ambitious and has an eye to the future,” said Cross. “He is interested in the biggest and best applications of our research, it serves as inspiration to the rest of the research group.”

Craighead received his doctorate from Cornell in 1980 and returned again in 1989 as a professor in applied and engineering physics and as director of the National Nanofabrication Facility until 1995. He was a founding member and director of the Nanobiotechnology Center at Cornell. Currently on sabbatical from teaching and administrative duties, Craighead is still continuing with his nanotechnology research.

Archived article by Emily Sketch