March 17, 2004

Nanoscale Science Institute Founded

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This week, Cornell announced the establishment of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science. The institute on science at the atomic and molecular level will be funded by a $7.5 million endowment from the Kavli Foundation and its founder, Fred Kavli.

“We aim to provide leadership to the scientific community regarding current and future directions of research in nanoscience,” said Vice Provost of Research Robert Richardson, the founding director of the KIC, in a news release about the institute.


According to a Board of Trustees summary statement on the KIC, the institute’s goals are to address the major issues in nano-scale science, bring together renowned experts on the topic, encourage multi-disciplinary collaboration in the nano-scale research community, and define a path for progress in the field.

“Hopefully, we can take a look at the big issues in the field and try to say something sensible about it,” said Prof. John Silcox, applied engineering and physics, who was one of the people involved in planning the institute, “[We will] try to guide the NSF and other places, try to give them some guidance as to where there might be good places … [to put] their money, try to pick out and guide the direction of the field.”


The summary statement describes a large faculty membership led by a twelve-person executive council. According to the summary, the executive council will consist of four outside experts to serve as an external advisory board in addition to eight Cornellians chosen by the KIC membership.

“The multidisciplinary membership of the Kavli Institute will include those Cornell faculty actively participating in the research program of the NSF-supported centers at Cornell,” the summary states. Currently, there are four nano-related research centers at Cornell: the Cornell Center for Materials Research, the Nanobiotechnology Center, and the Center for Nanoscale Systems, and the Cornell NanoScale Facility.

However, Silcox explained that the KIC will not be an umbrella group for the other nano-technology and nano-scale science centers.

“I’d like to hope that this will be a catalyst more than anything else,” he explained, “An opportunity to provide a little money here and a little money there to bring people together to try to get ideas past the point where they’re just a gleam in people’s eyes [into] something with a little more hard fact on them and to the point that we can then take them elsewhere for support.”

In addition to sparking new ideas, people also expect the Kavli Institute to increase collaboration between all the different areas that can be labeled as nano-scale.

“It will provide a larger opportunity for interactions amongst the [nanotechnology] centers,” said Prof. Barbara Baird, chemistry and chemical biology, the director of the NBTC. “The centers are already providing opportunities for interdepartmental and interdisciplinary interactions. This will take it to the next level of further interactions among the centers in the area of nanotechnology. … I’m delighted that Cornell has won this opportunity.”

“The crucial point is that there is lot of nanotechnology research going on here, and it makes sense to have some sort of formal mechanism like the Kavli Institute that will help cross all those boundaries,” said Prof. Bruce Lewenstein, communication. However, he would also like to see the KIC focus on issues beyond the scope of just research and development.

“As someone who is interested in the social and ethical issues [of nanotechnology], I was sorry to see that wasn’t one of the specific things that was mentioned in the project, although there’s no indication it won’t be,” he said. “It’s just that in a lot of the work being in nanotech, the recognition that there is social issues associated with developing new technologies is clearly there.”

According to Silcox and others involved in the KIC, the type of projects envisioned for the institute run the gamut from bringing in outside experts for a semester or two to running summer workshops to hosting symposia on different topics chosen annually. He explains that ultimately, the funding from the Kavli Foundation will help guide the future of nano-scale science and technology.

“It’s there to allow us to run … an institute that provides stimulating opportunities for people to come and think,” he said.

Archived article by Sarah Colby