By Jack Mason
Small Times Correspondent

March 7, 2002 — Brookhaven National Laboratory, the scientific center on Long Island that has pioneered everything from nuclear medicine to magnetically levitating trains, hopes to give nanoscience a lift with a workshop beginning Friday to shape plans for its proposed $55 million Center for Functional Nanomaterials.

Brookhaven’s Nanocenter would join a network of federally funded Nanoscale Science Research Centers in development.

Brookhaven’s John Taylor, special assistant to Richard Osgood, basic energy sciences director, says that the proposed center would specialize in creating tools for assembling, manipulating and testing nanostructures. Technology resources at Brookhaven include electron-beam and ion-beam writing systems, materials synthesis equipment and a variety of high-resolution imaging


If approved, the Brookhaven Nanocenter would be
a 78,000-square-foot, two-story complex of offices,
labs and clean rooms adjacent to the National
Synchrotron Light Source, pictured above.

The facility would focus on a number of research areas. These would include:

  • The magnetic and electrical properties of nanomaterials;
  • How nanoparticles work as catalysts to control a chemical process;
  • How electricity flows in molecular wires and dots;
  • How thin organic films can self-assemble;
  • Nanoscale electronic devices, ultrathin-film optical devices and advanced fuel cell catalysts.

Taylor adds that Brookhaven’s nanocenter could help scientists develop new fabrication techniques, research tools and a better understanding of the unique properties of nanomaterials.

Taylor also notes that because nanotechnology cuts across all boundaries of science, from physics and materials science to chemistry and engineering, the field “requires an unprecedented level of scientific cooperation.” As a national lab with some of the most sophisticated equipment in the country, Brookhaven’s nanocenter could help coordinate and enable the interdisciplinary needs of the nanomaterials community.

In addition to pure research, Brookhaven expects to collaborate with universities and private industry. Taylor reports that one of the nanocenter’s goals is to design instruments and synthesize materials that can ultimately be developed and used in the private sector.

If approved, the nanocenter would be a 78,000-square-foot, two-story complex of offices, labs and clean rooms adjacent to the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), a device renowned for its ability to probe small-scale structures. According to Brookhaven, the NSLS attracts more users every year than any other research machine in the world.

The facility would also have a staff of 20 to 25 researchers, managers and support staff, as well as play host to more than 200 visiting scientists a year. According to Taylor, if the project gets a green light in the near future, construction could begin in fiscal year 2004 and the facility could be ready to open in 2006.

The plan for the nanocenters originated in 1998, growing out of a federal interagency commission that evolved into the Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology (NSET) subcommittee now coordinating the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which oversees Brookhaven and the four other national laboratories that have submitted proposals for nanocenters, is part of the NSET committee.

All five labs submitted proposals in 2000 that were reviewed by peers and panels and are now in various stages. Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which already had a study completed for a physical site, plans to start construction on its nanocenter in 2003, pending appropriation of funds from Congress. Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory, both in New Mexico, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California are continuing with design and engineering work.

Brookhaven has revised its original proposal based on feedback from the review process to clarify how the facility will be organized and operated. The DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences is sponsoring Brookhaven’s initiative and the workshop is an effort get input from the research community on the plan.

Similar workshops have shaped the direction of nanocenter plans at other national labs. “We’ve had overwhelming response — standing-room-only at the previous workshop,” says Patricia Dehmer, director of the DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences, who will open the Brookhaven event. “It’s incredibly important and useful to bring together such a large number of scientific users, people who can play a key role in determining how these facilities are equipped and what their scientific missions should be.”

Dehmer explains that each nanocenter — the fifth applicant is Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois — should have something of a distinct specialty or expertise, but also notes that given the growth in the number of scientists and demand for research resources, “it wouldn’t be at all unusual to have five centers based on the geography of the national labs.”

Bottom line, Brookhaven has not yet won approval, but neither has it missed the nanoboat. Given that uncertainty, the workshop has perhaps an even more important role in shaping what kind of nanocenter may be built.

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