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Making measurements at one billionth of a metre: GBP5.6 million award for London Centre for Nanotechnology

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-Chemistry web site

By Laura Gallagher
28 March 2006

Developing new techniques for making precise measurements at the scale of one billionth of a metre is the focus of a new £5.6 million award for the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN).

The award, announced this month, will enable the creation of new experimental techniques to allow precise measurements on the 'nano' scale. It is the largest award made in the second round of the Science and Innovation Awards from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

This nano-machine is 50 microns across and can only be viewed using a powerful Scanning Electron Microscope. For comparison, a human hair is about 100 microns across

The LCN is a joint venture between Imperial College London and UCL, two internationally leading institutions in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Nanotechnology takes place at the scale of one billionth of a metre and involves creating novel structures and materials, and devices with unique properties.

Nanotechnology is already developing new materials and devices, such as tiny drug delivery systems for inside the body, but nanometrology, which involves the precise characterisation and measurement on the nano scale, remains a key issue. Nanometrology will play an increasingly important role in understanding the complexities of the way things operate at the nanoscale and in developing reliable manufacturing tools. The issue of how to reproduce new structures, materials and devices on the nano scale will be crucial and it poses a major challenge.

Nanometrology is extremely complex given the tiny scale at which nanotechnology operates, and it requires specialist tools and a greater understanding than scientists currently have of how things work at a nano scale. The new award will enable the LCN to recruit four new academics, four post-doctoral researchers and ten PhD students to tackle the challenges involved, bringing together experts from areas such as materials, physics, chemistry, engineering and medicine.

Professor Tim Jones Opens in new window, Imperial's Co-Director of the LCN said: "Measuring things at the nano scale is one of the biggest challenges to be overcome if we are going to move on from basic research and make nanotechnology happen in the commercial world. This award will allow us to bring in new people who will work with our existing outstanding talent in nanoscience and nanotechnology. It will take all these people to make nanometrology work."

Professor Gabriel Aeppli, the Centres Director at UCL, added: "By acting as a bridge between the biomedical, physical, chemical and engineering sciences, the centre will cross the 'chip-to-cell interface'. This is an essential step for the UK to remain internationally competitive in biotechnology."

The LCN is based in Bloomsbury and South Kensington. The Centre has a unique operating model that accesses the combined skills of the departments of chemistry, physics, materials, medicine, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical engineering and earth sciences across the two universities.

The promise of the LCN's work has also been recognised in the form of a £5.5 million award from the Department of Trade and Industry and the London Development Agency.