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As an undergrad at the University of Massachusetts, physics major Demitri Balabanov did research in condensed matter, an area he said has significant overlap with nanoscience.
By Jonnelle Davis, Staff Writer, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.
So, when a friend and UNCG professor told him about the UNCG and N.C. A&T Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, Balabanov moved to Greensboro to snag a slot in the school.
"Nanoscience is basically the direction I wanted to go in," he said. "I just didn't know it was called nanoscience."
Many people don't know about nanoscience or realize how it influences their daily lives.
The Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering hopes to change that beginning this fall when it welcomes its inaugural class.
"The thing is that most of the leading-edge technologies these days have some component that is probably related to nanotechnology," said Jim Ryan, founding dean of the school.
The school has been under construction for several months on East Lee Street at the Gateway University Research Park's south campus. While waiting for the building to be completed, students will study in a temporary space on the park campus.
Ryan expects 15 to 18 doctoral students to be enrolled in the fall, many of whom heard about the program by word of mouth.
He has also secured several faculty members. A $1 million appropriation from the N.C. General Assembly will allow the school to complete its hiring.
Nanoscience is the study of atoms and molecules smaller than 100 nanometers — or about 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair — to develop new capabilities used in various industries.
Ryan said nanoparticles play a part in such innovative technologies as the ability to watch TV shows on cell phones. The science contributes to the computing power of game systems, and it is being used to make drug therapies more effective, he said.
UNCG is offering degrees in nanoscience; N.C. A&T will soon offer degrees in nanoengineering.
The universities believe the programs and their research will have a multimillion economic impact on the Piedmont Triad.
John Merrill, executive director of the Gateway research park, said the joint school is the anchor for what the park is trying to do: spur research activity for the benefit of the universities, the park and the area.
Any inventions that stem from the universities could attract companies to the park, he said.
"What we hope is that ... this type of investment ... will pay dividends for not only the universities, but help to create jobs in the community," Ryan said. "We're working pretty hard on that right now."
Construction on the 105,000-square-foot, $56 million building started late last year, and from his office in the research park, Ryan has a prime view of it. "It's just fascinating to watch this going up."
From his window, Ryan can point to where everything in the building will be — from the offices to the 12 labs it will house.
"These laboratories will be top-notch laboratories and with some great equipment," he said.
The first classes won't be held in the building until January 2012, but two labs are already open in the school's temporary location so students can begin their academic programs and research.
One of those labs holds a $2.5 million helium-ion microscope, one of only about six in the country, Ryan said. The microscope allows the examination of very small biological materials with high resolution.
While there is still more than a month to go before classes begin, a handful of students were on site Thursday keeping busy in other ways. Balabanov is working on the school's website and others, like Steven Coleman, helped unpack and set up the labs.
Coleman earned bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering from A&T and has long been interested in nanotechnology.
"I had some big nanodreams back in the day," said Coleman, who has studied the science at other schools.
Those dreams include his own inventions. He's mulling over the idea of a portable microwave.
Despite his background in engineering, Coleman said he was eager to be a part of the school and didn't want to wait for the nanoengineering program to start. "I was just looking at the best path in, really," he said.
While the UNCG/A&T initiative is not the only nanotechnology program, it is unique, Ryan said.
The program is offering degrees in both nanoscience and nanoengineering and is drawing on the talents of two groups of accomplished faculty. And the facility is being built from the ground
up, allowing faculty to tailor it to the type of science and engineering research they want to do.
"I believe it's a highly innovative program," Ryan said.
Next Level Communications (www.nextlevelcom.net)
For Piedmont Triad Partnership (www.piedmonttriadnc.com)
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