Army grant would fund further NU nanotechnology research

Mindy Hagen

Northwestern’s top administrators, researchers and science professors will finish presenting a proposal to U.S. Army officials today for a $50 million grant to fund a new institute of soldier nanotechnology.

According to the Army Research Office Web site, the Department of Defense hopes nanotechnology, which deals with technology at a scale of around one-billionth of a meter, could provide miniature devices to aid soldiers on the battlefield.

The department asked top research schools to submit proposals for the institute in early January. NU became a finalist, competing against several other universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Chemistry Prof. Joseph Hupp, one of the proposal’s leaders, said he expects an announcement of the Army’s selection within three months. The grant would be distributed as $10 million every year for five years, with an option for the army to renew the funding for another five-year period.

Nine members of the Army’s research office listened to NU’s leading scientists describe their vision for the institute at the James Allen Center on Thursday afternoon. The visit will continue today with government officials, including U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), contributing to the presentation.

University President Henry Bienen and NU Vice President for Research Lydia Villa-Komaroff spoke at Thursday’s presentation.

Led by chemistry department Chairman Michael Wasielewski, NU’s proposal has been a combined effort between the chemistry department, the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Hupp said NU’s $34 million Nanofabrication Building under construction gives the university the ability to stand out in the growing field of nanotechnology.

“The Department of Defense is looking at broader applications for the use of nanotechnology,” Hupp said. “It’s really a tall order to do such things as make soldiers invisible to electromagnetic radiation, but if there is a way to do it, it involves nanotechnology.”

Because a nanometer is a miniscule measurement, nanomaterials like those the Army is requesting can be as small as a few atoms. NU’s nanofabrication center already has netted the university one prestigious grant – $11.2 million from the National Science Foundation for the establishment of a Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center in the new building.

Researchers will work on the nanoscale level to develop cost-effective chemical and biological sensors. The Army hopes to incorporate some of these nanoscale materials into soldiers’ uniforms for protection against toxins or other hazards.

Hupp said the Army wants to announce the grant as soon as possible.

“The process (for the grant) has been as accelerated as anything I’ve seen in science funding,” he said. “They want to get this whole thing going and get the right group of scientists working on solving the challenges they face.”