February 8, 2005, Updated September 14, 2012

Technion researchers plan on thinking big about small things at the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute. Nanotechnology – the science of the very, very small – has been getting a very large amount of attention recently. And two developments in Israel are designed to ensure that Israeli scientists will be at the cutting edge of research on the minutest scale, which could impact everything from medicine to anti-terrorism.

“Smaller, faster electronics, new markers for medical diagnostics, nanometer-scale capsules delivering drugs to specific targets, novel types of lubricants, harder, lighter materials, and nanometer-scale light sources are just a few examples of the emerging fruits of nanotechnology,” said Uri Sivan, professor of physics at the Technion in Haifa, at the press conference this week announcing the establishment of the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at the Technion, which Sivan will head.

The Institute is being established with a gift of $26 million from the Russell Berrie Foundation in New Jersey – established by the late Berrie, who made his fortune with his gift company, Russ Berrie and Company – and a matching donation of $26 million from the Israeli Ministry of Industry and Trade.

Ehud Olmert, minister of industry and trade, took pains to stress that this emphasis on nanotechnology is not focused on the Technion alone.

“We wanted to set up a basis that will let us expand what we have created at the Technion to other institutions in the future,” he said. “This [institute] will promote and expand research in nanotechnology in other institutions in the State of Israel.”

There are already fifty groups at the Technion working on some way at the nano-scale, a billionth of a meter, from stem cell research to building self-assembling nanocomputers and finding new ways to fight terrorism. The new institute will recruit academics from Israel and abroad, both Israelis who have left Israel to pursue post-doctoral research, and others. The Institute will also have cutting edge equipment which will be available for use not just by Technion scientists but by anyone from academia or industry in Israel, said Sivan.

“We have already purchased a focussed ion beam machine for $2.8 million,” he said, and another machine, a transmission electron microscope which costs $3.1 million, is being ordered. “There is almost nothing like this in the world, it defines ‘cutting edge’,” said Sivan of the microscope, which will enables researchers to ‘see’ at smaller and smaller scales.

Sivan is also waiting for approval for a new multidisciplinary graduate program in nanoscience and nanotechnology, scheduled to begin in October 2005, which will take a small number of outstanding students from across the disciplines of life sciences, physics, chemistry and engineering and tailor a program to each student, giving them a grounding in many different disciplines.

“We are creating Renaissance people,” said Sivan.

Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva is also looking towards a tiny future. At the end of January, the university dedicated the Laboratory for Nanoscale Systems, the first of its kind in Israel. The lab will be a fabrication facility for chips built from single atoms and molecules that will form the basis of devices such as ultra-precision clocks, navigation systems, sensors for underground mineral deposits, communications systems (quantum cryptography), and even ultra-fast quantum computers. Heading the lab is Ron Fulman, who also heads BGU’s Atom Chip Laboratory.

“Quantum technology is about single particles, the building blocks of nature,” Fulman told ISRAEL21c several weeks before the inauguration of the new laboratory. The idea of the nanofabrication facility, he said, “is to put a whole laboratory on a chip, a few millimeters in size.”

Both laboratories, the Atom Chip and the Nanoscale Systems lab, are located in the new Henry and Anita Weiss Family Building for Advanced Research. BGU already has more than 100 researchers are working on nano-related projects in fields as diverse as water, solar energy, homeland security, biology, material engineering, communications and physics.

Israel’s other academic institutions are not being left behind; each has its own nanoscience and nanotechnology activities. Olmert called to the other universities to find similar donations from outside sources which the government would match, to stimulate the whole field which, it is hoped, will eventually boost Israel’s economy.

Angelica Berrie, wife of the late Russell Berrie and president of the Russell Berrie Foundation, called the new Technion Institute “an historic first step.”

“Our intention is to send a strong signal to the world that Israel will not allow herself to be left behind in nanotechnology and other scientific areas,” she said.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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