February 2, 2004
Berkeley Lab Research News
Groundbreaking Marks Berkeley Lab's Leap into Nano-Revolution
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BERKELEY, CA—The term "Molecular Foundry" suggests a place where objects are forged and new materials are molded. Like the foundries of the industrial revolution, this new concept, on a nanoscale, promises to revolutionize the way the world works. It began at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—ceremonially, at least—on Friday, January 30, 2004.

That's when ground was turned for the official beginning of construction on a six-story, $85 million, 94,500-square-foot research building that will be one of the centerpieces of the DOE's Nanoscale Research Program. Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry is one of five DOE research centers to be constructed over the next few years.

"This facility will assist scientists in reaching new frontiers in the study of nanoscale research and its practical application," Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said. "It represents a beginning of a revolution in science, opening up a broad array of innovation in materials science, biology, medicine, technologies for environmental research and national security.

"Berkeley is blessed with tremendous resources, such as the national supercomputing center (NERSC), the Advanced Light Source, and the National Center for Electron Microscopy," he added. "All will be instrumental in the revolution in science offered by the Molecular Foundry."

"Nanoscale research will, in many respects, represent the new building blocks for new technologies and applications across the science and industry spectrum," said Berkeley Lab Director Charles Shank. "Understanding the properties of materials on the tiniest scale will have an impact on everything, from medicine to manufacturing."

Nanoscale research enables scientists literally to build novel structures atom by atom. The fundamental properties of materials and systems are established at the nanoscale. Nanomaterials, typically on the scale of billionths of a meter, or 75,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, offer different chemical and physical properties than the same materials in bulk form, and have the potential to form the basis for new technologies. This especially includes the realm of molecular biology.

Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry—actually the research building around which Foundry programs will be developed—will include six facilities available to users from around the world. These include labs and experts devoted to inorganic nanostructures; nanofabrication; organic, polymer/biopolymer synthesis; biological nanostructures; imaging and manipulation; and theory. Its focus will be on the design, synthesis and characterization of both "soft" (biological and polymer) and "hard" (inorganic and microfabricated) substances and the integration of these into complex assemblies.

The SmithGroup of San Francisco designed the structure, which will follow the contours of a hillside site between a materials research building and the microscopy center. Construction will be coordinated by Rudolph and Sletten, Inc. of Foster City. When completed in 2006, the Foundry building will house more than 200 scientists and support staff, using state-of-the-art instrumentation for imaging and manipulation.

Berkeley Lab's facility is one of five in the DOE's proposed Nanoscience Research Program; others will be developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories/Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The possibilities to grow out of this and other initiatives dedicated to the field of nanoscience are virtually limitless. Some potential outcomes that have been suggested include:

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, was featured speaker at the groundbreaking ceremony. Honda was cosponsor of the Boehlert-Honda Nanotechnology Act of 2003, which authorizes $3.7 billion over the next three years for nanotechnology research and development programs.

The Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California.