This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Nanomaterials group reviews white paper

Published: April 21, 2005

Contributing Editor

The year is 2020.

For More Information

go to the UB2020 website

UB has become one of the nation's leading centers in translational research based on nanoscale materials and it offers new degrees in several related fields.


The university is home to major National Science Foundation centers, as well as National Institutes of Health program project grants that focus on nanostructured materials.

Western New York is benefiting from spin-off companies that have grown out of this research.

Multidisciplinary groups of researchers routinely team up to take advantage of new grant opportunities, guided by a robust and dynamic database cataloguing UB's comprehensive expertise in nanomaterials.

That's the vision. Figuring out how to attain it was the subject of a meeting on Monday held as a follow-up to an envisioning retreat focusing on nanomaterials held on March 7 as part of the UB 2020 strategic planning process.

Approximately 30 faculty members in disciplines such as chemistry, electrical engineering and pharmaceutical sciences who attended the meeting in Clemens Hall heard the main points from the draft of a white paper developed for the Focus of Excellence in Integrated Nanostructured Systems, or FINS, as this 2020 group has labeled itself.

The white paper committee members are Paschalis Alexandridis, professor of chemical and biological engineering; Richelle Allen-King, associate professor of geology; Frank Bright, UB Distinguished Professor of Chemistry; Alexander Cartwright, associate professor of electrical engineering; Wesley Hicks, associate professor of otolaryngology; Bruce D. McCombe, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School; Robert Straubinger, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences; and Balusubramanian Sathyamangalam, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences.

Cartwright presented the summary of the white paper draft to the group, stressing UB's internationally recognized research strengths in nanomaterials, including spintronics, photonics and biophotonics, as well as a relatively advanced level of multidisciplinary collaboration, particularly when compared to similar institutions.

A key strength identified by the committee, he said, is UB's broad range of nanomaterial application areas, fostered in part by the fact that this is a comprehensive university with a broad range of professional schools.

Biomedical, industrial, environmental and societal, and information technology applications were mentioned as key areas for development of nanostructured systems.

Cartwright emphasized that it is not just UB's scientific expertise that should be applied to these areas, but that investigations into how nanotechnologies impact society, for example, also must be explored by the social sciences and related disciplines at UB.

The committee identified three "pillars" as providing a foundation for integrated nanostructured systems:

  • Inorganic materials, structures and hybrids.

  • Enabling tools and infrastructure.

  • Biological and soft materials and hybrids.

Focusing on the term "integrated," Cartwright explained that various nanomaterial components from different labs can be combined to develop new devices or materials that do novel things.

"How you put them together depends on the application," he said, "so the application folks become extremely important."

He also noted that while many other universities give lip service to the term "integrated systems," many are not in a position to conduct research in areas across the board.

"We want to focus on the fact that we are a comprehensive university and we actually do talk across departments," he said. "That may not be unique, but it does put us into a select group."

He said the vision of the committee was to get to the point of custom-designing properties of nanomaterials for specific applications.

Related to his comment, several faculty members mentioned their discomfort with what they see as a heavy emphasis on applications and some noted that a fundamental understanding of nanosystems and nanomaterials is critical to progress in the field.

Members of the committee acknowledged that they had discussed this question in depth, stressing that theoretical understanding of such systems must underlie all of the applications-oriented research that follows.

Cartwright added that both theory and simulation should be understood as being included under the pillar of "enabling tools," while others felt that "theory" and "simulation" are not adequately described as "tools."

A decision was made to identify more specifically "theory" and "simulation" as central aspects of FINS.

The committee noted that a key to the success of FINS will be the development and maintenance of a community of researchers working in nanosystems throughout UB.

FINS would be spearheaded by a committee of researchers, each of whom will be responsible for understanding what research is going on within their disciplinary area.

The problem of getting faculty to serve on the committee when there might not be a positive "pay-off" for their research in the immediate future also was discussed.

Also recommended is establishment of an "expertise inventory," somewhat similar to the Community of Science database, but targeted to nanosystems research at UB.

Cartwright added that such an inventory—which the white paper committee hopes to have in place during Year One of the planning process—would assist greatly in making hiring decisions so that gaps in expertise throughout the university can be filled quickly.

At the same time, such a database would allow researchers applying for grants to identify quickly the major players in specific research areas.

The need for more support staff, both secretarial and technical, also was mentioned.

The group returned to a topic of interest that had emerged during the first nanomaterials retreat: the need to return some fraction of indirect costs to the investigator who generated them.

"There is no reward mechanism for faculty other than the fact that you continue to get paid," said McCombe.

The committee has set an ambitious timeline for feedback and completion of a final version of the white paper, which will be presented to Satish K. Tripathi, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, in early May. Revisions will be made by late May, with the final version being completed by June.