You wait for years for an interdisciplinary nanoscience and nanotechnology centre to be opened somewhere in the English Midlands or south Yorkshire, and then two come along at once. Having spent yesterday 40 miles south of Sheffield, in Nottingham, at the official opening of the Nottingham nanoscience and nanotechnology centre, today I’m back home at Sheffield for the official opening of the The Kroto Research Institute and Centre for Nanoscale Science and Technology. As yesterday, the man doing the opening was the Nobel Laureate Sir Harry Kroto (Harry is an alumnus of Sheffield).
Actually, the Kroto centre covers a little more than just nanotechnology. It houses the UK’s national facility for fabricating nanostructures from III-V semiconductors, an well-equipped microscopy facility, which will soon commission an aberration corrected high resolution electron microscope capable of chemical analysis at the single-atom level, and a tissue engineering centre which spans the range from surface analysis to putting cultured skin onto patients. But there’s also a centre for computational biology, one for environmental engineering, and one for virtual reality.
Having talked about the Nottingham centre, it’s worth talking about the ways in which our two operations complement each other. Nottingham has what’s probably the best department of pharmacy in the country; they have long operated at the nanoscale, and have been leaders in applying surface science and scanning probe techniques to look at systems of biological and biomedical interest. But when they talk about nanomedicine, they have the strong links with the pharmaceutical industry that are needed to turn ideas into therapies. They’ve been successful in collaborating with the Department of Physics, whose interest in applying physical techniques to biological systems goes back to the discovery there of magnetic resonance imaging. Like Sheffield, they have real strength in semiconductor nanotechnology, and they also have the UK’s leaders in single molecule manipulation using scanning probe techniques.
There are already some major collaborations between Nottingham and Sheffield. These include the Nanorobotics project, which aims to combine nanoscale actuator technology with live electron microscopy observation, each at a resolution of down to 0.1nm. The Snomipede project, also including Glasgow and Manchester, aims to combine near-field scanning probe microscopy as a way of patterning molecules with massive parallelisation of the kind familiar from the IBM millipede technology. There is undoubtedly room for more collaboration between the two universities in this area. One should probably never regret all those failed research proposals one has put in, but back in 2000 we did put together a joint bid, together with Leeds, to host one of the two Interdisciplinary Research Collaborations in Nanotechnology that were being funded then. The money went to Oxford and Cambridge, and I don’t want to cast aspersions on the good work that’s come out of both places, but I’m sure we would have done a good job.