Vanderbilt and Fisk Universities win $2.9 million to study nanotechnology

NASHVILLE, Tenn. ñ Vanderbilt and Fisk Universities professors will conduct joint research and train doctoral students from both institutions in the rapidly growing interdisciplinary field of nanoscience and nanoengineering as a result of winning a highly competitive, $2.9 million national grant.

While the five-year grant from the National Science Foundation will fund research leading to the creation and application of nanoscience materials, it will also enhance collaboration between the two schools and advance the recruitment of underrepresented minorities to the field.

The grant will fund the Vanderbilt-Fisk Interdisciplinary Program for Research and Education in the Nanosciences with the goal of creating nanoscale materials for basic science and a variety of applications ranging from medicine to microelectronics. It was awarded through NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeships (IGERT) program.

"This program will give students a complete background in the interdisciplinary materials sciences, which provide the underpinnings of nanoscience and nanoengineering," Vanderbilt professor of physics Leonard Feldman, director of the Vanderbilt-Fisk program, said. "It integrates graduate education with research and enhances collaboration within and between Vanderbilt and Fisk, creating unprecedented opportunities for discovery and education."

"Nanoscale" describes objects that measure approximately a millionth of a millimeter, or roughly 1/100,000th of a human hair. Nanotechnology is based on understanding the behavior of materials at the nanoscale level and how they can be used to accomplish goals such as the continued miniaturization of computer components and genetic engineering.

The Vanderbilt-Fisk program will involve more than 30 professors from the Vanderbilt departments of Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Physics and the Fisk departments of Physics and Chemistry.

"This program will further enhance the excellent cooperative efforts that have existed for many years between our schools," Warren E. Collins, Fisk University professor of physics, said. "The high quality nanoscience research programs at both institutions, with state-of-the-art instrumentation and facilities, will now be open to students at both Fisk and Vanderbilt."

Under the program, Fisk University students will have the opportunity to earn their master’s degrees at Fisk, which does not offer doctoral degrees, and then transfer automatically to Vanderbilt to complete their doctoral degrees in materials science. The doctoral degree program, to begin fall 2004, will give students cross-disciplinary immersion in nanoscale science and engineering.

The Vanderbilt Institute for Nanoscale Science and Engineering (VINSE) will provide critical support for the Vanderbilt-Fisk program. The institute is one of several transinstitutional centers recently created at Vanderbilt to support interdisciplinary approaches to complex scientific, medical and cultural issues. VINSE is currently constructing a new nanoscience and engineering complex that will include five laboratories specializing in various aspects of nanoscale science and engineering.

In addition to involving professors from a diverse array of academic disciplines, the Vanderbilt-Fisk program will depart from the traditional graduate education by rotating students through research team assignments and offering course modules of 10 weeks rather than full semesters, allowing students to tailor their curriculum to their needs. Students will also have opportunities to intern with domestic and international technology firms as well as national research laboratories.

This is the second IGERT awarded to Vanderbilt. The first, Reliability and Risk Engineering and Management, is in its third academic year of operation.

The competitive IGERT program promotes interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation in research and teaching to help create more diversity and creativity in science, medicine and engineering. Approximately 100 proposals have been funded through IGERT since the program’s inception in 1997.

Media contact: Melanie Catania, (615) 322-NEWS

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