The Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC) for Integrated Nanopatterning and Detection Technologies, headquartered at Northwestern University (NU)
is driven by a vision to develop innovative biological and chemical detection systems capable of revolutionizing a variety of fields. Genuine medical benefits are now emerging as direct products of the center research, including detection techniques for markers associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and prostate cancer. These detection techniques are bringing advances in sensitivity, speed, ease of use, and cost over existing methods, providing broader societal impact of a type and degree that is impressive.
Established by a grant from the National Science Foundation in 2001 under the direction of Professor Chad Mirkin, the NU-NSEC represents researchers from Northwestern University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Argonne National Laboratory and their collaborators from industry, academic institutions, and national laboratories in the common goal to create an accelerated pathway from conception to application to commercialization.
The overarching research goal is to develop new and powerful detection technologies for biological and chemical analytes based on nano-engineered materials, and substantial progress has been made toward realizing this goal. The two targeted deliverables are (1) an automated, massively-parallel nanopatterning system capable of routinely printing sub-100 nm soft matter features over large areas, and (2) an integrated, ultrasensitive, biodetection system capable of identifying protein and nucleic acid disease markers with complex samples at the point-of-care. Research is divided into three synergistic research groups (or SRGs): Nanopatterning SRG (Leader – M. Hersam); Signal Transduction & Receptor Design SRG (Leader – M. Mrksich); and Integrated Biodetection Chip SRG (Leader – V. Dravid). The Center also provides seed funding for one or two projects each year in new and emerging areas.
Center members represent a broad spectrum of disciplines from 4 schools and 15 academic departments. State-of-the-art facilities and instrumentation, significantly enhanced through support from the State of Illinois, supports the research agenda. Knowledge transfer at the Center is evidenced through prolific publications and patents. Center researchers routinely give lectures on their research globally, as well as organize and present workshops. The Center has initiated innovative programs that significantly impact knowledge transfer and strengthen collaboration. The Nanotechnology Corporate Partners (NCP) program supports Center research and increases opportunities for new collaborations. Fourteen nanotechnology-based start-up companies have been launched since 2001, with several initiated through the Small Business Evaluation and Entrepreneurs (SBEE) program. The Frontiers in Nanotechnology Seminar Series brings world-renowned researchers on campus to inspire students and enhance synergistic collaborations. Finally, the annual International Institute for Nanotechnology Symposium brings together domestic and international speakers for a full day of discussion about state-of-the-art nanotechnology research (>650 registrants in 2009).
The Center is also committed to training the scientists, technicians, and teachers of tomorrow. Undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral associates are a vital part of the Center research community and have a voice through the NSEC Board of Student and Postdoctoral Researchers. Innovative educational outreach programs are in place that are closely linked to Center research, such as: the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program; the Center-published Nanoscape: The Journal of Undergraduate Research in Nanoscience; the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program; the Center’s DiscoverNano website, with nearly one million visitors each year; All Scout Nano Day; Nanotechnology Town Hall meetings; and Science Cafés. Partnerships with the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network, and the National Center for Learning and Teaching in Nanoscale Science and Engineering substantially increase the impact of Center programs.
Increasing diversity in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering is an important goal of the Center. A diversity plan is fully implemented and has resulted in the Center consistently surpassing national diversity averages. Partnerships with the National Society of Black Engineers, National Society of Hispanic Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Latinos, and Native Americans in Science contribute to this success.