Pitt ranks among top universities for nanoscale research


Sometimes good things can come in small packages. In Pitt’s case, that size can be as small… Sometimes good things can come in small packages. In Pitt’s case, that size can be as small as 80,000 times thinner than the width of a single hair.

A recent survey of colleges and universities by the magazine Small Times places the University second among a ranking of 50 institutions, including the University of Virginia and Cornell University.

According to a University press release, the magazine said, “Its breadth of expertise, resources and publishing activities put Pitt near the top for micro and nanotech research.”

A nanometer is about the distance between two atoms in a solid object.

Hong Koo Kim, a professor of electrical engineering and co-director of Pitt’s Institute of NanoScience and Engineering, agreed with the Small Times’ assessment that part of the program’s strength is its broad talent pool.

He pointed out how Pitt’s main campus groups experts from three different schools, mainly engineering, arts and sciences and health and rehabilitation sciences, in order to gain a greater understanding of how current nanoscience research impacts all of these fields.

“When we make something or do something we need different perspectives,” Kim said. “Other schools might have more money, but they don’t have this kind of community.”

In a University press release, James Maher, Pitt’s provost and senior vice chancellor, said that the University was pleased to be recognized for its achievements in this field.

“The University of Pittsburgh has a strong vision for, and commitment to, nanotechnology, and we intend to continue to be in the forefront of research in this important field of study.”

A recent gift from John and Gertrude Petersen of $5 million to further nanoscale research helped as well.

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said in a press release that this was only the most recent in a long line of Petersen-family gifts, including their gift to help construct the Petersen Events Center. Pitt’s Institute of NanoScience was renamed the Gertrude E. and John M. Petersen Institute of NanoScience and Engineering.

“Their more recent gift to support our nanotechnology initiatives positions the newly named Petersen Institute to be an international leader in the field, to solve complex scientific and engineering challenges and to develop new technologies with the potential for commercial applications.

Pitt is also building a facility in Benedum Hall for nanoscale research. The facility will have its grand opening in late September and will contain a collection of advanced equipment.

“The University has been very generous in supporting and building the facility,” Kim said. “It will place us in even more competitive positions nationally and internationally.”

Nanotechnology is not just making objects smaller, Kim pointed out, which places it in a different field than microtechnology. He compared the two to building computer chips. Making them smaller helped increase speed and capability. Nanotechnology is about building the object from as small a point as possible.

Because of the phenomena that can occur at sizes that can be measured in atoms, there is the possibility for new capabilities and uses.

“We bring in new functionality,” Kim said. “That means we can open totally new areas of study, industry or economics.”

Pitt researchers are working on many different projects involving nanotechnology. Jeremy Levy, professor of physics and astronomy at Pitt, helped create semiconductor islands smaller than 10 nanometers and capable of holding a single electron.

This is just one of the steps that could lead to a quantum computer capable of performing certain functions many times faster than normal computers.

Kim is also working on a project involving nanoscale research in the field of nano-photonics. He said he is working on translating his work to the industrial sector.