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Large Expectations at the Nano Systems Institute

  • July 27, 2006
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-starting up in a new field of very small technologies

The buildings that house SNU's NANO Systems Institute (NSI) sit high atop the side of Mt. Gwanak, gazing down upon the rest of the campus. With vast steel exoskeletons and gleaming glass panes, the very macro-sized buildings may be monumental but they are home to a research team that works on some of the smallest technologies possible.

The NSI is a well-supported initiative that has garnered attention from the Korean government's Ministry of Science and Technology and the non-profit Korea Science and Engineering Foundation. As the Institute's director, Professor Young June Park states,"this is a very objective oriented interdisciplinary research center." Nanophysics, nanochemisty, nanomaterials, and nanobiology are all topics under research, but the end goal is to"generate deliverable technology.” Projects currently pursued at the Institute include high-speed screening and the integration of semiconductors with nanotech.

To a layman, nanotech may seem like the plot devices of science fiction films, but the fantasy of futuristic miniature robots comes to life in the shape of DNA-attached nanoparticles that treat damaged cells. Park becomes animated as he explains the basic principle of nanotech."The smallest a material can go without losing its essential properties is in the nano range. So once we understand the properties -- physical, chemical, biological, we can actually control it."

As the size of a semiconductor crystal shrinks, the larger the imagery emitted becomes. These are called quantum dots and can be used in a myriad of ways, in solar cells or even game consoles. NSI was the first institute in Korea to mass produce quantum dots in a cost efficient manner, and distributed them free of charge to research labs across the nation. The goal is to accelerate research, and sharing the fruits of their labor is one way the Institute has demonstrated its commitment.

Over 20 university professors and over 100 graduate students come together in collaboration at the Institute."There are not many research centers in Korea that have this kind of collection of people" says Park. His team has Chemistry, Physics and Electrical Engineering professors, and while cooperation across such diverse backgrounds can be challenging, ultimately the variety of the input is a key asset. In addition, as the numerical majority at the Institute, students take on the huge responsibility of running the machines, in essence, conducting the experiments under guidance of their professors. Unlike some graduate programs, the students claim much of the credit when the papers are published.

Established only two years ago, the hunger to discover new and practical technologies is unmistakable at the Institute. If majesty of nanotech lies in the miniature, the members of the Institute know that expectations are large and are determined to match those ambitions.

July 27 2006
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