New nanotechnology center unites government, industry, and university research

ECE News

Rick Kubetz, College of Engineering

Story Highlights

  • A new Center for Agricultural, Biomedical, and Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology has been established at Illinois in partnership with the National Science Foundation.
  • ECE Professor Brian Cunning is the center's principal investigator.
  • The center will provide the means for collaboration between the College of Engineering and the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences on the Illinois campus.

Brian T. Cunningham
Brian T. Cunningham

In partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and industry partners, the University of Illinois has established the Center for Agricultural, Biomedical, and Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology.

“The idea for the Center for Agricultural, Biomedical, and Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology (CABPN) was seeded many years ago from the desire to bring together research capabilities from the College of Engineering and College of College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES),” explained ECE Professor Brian T Cunningham, the center’s principal investigator. “There are a wide range of problems related to pathogen detection, drug delivery (to humans or food animals), plants with pharmaceutical properties, food spoilage, and disease diagnostics that can be addressed through the use of nanotechnology.”

“CABPN will prove to be a highly multidisciplinary activity that will give the College of Engineering and the College of ACES even more ways to collaborate,” explained Ilesanmi Adesida, dean of the College of Engineering. “The headquarters for the new center will be in the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory; however, research projects will be taking place at labs throughout campus. Because the funding is through an NSF-Industry-University partnership, we expect CABPN to have a strong presence on campus for many years.”

Ilesanmi  Adesida
Ilesanmi Adesida

According to the NSF website, “The NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC) Program is influencing positive change in the performance capacity of the U.S. industrial enterprise. With industrial and other support totaling 10 to 15 times the NSF investment, I/UCRCs are a premier example of "leveraged" funding—a model for the Federal Government in how to develop cost effective synergy with the nation's research and development process.”

“The CABPN, is being built on foundational work undertaken by the University of Illinois Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST), since its inception in 2002," said Irfan Ahmad, CNST associate director and research faculty in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Ahmad serves as co-PI and industry liaison in charge of organizing industrial support for the new center.

“A great deal of research momentum in nanotechnology is now leading to commercial applications and the interest to develop new products and/or services,” Cunningham added. “The types of projects that we envision initially include biosensors for pathogen contamination, nanoparticles for drug delivery, and sensors incorporated into point-of-care diagnostics in the intensive care unit of a hospital.”

NSF's Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) program has been established to foster collaborative relationships between industry and academic research, in which industry support is pooled to address a specific research topic or technical area. Although NSF provides some matching funds and an overall framework (such as intellectual property agreements and policies for sharing of research results), the Center research agenda is mostly driven by industry interests and by industry funds. Commercial companies, government agencies, and trade organizations participate in I/UCRCs by paying annual membership dues, which give them first rights to intellectual property and the ability to work closely with faculty to develop research projects that address their needs. Currently there are more than 50 I/UCRCs, all administered by the Engineering Education and Centers Division of NSF's Engineering Directorate.

“Our topic is very broad, so we expect the projects to evolve over time as our industry members' interests change,” said Cunningham, who is also a researcher in MNTL and a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering. “I/UCRC's can be renewed for up to 15 years, and many older centers continue operating long after NSF support is completed. At this time, we have 14 companies and organizations who have agreed to join CABPN as founding members, and now that we have NSF's blessing, we are hoping to attract several more”.

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