Professors Mitsu Murayama and Bill Reynolds using one of the transmission electron microscopes at the Nanoscale Characterization and Fabrication Laboratory.

Professors Mitsu Murayama and Bill Reynolds using one of the transmission electron microscopes at the Nanoscale Characterization and Fabrication Laboratory.

The National Science Foundation just announced the winners of a collective $81 million in funding for the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI), and Virginia Tech is one of the universities involved.

The NNCI will be a network of 16 centers, each with a unique area of expertise in nanotechnology. Virginia Tech’s center will focus on earth and environmental nanoscience—an area in which Tech has achieved international recognition, thanks to the leadership of University Distinguished Professor Mike Hochella, a professor of geosciences.

The NNCI network will serve as a central resource for colleges, universities, and companies who are interested in pursuing nanoscience and nanotechnology, but don’t have access to specialized equipment, or the expertise to analyze materials at scales a hundred thousand times smaller than the thickness of a sheet of paper. NNCI centers can offer access to instrumentation and internationally renowned experts, speeding up the pace of discovery in the rapidly expanding “nano” sector.

So membership in the network dramatically raises a university’s profile in the world of nanotechnology, identifying it as a source of cutting-edge research and a hub for scholarship and technology transfer.

As the university moves forward, it’s not surprising that nanotechnology will be an area of growth. The Virginia Tech Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, directed by Hochella, and the Nanoscale Characterization and Fabrication Laboratory (both initiatives of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science) have helped make the university a destination for nanoscience, particularly environmental nanoscience. Virginia Tech president Timothy D. Sands’ own background is in nanoscience, both in academia and industry, and he directed the Birk Nanotechnology Center at Purdue before becoming that university’s provost.

In a letter of support for the NNCI proposal, Sands wrote that his long-term vision for Virginia Tech “includes a continued commitment to nanoscience and nanotechnology,” and praised Hochella’s leadership in preparing the university to become “the dominant force in this relatively new and now critical area of study and development.”

With this award, the Virginia Tech is well on its way.

Watch VT News for the official university announcement!