Univ. founds new science institute

University officials recently announced the founding of the Yale Institute for Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering, which is among the first initiatives to benefit from the University’s $1 billion commitment to enhance basic science, engineering and biomedical research programs over the next 10 years.

The institute, announced Thursday, will receive an initial endowment of over $5 million and is intended to advance the integration of scientific disciplines at Yale, officials said. The endowment will go toward establishing infrastructure and research projects focused on nanotechnology and quantum engineering. Although the program will not have a building of its own, professors and administrators said the new initiative will build bridges between already strong programs and maximize the potential for collaborative research opportunities.

University President Richard Levin said the interdisciplinary focus of the institute will set it apart from previous Yale science programs.

“The needs for an interdisciplinary program is particularly acute [in nanoscale technology],” Levin said. “This is a center without walls. It is funding that will bring together people from across the university but won’t have a building of its own, at least initially. We are thinking longer-term about the next phase of this development.”

The institute’s operations will be staffed by 60 faculty members from 10 different academic departments ranging from biology to mechanical engineering. Officials said it eventually will be housed in centralized facilities featuring state-of-the-art equipment.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said the initiative will allow undergraduates to partake in the research going on at the new institute, exposing them to cutting-edge research that many other schools are also exploring.

“Yale’s efforts in the engineering and applied sciences may be smaller than some of our sister institutions such as [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and Stanford, but our faculty is working on problems of no less importance,” he said.

Electrical engineering and applied physics professor Mark Reed said the institute’s main focus in its early stages will be on promoting collaboration between existing University research programs. The goal is to strengthen and unify existing programs at Yale more than to generate new programs entirely, he said.

“We have world-class research programs and compare favorably with our peers in many of the traditional disciplines,” Reed said in an e-mail. “We hope the institute will not only strengthen the existing activities, but create emergent exciting new areas from interdisciplinary studies.”

Biomedical engineering major Javier Lapeira ’07 said Yale’s decision to establish the institute was a bold move that will strengthen the University’s science programs by focusing on developing sciences.

“Most of nanotechnology is still in the very early research stages, so it’s still very up in the air as to how the technology should be used, although it seems very promising,” Lapeira said.

One possible application of the technology currently under investigation is encapsulating drugs in nanoparticles — minutely small spheres of degradable polymers — that are designed to break down at a predictable time and location, Lapeira said. More research in this area might someday result in insulin pills that diabetic patients can take orally instead of injecting themselves. The new technology would ensure the drug would not be broken down by enzymes in the stomach before reaching the bloodstream.

Lapeira said the interdisciplinary aspect of the new institute marks a promising direction for the sciences at Yale, particularly in a field such as nanoscience where research is vitally important but also expensive.

“People say that biomedical engineering is the prime example of interdisciplinary studies in science, because you have to know everything about biology, chemistry and both mechanical and electrical engineering,” he said. “This new initiative could be a lot like biomedical engineering because it might have the ability to speed up a lot of research with increased funding.”

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