While much of the attention given to the opening of the Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology has been directed at the building’s architecture, the building’s importance for Penn’s interdisciplinary efforts is also attracting notice.
“This center will turbocharge our collaborative efforts,” said President Amy Gutmann during her speech at the building’s dedication Friday.
One way in which the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of Arts and Sciences have already started collaborating is in how they manage resources. “The vast majority of the Singh Center is devoted to central equipment. They really are community resources,” said A. T. Johnson , physics professor and director of the Nano/Bio Interface Center.
Chris Murray, a chemistry professor, said the Singh Center is operating as a kind of rental service, allowing scientists from all over the University to access its equipment and foster new avenues of creativity. Normally, researchers pay to use labs and equipment with the money from their research grants and other funding sources. The Singh Center will operate in the same way. “There will be space available for rent … anyone who can pay their way is welcome to use it,” he said.
With that kind of open access, many scientists are developing ideas for further research through collaboration.
Johnson, who works in molecular electronics, said “we think people involved with robotics would be very interested” in working together.
“We think nanoscience will evolve out of the science world into the engineering world, into the engineering systems world, and then maybe to the social sciences, since it will have such an impact on how society functions,” he added.
Administrators are equally optimistic. In a statement, SAS Dean Steven Fluharty affirmed that the Center would house both SAS and SEAS researchers with ease. “The Schools, in true Penn fashion, worked together from the very start in the development of this unique, multi-interdisciplinary Center … the leaders of both Schools are committed to access for all investigators within the new facility,” he said.
As exciting as the prospect for greater collaboration within Penn is, many of those involved with the center are also excited about its potential to attract great scientists from outside the University.
“Furthermore,” Fluharty said in the statement, “the facility will, when appropriate, serve as a focal point for new recruitment in the School’s science departments. SAS will be at a distinct advantage when attempting to attract world class faculty as nanotechnology is a field in which investigators must often be coupled with highly specialized equipment in order to yield meaningful discoveries.”
Murray agreed, referring to the increased opportunity for nanoscience as a “new frontier.”
“More important for the basic sciences, this is a chance for us to measure like we never have before,” he said.
“This is what we need to be competitive at the forefront of research in this area,” Johnson said. “I’m very excited, because now we have it. I find it very inspiring to walk into such a beautiful building … the architectural brilliance will inspire us to work even better,” he added.
The physical building of the Singh Center shows its collaborative potential. Paintings from pupils of Kandinsky and postmodern sculptures adorn the halls while in glass-windowed laboratory rooms, scientists manipulate the smallest things ever seen.
Engineering Dean Eduardo Glandt captured the new spirit most succinctly in his speech at the dedication. “This is a tale of two schools,” he said, “and this is the best of times.”
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