The Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience at UNL has been at the forefront of its field since its founding in 1988. Now, UNL scientists and engineers have a state-of-the-art research facility that gives them added momentum to continue making life-changing discoveries in one of the nation’s highest-priority research areas.
Located at 16th and W streets, the new 32,000-square-foot Voelte-Keegan Nanoscience Research Center provides centralized research facilities for more than 80 physics, chemistry, engineering and other faculty members from the colleges of Arts and Sciences and Engineering. The building conveniently adjoins Jorgensen Hall, UNL’s home of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, which opened in 2010, and is across 16th Street from the College of Engineering complex. A dedication ceremony to celebrate the building’s completion is 11 a.m. Sept. 27. The public is welcome to attend.
Researchers who work at the nano level – where size and distance are measured in billionths of meters – are exploiting nanotechnology’s potential to revolutionize a wide range of products, from medicine and life-saving technologies to energy and electronics. Many say the most significant discoveries are yet to come.
UNL boasts one of the nation’s leading nanomagnetics research groups, expertise in laser-assisted nanotechnology and is home to a prestigious Materials Research, Science and Engineering Center, which was established in 2002 with funding from the National Science Foundation.
Researchers previously were spread across several buildings on campus. They will continue to maintain offices in their home departments, but now benefit from a shared research area that enhances collaboration spanning disciplines and departments.
“This collaborative way of doing research now is much, much more powerful,” said David Sellmyer, center director and an accomplished nanoscientist. “It will allow us to better confront the grand science and technology challenges facing our country. Collaboration is what’s needed for progress in this field.”
The new facility offers researchers access to specialized tools like a $2 million high-resolution electron microscope purchased with a grant from the National Science Foundation. Researchers also gain high-tech research space, including a clean room that eliminates dust particles. The center’s administrative offices also are part of the new building.
“Having access to such powerful tools and an impeccably controlled research space will provide new insight into nanoscale materials and structures.” Sellmyer said. “Our new facility creates an environment that better fosters innovation and will help pave the way to more research breakthroughs.”
The building is named for UNL College of Engineering alumnus Don Voelte and his wife, Nancy Keegan, a former chair of the University of Nebraska Foundation’s Board of Directors and current board member. They donated $5 million toward the building. They cited UNL’s established leadership in nanoscience among factors playing into their decision, along with the field’s reach into their own backgrounds and interests.
In addition to the Voelte-Keegan gift, a $7 million competitive federal grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and a university commitment, funded the $14 million building. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is a non-regulatory agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce; the funding came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
They are wise investments considering the new facility will position the center to strengthen its role as an economic driver in Nebraska and beyond, Sellmyer said. To date, the center counts six spin-off companies among its successes.
Finding opportunities to fuel Nebraska’s economy and identifying solutions to 21st-century challenges are at the heart of UNL’s research enterprise and this new facility will only contribute to that effort, said Prem S. Paul, vice chancellor for research and economic development.
“This state-of-the-science facility coupled with our faculty’s expertise is a powerful combination that strengthens our position as leaders in nanoscience and materials research,” he said. “High-quality facilities are critical to enhancing our capabilities and fostering interdisciplinary research.”
- Jean Ortiz Jones