Nanotechnology Research atCalifornia NanoSystems Institute

The UCLA nanotechnology research center, California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), was set up in 2000 as part of a California initiative that created four Institutes for Science and Innovation. One of their mandates is to create relationships with representatives of industry to find ways to advance technology to benefit society and the citizens California. This effort is interdisciplinary, stressing collaboration among experts in life and physical sciences, engineering, and medicine.

The stated mission of CNSI is “to encourage university collaboration with industry and to enable the rapid commercialization of discoveries in nanosystems.” To that end, CNSIs nanosystems research has four areas of focus:

  • Energy

  • Environment

  • Health medicine

  • Information technology

CNSI includes eight core facilities that boast impressive laboratories, equipment such as electron microscopes and high throughput robotics, and clean rooms. These resources are available to CNSI, other UCLA faculty, and other representatives of the academic and industrial world.

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Here’s the menu of the resources that CNSI makes available: “both wet and dry laboratories, equipment in the form of electron microscopes, atomic force microscopes, X-ray diffractometers, optical microscopes and spectroscopes, high throughput robotics and class 100 and 1000 clean rooms.”

CNSI’s corporate associations are vital to their mission. These include NanoH2O, a provider of membranes for reverse osmosis, BASF, which is focused on alternative energy sources, and Abraxis Bioscience, a biopharmaceutical company. These three companies are producing some intriguing research and development directions.

NanoH2O is using nanotechnology to reduce the cost of desalination. They received four awards in 2010 for their work. NanoH2O is already commercializing a desalination technology developed by a CNSI researcher, Eric Hoek. They incubated Hoek’s idea at CNSI for two years before transferring the work to their own facilities.

BASF is using the nanopores in metal organic frameworks (MOFs) to bring us closer to the reality of natural gas–powered cars by increasing the amount of natural gas that can be stored in a tank. These cars could travel twice as far as current vehicles on a single tank of gas because the metal organic frameworks would help to improve gas storage capacities.

BASF has worked with UCLA’s Omar Yaghi, the person who discovered MOFs. They are focused on synthesis of MOFs on an industrial level to provide enough of this material to sell commercially for use in natural gas tanks and other applications.

Abraxis BioScience (now part of Celgene) is a company with a history of working in nanotechnology with its nanoparticle albumin-bound (nab) platform. Albumin is a protein that delivers nutrients to cells. Abraxis BioScience attaches chemotherapy drugs to albumin, allowing the drug to be delivered to cancer tumor cells. They were the first to get a drug product approved by the FDA using nab to treat breast cancer.

The company is working with CNSI to develop new technologies in the world of nanomedicine. The company is contributing $10 million to fund projects with CNSI. Focusing on pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, they are working on improving diagnosis and treatment for diseases that are debilitating or life-threatening.

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